Holocaust survivor and author of bestselling memoir The Happiest Man on Earth dies aged 101 – here is his inspirational life story
- Australian Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku has died, it was confirmed on Tuesday
- Mr Jaku had experienced the horrors at Auschwitz and Buchenwald camps
- His parents were killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz upon arrival in 1944
- He miraculously escaped a death march and was rescued by American soldiers
- Mr Jaku moved to Australia in 1950 with his wife Flore where he lived in Sydney
Australian Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku – known for his bestselling memoir The Happiest Man on Earth – has died aged 101.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his death on Tuesday and called Mr Jaku an ‘inspiration and a joy’.
‘Having survived the Holocaust, Eddie chose to make his life a testimony of how hope and love can triumph over despair and hate,’ he said.
‘He will be sadly missed, especially by our Jewish community. He was an inspiration and a joy.
‘Shalom Eddie and thank you for your great gift to us all and our sincere condolences to all your loving family and friends.’
Australian Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku – known for his bestseller ‘the Happiest Man on Earth’ – has died age 101
Mr Jaku was born in Germany and experienced the horrors of the Nazis while captive at Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II.
He was first captured in 1938 and spent years trying to survive in death camps that claimed the lives of millions.
He miraculously escaped a death march and was rescued by allied soldiers before he moved to Australia in 1950 to start a new life with his wife Flore, haunted by what he had seen.
Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg also paid tribute to the 101-year-old, saying that Australia had ‘lost a giant’.
‘He dedicated his life to educating others about the dangers of intolerance & the importance of hope,’ he said.
Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg paid tribute to the 101-year-old, saying that Australia had ‘lost a giant’ with his death
Mr Jaku (front right) is seen with members of his family. His parents were tragically killed upon arrival at Auschwitz
‘Scarred by the past, he only looked forward. May his story be told for generations to come.’
Mr Jaku published his book The Happiest Man on Earth last year at the age of 100, after struggling to open up about the horrors he went through.
The cover shows his forearm inked with the number given to him during his time held captive in German concentration camps.
Mr Jaku, who was a father, grandfather, and great grandfather, volunteered for decades at the Sydney Jewish Museum and celebrated his 101st birthday in April.
‘Life is what you want it to be,’ he said during a Zoom call with the museum last year.
‘Life is in your hands. Happiness doesn’t fall from the sky. You want to be happy? You can be happy.
‘When they put this number on my arm I was condemned to a slow death. And I didn’t die and this is grateful.’
When Mr Jaku was aged just 13, Adolf Hitler had come into power and he was kicked out of high school because he was Jewish.
Mr Jaku celebrated his 101st birthday in April this year. He said he always made sure to live without hatred
His father was a mechanical engineer and sent him nine hours away to follow in his footsteps and learn similar skills.
After five years of studying and sleeping in an orphanage, Mr Yaku graduated at the top of his class at the age of 18 and decided to return home to visit his parents in November, 1938.
He described the decision to surprise his parents for their 20th wedding anniversary as the ‘biggest mistake’ in his young life, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
When he returned home his family had already gone into hiding and after spending the night asleep in his childhood bed, he woke to a group of Nazis beating him.
They killed his beloved pet dachshund Lulu, burnt his house down and tried to carve a swastika into his arm.
He was taken to Buchenwald while also spending time as a prisoner in other camps in France and Belgium between 1939 and 1941.
Over the course of the next few years, Mr Jaku managed to escape the camps on multiple occasions.
Mr Jaku is seen with his wife Flore and sons Andre and Michael
Mr Jaku was born in Germany and experienced the horrors of the nazis at Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II
After one escape, he lived in hiding with his family in an attic similar to that of Anne Frank, but they were eventually found by Belgian police.
In 1944 Mr Jaku and his family were sent to Auschwitz where his parents were gassed upon arrival as part of the horrific ‘selection’ process carried out by the Nazis.
His parents’ fate was sealed by the notorious Dr Josef Mengele who carried out horrific experiments on prisoners, earning him the name the Angel of Death.
Mr Jaku said after they got off the train to Auschwitz he didn’t want to be separated from his father.
When the new arrivals were split into two lines – those who could work and those who would be sent to their deaths – he switched lines to be with his dad.
‘I was nearly on the truck with my father when one of the stooges standing guard with Mengele said, ”Hey, didn’t he tell you this way? Your father goes by truck and you walk into the camp”,’ he said.
‘I never saw my father again. He sent him and my mother to the gas chamber.’
He recalled the horrific screams of fellow prisoners taking their own lives by running into the electrified fence around the camp, and admitted he considered following them at times.
But because of his education in engineering, Mr Jaku was labelled an ‘economically indispensable Jew’ – with the skills he learnt as a young boy ultimately saving his life.
He credits his strength to go on to his best friend Kurt Hirschfeld, who endured the horrors of Auschwitz alongside him.
‘Having even just one good friend can be your entire world. The best balm for the soul is friendship,’ Mr Jaku said.
In January, 1945, Mr Jaku and thousands of other inmates were sent on a death march as allied troops approached.
Mr Jaku is pictured with his wife-of-75-years Flore on their wedding day on April 20, 1946. They share their anniversary with Hitler’s birthday.
Fearing he would be shot by guards, Mr Jaku escaped and hid in a nearby drainpipe.
Over the next few months he lived in a cave, surviving off snails and slugs.
He became so sick with cholera and typhoid and weighed just 28kg when he decided to crawl to the nearby highway and submit to his fate.
It was then that he was found by American soldiers and taken to hospital where he was told he had just a 35 per cent chance of surviving, the Belfast Telegraph reported.
‘In that moment I made a promise that if I lived I would become an entirely new person,’ he said.
Incredibly, his friend Kurt and his sister Henni both survived.
He married his wife-of-75-years Flore on April 20, 1946 – Hitler’s birthday.
Mr Yaku’s best friend Kurt Hirschfeld is pictured with his sister Henni. Both survived the atrocities of Auschwitz
But in the years after the war, Mr Jaku struggled to forget the horrors he witnessed under the Nazis.
‘I was not sure why I was still alive, or if I truly wanted to live,’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
But with the birth of his first son Michael, Mr Jaku said his happiness ‘returned in abundance’.
In their new life in Sydney, Flore worked as a dressmaker and Mr Jaku worked at a garage.
Eventually the pair sold the garage and went into real estate together and only retired in their 90s.
Despite everything Mr Jaku saw and lived through, he made it his mission not to live with hatred.
‘You must not hate. Hate is a disease. It destroys your enemy first but you also,’ he said.
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