The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku
This is a book that has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while. Every time I picked it up, I set it down, thinking I wasn’t quite in the right headspace to read again about the Holocaust. When I finally opened the first pages to read, I was astounded to discover one of the most incredible stories I think I’ve ever read. Yes, it is a story of the Holocaust, but it’s so much more – it’s a book about a man who has lived a truly inspirational life. It’s a memoir of hope and ultimately happiness.
Eddie Jaku was born in Germany in 1920, and he always considered himself a German first, a Jew second. He was proud of his country until 1938, when on the 'Night of Broken Glass' he was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp. For the next seven years, he witnessed the worst of mankind, the horrors of the death camps first in Buchenwald and then in Auschwitz, and then the infamous Nazi death march. He lost many friends and family.
But Eddie survived with his spirit intact and determined to live his best possible life and be happy. In fact, he now believes he is the happiest man on earth.
His memoir was published when he turned 100. In his prologue, Eddie says, ‘Through all my years I have learned this: life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. I will tell you my story. It is a sad one in parts, with great darkness and great sorrow. But it is a happy story in the end because happiness is something we can choose. It is up to you. I will show you how.’
This is a powerful book full of wisdom – that there are more things precious than money, how weakness can be turned into hatred, finding kindness everywhere, even from strangers, and if you lose your morals, you lose yourself, and that love is the best medicine. This is a memoir that is heart-breaking but uplifting in equal parts.
Reviewer: Karen McMillan