‘The Happiest Man on Earth:’ Holocaust survivor dies at 101 years old 

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Lucy Daly

On Tuesday 12th October 2021, Eddie Jaku, 101-year-old Holocaust survivor and peace activist, sadly passed away. Eddie Jaku survived imprisonment in four concentration camps, Kristallnacht, death marches and lived in a forest for two months, and after all this, he became an inspirational peace activist and highly influential author.  

 

Eddie Jaku’s story, as told in The Happiest Man on Earth 

Eddie Jaku was born in 1920 in Germany, and he attended a boarding school where he was top in his class at mechanical engineering and toolmaking. In school, he was known as Walter Schleif: he assumed this alias because he and his family feared that others would find out that he was Jewish.  

On the 9th of October 1938 – known to the Jaku family as Eddie’s parents’ anniversary but known to the world as ‘the night of broken glass’ – Eddie Jaku came home to an empty house. On this night, ten Nazi soldiers had broken in, and they brutally beat up the 18-year-old, destroyed his home and killed their family dog. He was then taken away and placed in a concentration camp for five months, and he later learned that his family had already gone into hiding. Jaku said in a speech made in 2019: “I lost everything I lived for. I was reduced from being a man to being nothing.”  

After being released from the concentration camp, Jaku worked for a while in a factory. One day, his father came to his workplace claiming to be taking him to a new job, when in fact, Jaku and his father were fleeing to Belgium. Unfortunately, they were soon caught by the Belgian police and arrested, and both father and son were imprisoned for 11 months. Upon being released from prison, Jaku went to France, where he was arrested once more and sent to another concentration camp.  

After spending a gruelling seven months in the French concentration camp, Jaku was herded onto a train. He, and many other Jewish people held in the concentration camp, were being deported to Auschwitz.  

While boarding the train, Jaku was presented with a rare opportunity: lying unaccompanied on the platform was a hammer, screwdriver and wrench. Jaku seized his chance and stole the tools, and began planning his escape. Once he learned that the journey would take nine hours, he knew there was only a small window for escape before being trapped in Auschwitz. Jaku documented in his memoir: ​​”I had nine hours to get out, after which there would be no hope of freedom.” Along with eight others, Jaku broke through the train’s floorboards, and once the train had slowed down enough, all nine climbed out of the carriage and onto the tracks.  

Jaku journeyed back to Belgium, but he and his family didn’t have long before they were again arrested and sent on a direct train to Auschwitz. Jaku wrote in his memoir: “Auschwitz was a living nightmare, a place of unimaginable horrors.”  

As troops from the Soviet Union began to close in on Auschwitz, prisoners were evacuated and forced on death marches, where they had to walk day and night without any food or water. Jaku survived and returned to the camp after the first march, but he escaped into the forest on his second march, where he survived until the end of World War II, two months later. 

 

Eddie Jaku’s Message 

 Jaku emigrated to Australia in 1950 and began his journey to becoming an inspirational speaker and volunteer. In 2013, he was awarded the medal of the Order of Australia for all his work as a peace activist and his services to the Jewish community. In addition, Jaku published his Holocaust survival in a memoir titled The Happiest Man on Earth. His memoir promotes the message that no matter how dark your life may be looking, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Jaku wrote in his memoir: “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 people. But I now consider myself the happiest man on earth.” 

 

Bibliography:  

 

AJN Staff. 2021. “Eddie Jaku to be given state memorial.” Australian Jewish News. 

Accessed 20th October 2021. 

https://www.australianjewishnews.com/eddie-jaku-to-be-given-state-memorial-service/  

 

—. 2021. “Eddie Jaku: Holocaust survivor and peace campaigner dies aged 101.” BBC News. 

Accessed 12th October 2021. 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-58883318