A 95-year-old woman who survived Auschwitz and became a psychologist says having a happy family has brought her healing

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  • Dr. Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz as a teenager. Her mother died in the camp.

  • After moving to the US, Eger studied psychology and began a clinical practice.

  • She says forgiveness is a gift that you give yourself.

When Edith Eger was a teenager struggling to survive in Auschwitz, she prayed for the people holding her prisoner.

"If I would have died there, it would have been praying for the guards," Eger told Insider.

She didn't know then that she would survive the death camp or eventually move to the United States, where she would become a prominent psychologist and speaker on personal healing. But Eger did know, even in those desperate moments, that forgiveness was powerful.

"Forgiveness gives me freedom," she said.

Now 95, Eger has crafted a course on forgiveness with her grandson, Jordan Engle, the founder of Soul Search. The goal of the course, Engle said, is to distill Eger's wisdom — Edie-isms, as Engle calls his grandmother's advice — into actionable methods that help people change the narrative about traumatic events in their past.

Insider sat down with Eger and Engle to discuss what Eger wants the next generations to know about forgiveness at a time of rising antisemitism and unrest.

Forgiveness is a gift to yourself

Eger doesn't think of forgiveness as something you give to other people, but as a gift you give yourself.

Many people, including Eger's sister, who was in the concentration camp with her, wanted revenge. That's understandable, but the satisfaction from revenge is short-lived, Eger said. The satisfaction from forgiveness allows you to lay down the burden of your trauma.

"I want to be free," Eger said. "Whatever I carry with me makes me not free. I want to live in the present and I cannot change the past."

The only revenge she chased was growing a healthy, happy family, which she said is her best revenge on Hitler.

Respond, don't react

Eger once complimented a teen boy who she knew was raised by white supremacists on his boots. He in turn replied that he wanted to kill all Jews.

"At that moment, I had a choice between reacting and responding," Eger said. "If I reacted, I would have dragged that kid in the corner and said, 'I saw my mother going to the gas chamber in Auschwitz.' But I took a deep breath and I said three words, 'Tell me more.'"

Listening and really hearing allows you to address the person's beliefs directly.

"I repeat what I hear, and nobody can fight with their own words," Eger said.

Become a conscientious listener

In moments like those, Eger chooses to open herself up, rather than closing herself off.

"She promotes this idea of tolerance for something that you don't understand," Engle said of his grandmother.

Engle said she taught him not to shut out the people who are against him, but to be open to them and keep these words in mind: "I have love in my heart, and I am not afraid of you."

Be for something, not against something

People pushing white supremacy and antisemitism are focused on what they are against, Engle said, but his grandmother has always taught him to stand for issues, rather than against them.

"That allows you to bring love to it, rather than hate," Engle said.

Stay kind

Before Eger offers a comment on something, she asks herself three questions: Is it important? Is it necessary? And most important, is it kind?

If she's not sure about the answers to these questions, "I just don't say anything," she said.

Parent yourself

After her mother died in the gas chambers, Eger often reminded herself that she had to be a good parent to herself. A child's biggest fear is abandonment, she said, and there is power in knowing that you will never abandon yourself.

"There never will be another you," Eger said. "I hope people know that self-love is important. It's not narcissistic. It's OK to get up and look in the mirror and say, 'I love me.'"

Read the original article on Insider