Dr. Edith Eger

368: Holocaust Survivor Shares How To Live Free and Happy

This week, we are honored and humbled to share a very special episode featuring a remarkable duo – Dr. Edith Eger (“Edie”) and her grandson, Jordan Engle.

Dr. Edie is a clinical psychologist, a bestselling author, and a survivor of the Holocaust. At the age of 16, Edie and her family were sent to Auschwitz. Edie’s parents were killed not long after arriving – but with bravery and incredible courage, Edie helped keep her and her sisters alive.

After persevering through one of the greatest horrors in human history, Edie dedicated her life and career to helping others better understand trauma and overcome their limitations – helping them discover the power of self-renewal and achieve things they never thought possible.

Jordan is an accomplished storyteller in his own right, having spent the last 20 years working as a photographer and producer. His career has taken him around the world, but his latest adventure has him working right alongside his grandmother to help her tell her story, and spread her powerful message: that our greatest struggles can become our greatest gift.

If you haven’t read Dr. Edie’s books – The Choice and The Gift – I really want to encourage you to check those out. They are rich with insights, heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories, and full of the hard-earned wisdom which Edie so beautifully expresses – much of which she shares in this conversation.

Edie’s journey is awe-inspiring, and her words of wisdom leave me hopeful and heartened that we can make it through even the darkest of times.

“Look at life from the inside out. Don’t wait for someone to make you happy. No one makes you happy. You make yourself happy.”

In This Episode:

Live from the inside out

I learned to guide people to look at life from the inside out. Don’t wait for someone to make you happy. No one makes you happy. You make yourself happy, the way you look at other people and the way you are realistic but not idealistic.

What she learned in Auschwitz

That I am powerless. I may end up in a gas chamber at four o’clock in the morning. Outside we were waiting and waiting and standing. I didn’t know if I would make it that day, but I was able to pray for the guards. So if they would’ve found me. They would’ve found me praying for the guards who were brainwashed and called me a pariah. So don’t take things personally, I think it’s very important for you to not allow other people to define who you are. You’re beautiful just the way you are because they’ll never be another you ever.

Meet people where they are

I am not revolving. I am evolving. So I grow to listen to the voices of other people who were not born with that fear that they are full of right now. They created it. And I like to be useful. I don’t ask, “How can I help you?” You are not Humpty Dumpty. I’m not going to put you back together again. But I like to meet people where they are, but treat them as if they were, what they’re capable of becoming.

Upon liberation from Auschwitz, some people returned… why?

Because that was the familiar… You are getting brainwashed. You are told you are subhuman, that you’re never going to get out of here. I heard that every day. They took my blood maybe a couple times a week and I asked one time, “Why are you taking my blood?” I spoke German fluently and he said, “I’m taking your blood to aid the German soldiers, so we can take care of Europe and consequently to take the whole world.” And that was his answer. And I said to myself, “Yeah, sure, that’s what you say…With my blood, you’re never going to win this war.”


I think forgiveness has nothing to do that I forgive you for what you did to me. I think forgiveness is what it says. Forgive myself permission to be free and not allow anything or anyone at any time take over. That I’m in charge of my thinking, I’m in charge of my feeling, and also I’m very much in charge of my behavior.

Be a dancer (Jordan Engle)

Was Edie a fighter or a dancer? And one thing that I’ve always heard from her throughout my life is this idea of being a dancer, and that you can have grace in moments that can be life or death. And there were so many moments within her surviving Auschwitz where she danced, be it from Mengele, be it doing cartwheels between one line, which was going to lead to death, the other line leading back to Magda.


You cannot be a victim without a victimizer. So as a child, we are victims of victims. I think it’s very important to know whose blood are you carrying and not to think that you cannot change. You cannot change your blood, but you can change the way you respond to anything, whether you take it personally or not.


I think freedom is not freedom without responsibility. So you want to be childlike but not childish… I want to be in the driver’s seat, which comes with responsibility. Freedom without responsibility, it’s anarchy.

Think about your thinking

Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to. Anything you pay attention to, you reinforce that very behavior that you may want to extinguish. Think about your thinking. Change your thinking, you change your life.

Follow your arrow (Jordan)

You sometimes have to go around the storms in order to get where you need to go. And so sometimes when you’re going around that storm, you’re pointed the wrong direction. But in fact you needed to go that way so that you could come back around successfully to get where you wanted to go. And I think we, a lot of times, find ourselves going the wrong direction and wondering, “Why are we going this direction? This is wrong. This is not where we’re meant to go.” But in fact it is, at some level, part of what you had to do in order to go around that storm and get back to where you wanted to go. And I think the key element, and she talks about this all the time, is to have that arrow.

Two ways of looking at suffering (Jordan)

If we can help to let people know that that suffering that you went through can be looked at in two different ways. And it can be looked at as an excuse to become a dark heavy person or it can be a way for you to realize that you are a survivor of something very challenging. And that quality of surviving is something unique and powerful and beautiful. And that you have the opportunity to go into the world stronger for what happened to you.

What does Edie’s heart ache for?

My heart wants to be warm and wants people to discover, not recover, but to discover their freedom and assume the responsibility that comes with it. Because freedom without responsibility is anarchy. The power of love and the definition of love is the ability to let go. Let go of the need for other people’s approval. As long as you approve of you, that’s good enough.

The ability to flow (Jordan)

This idea about being a fighter or a dancer. And I think a lot of people went to Auschwitz to be fighters, and I don’t think that always worked. I think the survivors were more dancers because you had to be able to flow. And Edith had trained her whole life to be able to flow.

“Deal with it”

People tell me that they going to deal with it. You’re not a dealer. I deal with it. I don’t know what that means. I want to say, what plans do you have? Where do you begin? Where do you find an arrow that you follow, that if you go from here to there, you’re not going to go this way or that way.


I developed curiosity and that helped me more than anything else. I wanted to know what’s going to happen next. So if a guide leaves you don’t take it personally, just say next. And there you are, curious. That help me very much to survive, that I knew that I’m not going to die in Auschwitz, even though I was told that I’m never going to get out of here alive. And so not to take things personally is something that you are a brilliant teacher for saying such things, that people look at the same thing from a different perspective.

Age – just a number

My attitude is what’s important. That I don’t look at the number, I look at the attitude that hopefully I can do something to make this world more of a human wonderful meeting, that we can inherit each other, whatever we have within us. And I think children need good role models. I hope to be a good one.

Her hope for life

I hope that we get to know each other, to find the Hitler within us, to find the Mother Teresa within us. That we become the people the way you will want to be remembered. I hope to be remembered as someone who did everything in her power to see to it that what she experienced will never ever happen again. I’m all for prevention.

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