Eddie Jaku – The Happiest Man on Earth

Pan Macmillan Australia, 2020

If you buy just one book in this COVID-19 year, please let it be this one. Eddie Jaku’s memoir is at once a hopeful and a horrifying account of his 100 years on earth.

It relates, of course, his and his family’s experiences leading up to and including his imprisonment in 1943 in the Nazi regime concentration camp of Auschwitz  – he is an ‘Auschwitz survivor’. But he, and it, are so much more (if there can be more than that).

For many years, like others, Eddie did not speak about his experiences. When he did, it was to be in public forums rather than with family, including a TEDx talk in Sydney in 2019, and as a presenter to visitors at the Sydney Jewish Museum where he volunteered from its opening in1992.

Now that he has put his story into book form, he has done so ‘for the six million innocent Jews who cannot speak for themselves, and to the memories of culture, music, and the great potential which perished along with them.’

Whilst it is an historical memoir, Eddie’s family and personal values are the powerful message of this book. He speaks throughout of the primary importance of love, family, friendship, hard work and education. Despite and because of the evils he witnessed and suffered, he maintained his sense of self, a sense of honour and of hope.

The account of conditions in the camps is horrific, Eddie’s failed and successful attempts at escape astounding; his constant and ongoing attempt to understand the ‘why’ of these times is highly relatable. His question is unanswerable, except with a string of historical facts, the explanation of the combination of factors that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi movement, the disaffection of enough people to invoke such blind hatred and inhuman brutality to fellow human beings. And this is no answer.

Don’t let’s get this wrong. Eddie does not forgive these behaviours or the people who wrought such devastation on the world. However, he implores us to know the facts and to work hard to do good and righteous things in our own world.

I was profoundly moved by The Happiest Man on Earth and its author. Beyond the history within this work, there is an everyman’s (woman’s) guide to living a consciously joyful and grateful life.

The book appears at a timely moment in a world faced by the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic – and is a salutary reminder that other dire threats to our humanity have been endured and surmounted.

Deepest thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a review copy.