“The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor” by Eddie Jaku; Macmillan Australia (195 pages, $25).
Published in July 2020, The Happiest Man on Earth is a N.Y. Times bestselling autobiography written by smiling Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku. At 101 years old, Eddie has over a century of wisdom to draw from, and he’s trying to use it to help everyone see the world in a more positive light. The self-described “happiest man in the world” has given a T.E.D. Talk and wrote this book to share his life experiences and philosophy.
Born in April 1920, Eddie Jaku, then named Abraham Jakubowicz, had been a proud German since birth. Eddie and his family had always loved their German homeland, but in November 1938, an 18 years old Eddie Jaku returned home from boarding school to meet an empty house. Nazi soldiers stormed the Jakubowicz household a second time to find Eddie living in the house. He was beaten, arrested, and taken to Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp located on Ettersberg Hill near Weimar, Germany. For the next seven years he endured unimaginable horrors alongside other prisoners, all of them having lost family, friends, and country.
In 1945, Eddie woke up from coma in a German hospital almost 65 percent dead and 35 percent alive. He had spent two months hiding in a cave surviving on slugs and snails after escaping a “death march” from the Auschwitz concentration camp before being found and rescued by Allied soldiers. The Holocaust was over.
For those unaware, a death march was a tactic used by Nazi concentration camps especially towards the end of the war, where camp guards would force their prisoners, whom were already in poor health, to march through harsh wilderness practically naked, and those who collapsed were left behind to die of exposure. It was a method of killing prisoners in mass rather than letting them be liberated by the invading Allied forces.
But he survived. And because he survived, despite losing over 150 family members to World War II, he vowed to smile every day. He pays tribute to those who were lost by telling his story, sharing his wisdom and living his best possible life. In 1950, Eddie moved to Australia with his family where he has lived since. Eddie is currently married to his wonderful wife, Flore, who is 75 years old. They’ve been blessed with two wonderful sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The Happiest Man on Earth, published just before Eddie had turned 100, is a powerful, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful memoir about how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times. The depths of Eddie’s kindness and empathy must be deeper than the oceans, because he unconditionally loves the world that has given him reasons more than plentiful to be bitter or resentful. His long and joy-filled life is itself a certifiable testament of victory for love and kindness over hatred and violence.
The life lesson Eddie hopes to impart upon anyone and everyone who hears his story is that those who struggled to survive were not struggling to live in the past, but struggling on for a happier, loving future, and that the best anyone can do for them, ourselves, and even those yet to come, is to ensure that we create a future that is just as loving and happy as can be. According to Eddie, we must start with our own personal mindset and then work outwards from there, blaming others for our own unhappiness as little as possible, and doing what we can to alleviate the unhappiness of others while living our best possible lives.
Reading Eddie’s memoir reminded me greatly of Dr. Viktor Emil Frankl, another Holocaust survivor who long ago published an autobiography of his own titled Man’s Search for Meaning. Both men defiantly adopted a positive, meaningful mindset that provided them with a resolve harder than diamond as they stared evil in the face. It undoubtedly helped them persevere in their respective struggles against the genocidal evils of the Holocaust. I don’t know if the two men ever met, but I feel they would have gotten along famously if so.
Donavon Anderson is a Library Assistant in Reference at May Memorial Library. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.