Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku lived through hell on Earth at Auschwitz, but today he considers himself the happiest man on Earth at age 101. Born in Germany as Abraham Salomon Jakubowic, he was proud to live in what he believed to be “the most civilized, most cultured and certainly the most educated country.” Sadly, even Germany was to descend into a nightmare.
Today, the celebrated centenarian has his health and became an author after turning 100, writing “The Happiest Man on Earth.” In the book, he pays tribute to those lost in the Holocaust with a vow to live his best life and smile every day.
“I have lived for a century and I know what it is to stare evil in the face,” his book begins.
Eddie Jaku never expected to reach 100 years old, let alone write a book.
“I speak about happiness, I speak (about) what life can be,” Jaku told Smith. “If you are healthy, you’re a multimillionaire.”
After enduring so much pain and death, Eddie Jaku found himself thriving and joyful. Jaku is a husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather. After raising a family, running a Sydney, Australia real estate agency and service station, he became an author who is inspiring the world.
The Living Hell of Nazi Germany
Although he found happiness, 83 years ago, his life was a living hell for seven years.
When the Nazis arrived in 1938, Jaku, then in his 20s, and his family were separated. He decided to visit his family for their 20th wedding anniversary but found the house empty aside from the family dachshund Lulu. What he didn’t realize was that his parents had gone into hiding.
After falling asleep in his childhood bed, he awoke to find ten Nazis in his room. Then the Nazis started to carve a swastika on his arm and killed Lulu when she tried to protect him.
From there, the Nazis beat him, arrested him, and took him away to a concentration camp called Buchenwald.
Amazingly, he and his family escaped and lived in hiding in Belgium, hiding in an attic much like Anne Frank’s family.
However, in 1943, Belgian police arrested and deported them to Auschwitz, where Nazis exterminated 1.1 million men, women, and children. In all, the Nazis killed over 6 million Jewish people in the Holocaust. Today, memories are short, and some people still insist the events never took place. It’s a dangerous delusion and could cause history to repeat itself.
See Eddie Jaku on Australia’s Studio 10 below:
A Vow to Make the Most of Every Day
At Auschwitz, the Nazis forced Jaku to sleep on hard wooden floors, huddling naked in the cold with ten other men.
“If I could survive one more day, an hour, a minute, then the pain would end and tomorrow would come,” he would tell himself.
To dehumanize the Jews and others like the LGBTQ community, the Nazis stamped them with numbers and symbols like triangles. Today, Jaku has an indigo ink number on his left arm.
“My number was 172338 … When they tattooed the number on my arm, I was sentenced to a slow death, but first they wanted to kill my spirit,” he says.
A Friend Saves His Life
While fellow Jews became suicidal and ran into the death camp electric fences, his friend from Buchenwald, Kurt Hirschfeld, convinced him to keep going. Today, he credits Kurt with saving his life.
“Auschwitz was a living nightmare, a place of unimaginable horrors. But I survived because of my friend Kurt … Having even just one good friend can be your entire world. The best balm for the soul is friendship,” he says.
After an escape attempt, a Jewish doctor helped remove a bullet from his leg and encouraged him to see “one hour of rest equals two days of survival.”
Rather than giving up, he vowed that he would live every day to the fullest if he survived.
Escape into the Wilderness
On January 18, 1945, the Nazis sent Jaku, Hirschfeld, and thousands of others on a “death march” from Auschwitz in the dead of winter. At the time, Soviet forces were drawing close to liberate the death camps.
The friends escaped together, but the Nazis captured Jaku and took him back to Buchenwald. There, he was forced to use his mechanical skills to repair war machinery, but he escaped yet again.
Finally, in June 1945, US troops discovered him barely surviving in the Black Forest. There, he lived in a cave, eating slugs and snails, his only nourishment for months.
Finally, he was free, reunited once more with Hirschfeld in Belgium. Later, he discovered his sister Henni also survived Auschwitz, but sadly, his parents did not. Shortly after arrival at the death camp, the Nazis took them to the gas chambers, determining them unfit to work as slaves.
New Love and a Restored Heart
Following the war, he had lost hope, but then he met his future wife, Flore. She was handing out rations in Brussels, and it was love at first sight for Jaku.
Eventually, Flore fell in love with Jaku too. They married in 1946, choosing Hiter’s birthday, April 20, a statement of defiance. When the couple’s son Michael was born, Jaku found abundant happiness, his heart healed and he was fully restored.
“Eighty years ago, I didn’t think I will have a wife and children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” said Jaku. “And this is a blessing.”
Thereafter, the family, including sister Henni, moved to Australia to start a new life. There, Jaku and Flore worked together for 40 years as real estate agents, retiring in their 90s.
Today, they live in an aged care facility in Randwick and have been married three-quarters of a century. Despite his age, he remains youthful, drives his own car, and starts each day singing in the shower.
Over the years, he stayed in touch and occasionally reunited with Hirschfeld, who married and moved to Israel.
Today, he values his friendships as priceless.
“Friendship is priceless,” he said. “Shared sorrow is half sorrow, but shared pleasure is double.”
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Hope and Choosing Happiness
In a 2019 TED Talk, he says that the key to life is always to have hope.
“Where there is life is hope. If there’s no more hope, you’re finished,” he added.
Although he’s seen the worst of humanity, he chose to be happy.
“I have seen the very worst in mankind, the horrors of the death camps, the Nazi efforts to exterminate my life, and the lives of all my people. But now I consider myself the happiest man on Earth. Through all my years I have learnt this: life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful … happiness is something we can choose. It is up to you.”
By sharing his story, he hopes to help others, if only with a smile.
“I was at the bottom of the pit, so if I can make one miserable person smile, I am happy,” says Jaku.
Certainly, Jaku has made many millions of people smile.
Eddie Jaku Chooses Not to Hate
Despite suffering unimaginable loss and enduring so much pain and suffering, Jaku chooses happiness and doesn’t hate anyone. The best revenge, he says, is staying alive.
“I do not hate anyone, not even Hitler. Hate is a disease which may destroy your enemy but will destroy you in the process. You may not like everyone, but that doesn’t give you the right to be nasty to them. I don’t love everyone but I hate no one. There is no revenge; staying alive is the only revenge.”
However, Jaku says he neither forgets nor forgives the Nazis for what they did.
“I can not forgive or forget, but I teach not to hate.”
Each Breath is a Gift
To become the happiest man alive, he overcame hardships and now considers each breath a gift.
“Life is not always happiness. Sometimes, there are many hard days, but you must remember that you are lucky to be alive. We are lucky in this way. Every breath is a gift. Life is beautiful if you let it be. Happiness is in your hands.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jaku had to cancel plans for his 100th birthday party. However, today, at 101 he’s making international news discussing his life’s experiences. Although he didn’t talk about the Holocaust for 30 years, he is now sharing his story globally.
He hopes that reliving his story, although painful, will prevent something like the Holocaust from ever happening again.
“I feel it is my duty to tell my story. I know if my mother were here, she would say: ‘Do it for me. Try to make the world a better place.'”
The most important thing Eddie Jaku has learned is that small acts of kindness transcend lifetimes.
“This is the most important thing I have ever learnt: the greatest gift is to be loved by another person. Love saved me. My family saved me. Small acts of kindness last longer than a lifetime.”
See Eddie Jaku and his 2019 TEDx Talk below:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube/TODAY