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‘The spirit never dies:’ Holocaust survivor Dr. Edith Eger shares story of survival, education at remembrance event
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Dr. Edith Eger, projected on screen at Tuesday night's remembrance event, listens as Forsyth County Commissioner Molly Cooper reads a proclamation declaring Tuesday, April 12, as Education and Sharing Day in the county. Photo for the FCN.

Forsyth County Schools and Congregation Beth Israel partnered to host a Holocaust remembrance event on Tuesday night featuring speaker Dr. Edith Eger, a Holocaust survivor and practicing psychologist.

As guests joined the event, both in person and virtually, Rabbi Levi Mentz with Congregation Beth Israel introduced everyone to the night of remembrance, which he said was originally planned before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He and school leaders were excited to finally be able to host the event to give those in the Forsyth community a chance to hear from survivors and learn more about the events surrounding the Holocaust.

“Forsyth County Schools is committed to teaching our students, staff and families about the Holocaust and honoring its survivors and victims,” said FCS Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden.

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Rabbi Levi Mentz with Congregation Beth Israel introduces guests to the remembrance event, which the congregation held in partnership with Forsyth County Schools. Photo for the FCN.
Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and Anne Frank’s stepsister, was supposed to speak alongside Eger, but Mentz told the audience she was unable to make it due to a medical emergency for which she had to be hospitalized.

He led a prayer for her speedy recovery before introducing Jennifer Caracciolo, FCS director of communications, to the stage to moderate the conversation with Eger, who joined the event virtually from her home in California.

During the interview, Caracciolo referenced Eger’s bestselling memoir, “The Choice: Embrace the Possible,” which she wrote and published at age 90. The book describes some of the experiences she went through during the Holocaust.

She spoke about the experiences throughout the night, beginning with what she remembers from before World War II began.

Before the arrival of the Nazis, Eger said her teenage years were like anyone else’s. She was a ballerina and a gymnast, and she remembered she and her boyfriend had made plans to spend the future together.

But at 16 years old, Eger was suddenly woken up one morning by Nazi soldiers who ripped her and her family from their home and shoved them onto a train. They were forced to work at a brick factory with thousands of other Jewish families for a month before she, her sister and her mother were taken to Auschwitz.

One day, Eger said she saw her mom standing by herself. When Eger joined her, she remembers her mother saying, “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 are doing in your own mind.”

Not long after, Eger and her sister were separated from their mother. They were forced to keep walking into the barracks while a guard told her, “Your mother is just going to take a shower.”

After she and her sister got to the other side, she remembers asking someone when she would be able to see her mother again. The woman she asked pointed to a chimney outside, filled with flames.

“Your mother is burning there,” Eger remembers the woman saying. “You better talk about her in the past tense.”

“And my sister hugged me, and she said, ‘The spirit never dies.’ That really was the most beautiful way that I could answer,” Eger said.

But from then on, Eger harbored uncertainty inside of Auschwitz.

“We always had this doubt,” Eger said. “What is going to happen next? Where are we going? Are we going to really make it [out] alive here? Because we were told every day we were never going to make it out of here alive. The only way to make it out of here is as a corpse. I heard it. I heard it every day. And I decided that they were the prisoners, not me.”

After losing both her mother and father and struggling with her thoughts, Eger said she was also called on by a Nazi leader for entertainment. She remembers being forced to dance for them.

To get through it, she said she would close her eyes and imagine there was music. By the end of the dance, he gave her a loaf of bread, which she shared with her sister and five other girls in the camp.

Those same five girls later helped to keep Eger alive during the death marches, the forced evacuation of concentration camp inmates as Allied troops approached. During these marches, Eger said anyone who was starving or too weak to continue walking would be shot and thrown into the gutters.

She was starving herself and her back had been broken, but Eger said the girls “came and they carried me so I wouldn’t die. I really want to say that the worst things can bring out the best in us.”

At the end of the marches, Eger found herself at the brink of death.

She was buried under a pile of bodies when a U.S. soldier sent out on a rescue mission saw her hand twitch. He quickly moved her out from under the pile, sought medical attention and saved her life.

Eger weighed 70 pounds when she was discovered.

“His eyes had tears in them, and he hands an M&M [candy] to me,” Eger said.

She was finally liberated on May 4, 1945.

Later, she was reunited with her sisters before eventually getting married and having three children. She moved to the United States in 1949 where she kept quiet about her experience as a survivor.

She decided to go back to school at age 40, where she earned her degree in clinical psychology at the University of Texas. She was sitting in class one day when the professor asked the students if they had heard about Auschwitz.

“Maybe four hands went up in a class of a hundred, and I decided it’s my job to let people know what happens when people get brainwashed and scapegoated and being told we’re a cancer to society,” Eger said.

Not only did she want to teach others about her experience, but she felt she owed it to her parents. Now, she travels all over the world to tell her story and let others know how they can stop “anything like that from happening again.”

She has since published a second book, “The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life,” to share more lessons she learned in life.

Before ending the interview Tuesday night, Eger answered questions submitted by the audience.

She then watched as Forsyth County Commissioner Molly Cooper, on behalf of the rest of the board, took the stage and officially declared Tuesday, April 12, as Education and Sharing Day.

She read out the proclamation to the audience, stating that the day is meant to urge “educators, volunteers and residents to work together to create a better, brighter, more hopeful future for all.”

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Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden tells the audience how the school system will continue to work to educate students and the community with the help of Congregation Beth Israel. Photo for the FCN.
Leaders with FCS and Congregation Beth Israel want to spread this same message in the county throughout the year, educating students and the community on the Holocaust.

The school system and synagogue began a partnership this past year to do just that, beginning with the Daffodil Project where they planted 500 daffodils outside the FoCAL Center in honor of the 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust.

Bearden announced that they plan to continue the partnership into the next school year with more events and projects. The first will be The Acts of Random Kindness 180 Project in which students and staff will be encouraged to perform acts of kindness each day.

All classrooms will be provided with a yellow ARK bank where a penny or donation will be added for each act of kindness, and any funds collected will be donated to a nonprofit of their choice.

“The goal is to turn kindness into a daily habit and change the lives of both the person giving and receiving, therefore improving our world with positive and consistent action and inspiring hope,” Bearden said.

The second event will begin in spring of 2023 and feature music of the Holocaust at the FoCAL Center.

“For many victims of Nazi brutality, music was an important means of preserving and asserting their humanity,” Bearden said. “Such music also serves as a form of historical documentation.”

For more information, visit the district’s website at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.

FCS leaders said the interview with Eger from Tuesday’s event will be available for students and community members to watch on the district’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/forsythcountyschools.