Her mother’s wisdom helped Edith Eger create a happy inner life in Auschwitz – but true healing meant going back there

Edith Eger was 16 years old, crammed into a cattle truck, human cargo from Hungary headed for Auschwitz, when her mother gave her the advice that shaped her life. For most of the journey, her mother hadn’t said much, hadn’t cried or complained, but had instead gone inside herself. “That night,” says Eger, “she turned to me and said: ‘Listen. We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Just remember, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.”

For the next year, Eger’s inner life – cherished memories, favourite recipes, future fantasies – sustained her, even saved her. After liberation, though, it turned against her. Survivor’s guilt, buried memories and constant flashbacks held her hostage. A siren, a shouting man, a piece of barbed wire could hurl her back to 1944. Ultimately, Eger’s mission to understand her mind and utilise its power led her to become an acclaimed psychologist specialising in trauma. Her mother’s words have formed her life’s work.

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