Australian Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku dies aged 101

·3-min read

Eddie Jaku OAM, an Australian Holocaust survivor and the author of The Happiest Man on Earth, has died at the age of 101.

Mr Jaku was born in Germany in 1920 and moved to Australia following the Second World War, where he escaped Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps and then the Nazi death march.

His book, The Happiest Man on Earth, was published when he was 100 years old and details his experience growing up in Germany and the war.

Australian Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku has died. Source: YouTube/Tedx Talks
Australian Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku has died. Source: YouTube/Tedx Talks

Mr Jaku was one of the founders of the Sydney Jewish Museum, where he told his story for years.

“Eddie shared his pledge not to hate and his choice to be happy with thousands of people, young and old, across the world,” the Museum said on Instagram.

“Many who spoke to Eddie expressed that their meeting was a life-changing moment. Eddie’s impact, as the ‘happiest man on earth’ will continue to be felt for generations to come.”

On November 9, 1938, a date which became known as Kristllnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, Mr Jaku returned to his family home, to find no one there.

The next morning, he was beaten by Nazi soldiers and taken to Buchenwald concentration camp and then went on to survivor the horrors of Auschwitz and the death march.

His parents were murdered in the Holocaust and after the war, he met his wife Flore after the war and the two married in Belgium.

The couple had two children together, Michael, who was born in Belgium and Andre, who was born in Australia, and they had many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Eddie Jaku's 'special gift'

Dr Ari Lander, a historian, worked with Mr Jaku at the Sydney Jewish Museum for seven years and stayed in touch with him for several years after.

Working at the museum, Mr Jaku would have touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, Dr Lander said.

"He always just spoke so beautifully and with such compassion and he would say 'you're all my friends here'," Dr Lander told Yahoo News Australia.

"It created that warm space that was such a special gift that he gave to those audiences."

Eddie Jaku shared his experience of surviving the Holocaust with thousands of people. Source: Katherine Griffiths
Eddie Jaku shared his experience of surviving the Holocaust with thousands of people. Source: Katherine Griffiths

Mr Jaku preached compassion, urged people to tell their parents that they loved them if they could and ultimately shared a message of hope.

Through his work speaking to crowds and his book, Mr Jaku touched on some of the most violent aspects of human history, but despite that, he was never hateful.

"Despite all of that, he could still acknowledge the importance of human love speaking against the idea of hate," Dr Lander said.

 "He was always saying 'I want to get the word hate out of the vocabulary' and this was despite all the loss and suffering he had."

Dr Lander also acknowledged the huge toll it can take on a survivor when they share their story.

"That's a beautiful thing too, it's painful, it's horrific and we shouldn't look away from and just pretend it's all about the happy messages," Dr Lander said. 

"I think he was really trying to speak to acknowledge what happened to his family, who were murdered and that's a tragedy in some sense can never be healed."

Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg was among the many people who paid tribute to Mr Jaku's death on Tuesday.

"Australia has lost a giant with the passing of Holocaust survivor, Eddie Jaku, 101," Mr Frydenberg said.  

"He dedicated his life to educating others about the dangers of intolerance & the importance of hope. Scarred by the past, he only looked forward. May his story be told for generations to come."

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