The Choice – What You Put in Your Mind – Dr Edith Eger. 

At the end of the meal, my father circles the table, kissing each of us on the head. He’s crying. Why is this night different from all other nights? Before dawn breaks, we’ll know.


They come in the dark. They pound on the door, they yell. Does my father let them in, or do they force their way into our apartment? Are they German soldiers, or nyilas? I can’t make sense out of the noises that startle me from sleep.


How will I know when it’s time to be really afraid?


I want her to drop the dishes, the survival tools, and come back to the bedroom to help me dress. Or at least I want her to call to me. To tell me what to wear. To tell me not to worry. To tell me all is well


I picture Eric and his family also dressing and scrambling in the dark. I can feel him thinking of me. A current of energy shoots down from my ears to my toes. I close my eyes and cup my elbows with my hands, allowing the afterglow of that flash of love and hope to keep me warm.


The soldier shoves her out of his way. He holds a gun. What other proof of his dominance does he need? This is when I start to see that it can always be so much worse. That every moment harbors a potential for violence. We never know when or how we will break. Doing what you’re told might not save you.


“Go ahead,” he says, “take a last look. Feast your eyes.”

I’m caught between the urge to protect my parents and the sorrow that they can no longer protect me. Eric, I pray, wherever we are going, help me find you. Don’t forget our future. Don’t forget our love. Magda doesn’t say a word as we sit side by side on the bare board seats. In my catalog of regrets, this one shines bright: that I didn’t reach for my sister’s hand.


I don’t find my grandparents. I don’t find Eric. And then one afternoon when the water carts arrive and the crowds rush to scoop a little pail of it, he spies me sitting alone, guarding my family’s coats. He kisses my forehead, my cheeks, my lips. I touch the suede belt of my silk dress, praising it for its good luck.


The places that do exist, that await our coming trains, are beyond imagining.


Just before the truck pulls away, I hear my name. It’s Eric. He’s calling through the slats of the truck. I shove my way toward his voice. “I’m here!” I call as the engine starts. The slats are too narrow for me to see him or touch him. “I’ll never forget your eyes,” he says. “I’ll never forget your hands.”


If I survive today, then I can show him my eyes, I can show him my hands. I breathe to the rhythm of this chant. If I survive today … If I survive today, tomorrow I’ll be free.

There is one loaf of bread for eight people to share. One bucket of water. One bucket for our bodily waste. It smells of sweat and excrement. People die on the way. We all sleep upright, leaning against our family members, shouldering aside the dead.


My mother doesn’t say much. But she doesn’t moan either. She doesn’t wish to be dead. She simply goes inside herself. “Dicuka,” she says into the dark one night, “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.”


I see the crowded dark of winter coats amassed on a narrow stretch of dirt. I see the flash of white in someone’s scarf or cloth bundle of belongings, the yellow of the mandatory stars. I see the sign: arbeit macht frei. Music plays. My father is suddenly cheerful. “You see,” he says, “it can’t be a terrible place.” He looks as though he would dance if the platform weren’t so crowded. “We’ll only work a little, till the war’s over.”


We inch forward. We approach the man who with a conductor’s wave of a finger will deliver us to our fates. I do not yet know that this man is Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Angel of Death.


It’s our turn now. Dr. Mengele conducts. He points my mother to the left. I start to follow her. He grabs my shoulder. “You’re going to see your mother very soon,” he says. “She’s just going to take a shower.” He pushes Magda and me to the right.


Fear circulates among us, but curiosity too.

“When will I see my mother?” I ask her. “I was told I’d see her soon.” She gives me a cold, sharp stare. There is no empathy in her eyes. There is nothing but rage. She points to the smoke rising up from one of the chimneys in the distance. “Your mother is burning in there,” she says. “You better start talking about her in the past tense.”


The Choice

by Dr Edith Eger.

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