All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Happiest Man On Earth by Eddie Jaku

on October 13, 2021

The Happiest Man On Earth
Eddie Jaku
Pan Macmillan AUS
2020, 208p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It is up to you.

Eddie Jaku always considered himself a German first, a Jew second. He was proud of his country. But all of that changed in November 1938, when he was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp.

Over the next seven years, Eddie faced unimaginable horrors every day, first in Buchenwald, then in Auschwitz, then on a Nazi death march. He lost family, friends, his country.

Because he survived, Eddie made the vow 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. He now believes he is the ‘happiest man on earth’.

Published as Eddie turns 100, this is a powerful, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful memoir of how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times.

Oh my God. This book. This book.

I always try to be kind of objective, whether I love a book, hate a book or am indifferent to it. But sometimes that’s impossible and this book, is one of those books. I just….I can’t even explain really, how reading this book made me feel.

I’ve seen this book around a lot since it was published last year – I’ve almost bought it on Audible a few times and the other day, I finally borrowed it from my local library. It’s very short. I actually read it in about an hour but for me, this is the perfect example of a book not needing to give you a million details or describe everything, in order to have an impact.

Eddie Jaku is a survivor of the Holocaust who now lives in Sydney, Australia. He’s 101 years old at the time of my writing this review and is an OAM (Order of Australia Medal) recipient, has done a TedTalk and published this book around the time of his 100th birthday, the story of his life.

Eddie was born in Leipzig in 1920 and by the time he was in high school, the Nazi Party was already rising to prominence in Germany and as a result, he was prevented from attending higher study because of his Jewish faith. Although not particularly a religious person, his family observed a lot of the traditions, often to please his mother’s much more devoted parents. Eddie’s father placed a high importance on education and he secured false papers for Eddie to study at a boarding school, 9 hours by train away from his family. It’s a decision that ended up saving his life multiple times over the years that would follow, as due to his skills as a mechanical engineer, Eddie was often classified in the different camps he would be sent to, as an “Essential Jew”, with a skill the Germans valued in their war effort, which meant that he would be kept alive.

This book is written as Eddie, as a much older man, sitting down and speaking to you, the reader, as though the two of you are alone, having a conversation. It’s incredibly effective, for multiple reasons, but the often slightly matter-of-fact way that Eddie recounts some of the things he experienced, such as the repeated separations from his family, the realisation that they’d been killed at Auschwitz, the repeated beatings, the atrocities, the starvation, the situation and conditions in the camps, does not detract from the impact of them. You don’t necessarily need vivid description for most of these – to be honest, your brain does the rest. This was the reality for millions of people and even though Eddie obviously survived multiple ways in which he could’ve died (starvation, hypothermia, disease, gassing, being shot, beaten, etc) I also appreciated that he included the difficulties that came after he was rescued by Allied soldiers during the March of Death and taken to a hospital. I feel as though that is something that is often missing from stories about WWII and the camps. Eddie and his fellow survivors had severe malnutrition and that caused multiple physical health issues. And then there’s the mental scarring as well.

Although this book claims he’s the happiest man in the world, it wasn’t always the case and Eddie does talk about the feelings after his rescue and release and how he had a lot of anger and unresolved feelings for a while. And how talking about it was finally the thing that helped – sharing his story with others, listening to the stories of others. He talks about doing his TedTalk and visiting schools and sharing his story with the students as well as being instrumental in helping set up the Jewish Museum in Sydney. After moving to Australia in (I think) the 50s, Eddie and his wife Flore have worked tirelessly, including in their own real estate agency up until their 90s!

A large portion of this book is devoted to how important Eddie views family. Both during his childhood, in Germany, when he was separated from them when studying as well as the tireless efforts to find them and be reunited at various points during the war after each of them kept getting arrested and either escaping or being released. He talks of the importance of family now, his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. How he felt holding his firstborn son and his second son and the joy his family gives him, the way he talks about them and about his wife, who he fell in love with at first sight, is lovely to read. That he’s managed to find happiness and joy and enjoy his life after the years of horrible things that happened to him, is a wonderful thing.

Everyone should read this book. Even though it lists some atrocities, the likes of which are hard to imagine and talks about how truly horrible to each other humans can be, there’s still the fact that it’s so pure. That Eddie comes across as this pure soul and it’s truly remarkable.

10/10

Book #173 of 2021

Devastatingly, Eddie Jaku passed away just yesterday, aged 101. I’m incredibly sad to read this, having just finished this book. He was a remarkable man and the world is a poorer place without him.

Some time after reading this and writing and scheduling this review, I realised it actually fulfilled the requirements of my 2021 Read Non Fiction Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out.

This book is perfect for the prompt ‘Wartime Experiences’ as it deals first hand with what Eddie went through during WWII at various concentration camps and his attempts to escape incarceration more than once. This means it’s also the 6th book read for this challenge and my participation is technically complete! But I’ll try to fit in a couple more before the end of the year, if I can.

1. Biography

2. Travel

3. Self-help

4. Essay Collection

5. Disease

6. Oceanography 

7. Hobbies

8. Indigenous Cultures

9. Food

10. Wartime Experiences

11. Inventions

12. Published in 2021


4 responses to “Review: The Happiest Man On Earth by Eddie Jaku

  1. Marg says:

    I don’t often read non fiction, but I think this is one book that I should read. Such sad news that he died so recently.

  2. marymtf says:

    I’ve seen Eddie Jaku interviewed. Thanks for the review.

  3. Fiona says:

    Thanks so much for your great review and recommendation! I just finished listening to this book and I”m so glad I did. I found it at times incredibly sad but ultimately hopeful. I’m glad I saw your review as it wasn’t something I’d heard of previously.

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