Thursday, October 21, 2021

Holocaust survivor dies aged 101

Australian Holocaust survivor, Eddie Jaku, whose book ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’ – penned in his 100th year – became a worldwide bestseller, has passed away at the age of 101.

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison confirmed Mr Jaku’s passing today, describing him as “an inspiration and a joy”.

“He will be sadly missed, especially by our Jewish community,” the Prime Minister said.

“Shalom, Eddie, and thank you for your great gift to us all and our sincere condolences to all your loving family and friends.”

Eddie Jaku was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1920 to a loving family that regarded themselves as “Germans first and foremost, and Jewish only in [their] home”.

Eddie was the only Jewish student at the local school he attended. He explained, “Germany was a civilized country. Children from my school came to my house and ate with us. There was no distinction because we were always German first,” he told Sydney Jewish Museum.

However, this all changed when Hitler came to power. When Eddie arrived home from boarding school on 9 November 1938, no one was there. It was Kristllnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. At 5am, the door was smashed in by Nazi soldiers. Eddie was beaten and taken to Buchenwald concentration camp. When Eddie asked the nurse about escaping, she said, “If you do, they will find your parents and kill them.”

Upon release from Buchenwald, Eddie and his father escaped to Belgium and then France, where he was again incarcerated. After 11 months in a camp, Eddie and other prisoners were put on a train to Auschwitz. He led an escape of nine men through the floor boards of the train and returned to Belgium, living illegally in an attic with his parents and sister.

In October 1943, the family was arrested. Eddie endured a grueling train ride to Auschwitz, where his mother, aged 43, and father, 50, were murdered in a gas chamber. Eddie survived, being marked as an “economically indispensable Jew”. When Auschwitz was evacuated, Eddie was sent on a death march. He miraculously managed to escape this march, hiding in a cave in a forest, only eating slugs and snails. Eddie fell ill after drinking poisoned water from a creek in the forest. Luckily, he managed to crawl to a highway where he was rescued by an American tank. This was in June 1945.

Eddie married Flore Molho in Belgium, and the couple left for Australia in 1950 with their firstborn, Michael. In Australia, Flore and Eddie’s second child, Andre, was born.

Eddie Jaku OAM, Holocaust survivor, with his belt
In this photograph, Eddie holds a worn leather belt, the sole personal item he was able to retain during the years of incarceration. It held up his trousers through four concentration camps, including Auschwitz (Photo: Sydney Jewish Museum).

Mr Jaku published his book, ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’ last year at the age of 100. The cover shows his forearm inked with the number assigned to him during his time in the German concentration camps.

“Life is what you want it to be,” he said in an interview with Sydney Jewish Museum last year.

“Life is in your hands. Happiness doesn’t fall from the sky. You want to be happy? You can be happy.”

To watch Eddie’s full story at home, you can purchase the DVD of documentary The Happiest Man here.

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