I don’t know if every country has one, an old gentleman the entire populace wants to adopt as their grandfather, but if the UK’s was Captain Tom Moore, then Australia’s was Eddie Jaku.
The Happiest Man on Earth, The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor, is Eddie’s story in his own words.
It was published in 2020, a little after Eddie’s 100th birthday.
Eddie was born Abraham Salomon Jakubowicz in 1920 in Leipzig, part of a large and proudly German family. He was nicknamed Addie by family and friends, which became Anglicised to Eddie.
His life story is incredible and has to be read to be believed. But this is not a story of darkness, despite the fact he lived through and personally witnessed some of the darkest times in human history. This is a story of positivity and hope.
Eddie was studying away from home and had been for five years when he decided to surprise his parents on their 20th wedding anniversary and return to Leipzig. His house was deserted and shut up. Unbeknownst to him, his family had gone to a place of safety, thinking Eddie was also safe. It was November 9, 1938, now known as Kristallnacht. Throughout Leipzig the homes and businesses of the Jewish population were destroyed and people rounded up and arrested. Eddie was among them.
He was sent to Buchenwald, a notorious concentration camp, and the first of many camps for him.
If Eddie’s story was a novel you would probably think it was too farfetched. Sent to Buchenwald by the Germans for being Jewish, he was actually released and he and his father made their way to Belgium, where Eddie was arrested and put in a camp for being German.
As the German Army made it’s way closer through Belgium, the camp was evacuated and Eddie found himself at the beaches of Dunkirk where British ships couldn’t take him because they were trying to rescue Allied troops. Instead he made his way south through France relying on the kindness of strangers until again his luck ran out when someone saw he had a German passport and reported him to French police as a spy. He was again arrested for being German and sent to a camp.
When Germany overran France, Eddie was packed up and sent on his way again… this time to Auschwitz.
He did actually escape Auschwitz once but had to break back in again. If you want to know why, you’ll have to read the book.
Obviously Eddie survived the camps and the war, he was one of the lucky ones. He returned to Belgium having vowed never to set foot on German soil again, where he married and had two sons and it was the birth of his first son that he credits for changing his life.
He decided he would choose to firstly be happy and secondly to make others happy. And he used that as his mantra for the rest of his life. The family emigrated to Australia in the 1950s and Eddie set up a business. He also began talking to people about being a Holocaust survivor and has given speeches to many schoolchildren and adults over the years as well as being a volunteer at the Sydney Jewish Museum since its creation in 1992.
This book is an incredible story by an incredible man who retained his faith in humanity despite seeing the worst of it. If you don’t read the book you might spend 11 minutes of your life listening to the TED Talk Eddie gave at the age of 99. It can be found here. Personally, I’d recommend doing both.
Captain Tom Moore died in February 2021 aged 100. Eddie Jaku died in October the same year aged 101. What a legacy they both left.
In his TED talk, Eddie sums it up this way. “I don’t hate anyone,” he says. “Hate is a disease which may destroy your enemy but will also destroy you in the process.”
He adds: “Take time to be happy.”