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The Happiest Man on Earth – How Eddie Jaku chooses happiness

Michelle Ahern Bevans

“My dear new friends…I am standing in front of you today a survivor of the holocaust and a witness of the most tragic times in the history of mankind…” 

As Eddie Jaku’s opening words of his 2019 TEDxSydney talk rang out through the auditorium, it was not the phrase the audience might have been expecting from the self-proclaimed ‘happiest man on earth’. 

For the next 12 minutes, the audience sat motionless, as the “proud young German” shared his moving story of being a young Jew living in Germany at the outbreak of World War II and his decade-long story of survival from Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 until liberation in 1945.

Eddie Jaku was born in Leipzig, Germany into a Jewish family. As his father’s wish, he studied mechanical engineering in Tuttlingen – this education would be a life-saving gift. 

On 9 November 1938, 19 year old Eddie was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp. This night will forever be remembered as Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass. 

Every day for the next seven years Eddie saw brutality and death. He was a prisoner of Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and was sent on the Death March. He lost his family, friends and country. 

But Eddie survived. And because of this,  he made a vow to himself to smile every day – to find joy and beauty in life.

For thirty years Eddie didn’t speak about the unimaginable horror he endured – but now he speaks for those who did not survive and hopes to share his message of understanding, friendship and humanity.

In 2020 Eddie celebrated his 100th birthday and in July published his first book The Happiest Man on Earth, chronicling his story of survival and his blueprint for living a life full of happiness.

“From my heart to all of your hearts,” Eddie’s closing remarks during his 2019 talk were received by a standing ovation from the TEDxSydney audience. A truly powerful and unique story of finding tolerance and kindness in the face of pure evil. 

The Happiest Man on Earth is out now through Pan Macmillan and is available at all good bookstores, you can order your copy here. Eddie has chosen to donate all royalties from the sale of his book to the Sydney Jewish Museum.

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