What’s it about?
“The Happiest Man on Earth” (2020) tells the true story of a man who experienced unimaginable horror during the Holocaust and then became his mission to change the world. Eddie Jaku witnessed how the fascist regime provoked anti-Semitic hatred. , And turn old friends and neighbors into killers. When talking about what happened, he shared how love and kindness helped him survive one of the worst atrocities in human history.
About the author:
Eddie Yaku is a German engineer who spent World War II in Buchenwald and Auschwitz concentration camps. In 1950, he and his family moved to Australia. Eddie is one of the founders of the Jewish Museum in Sydney and was awarded the Australian Jewish Community Medal of Merit in 2013. Eddie often talks about his experience during the Holocaust. His TEDx talk has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
What can I get? In the face of unimaginable atrocities, get inspiration from stories of resilience and love. The atrocities of the
Massacre seems to have a long way to go. Most people who survived that year are now dead, and it is hard to imagine what happened. It is why the first-hand report is so important.
This book gives you a personal understanding of what a person is and how he survived the Nazi extermination camps in Buchenwald and Auschwitz. Eddie Jaku talked about the horror and cruelty he saw and how the kindness of friends, family, and strangers allowed him to survive all harsh environments.
The massacre may be over, but fascism and anti-Semitism are still alive. Eddie tells his story to let us remember the past horrors and not repeat the same mistakes.
After Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, Eddie Yaku’s life changed.
Eddie Jaku wants to go to high school. He is intelligent and capable and wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an engineer. In 1933, Eddie had just finished elementary school in beautiful Leipzig. He went to a good school near his home, but then Hitler came to power, and suddenly everything changed for Eddie and other Jewish kids like him.
Eddie never thought that he was a Jew. When agreeing with something, he looks like a proud German. His father was involved in weapon manufacturing during the First World War and was an ardent patriot. He always told Eddie that they “are Germans first, and Jews second.” But when Adolf Hitler came to power, Judaism became a decisive aspect of her life.
When Hitler was elected, he declared his anti-Semitic views early on. In 1918, Germany was defeated in the First World War and paid massive compensation to the victorious countries. But the government cannot afford it. And payment leads to widespread poverty and hunger.
The Germans felt humiliated and angry; they accepted a message from someone who told them that he could restore Germany to its former glory; they were also looking for a theme for their anger: Jews.
For centuries, the Jewish community has been the cultural and economic center of Leipzig. Even in the Middle Ages, the weekly bazaar was held on Saturday, Jewish Saturday, so that Jewish merchants could participate.
But when Hitler came to power, he brought a wave of anti-Semitism. Eddie felt the consequences almost immediately. He was not allowed to hold adult celebrations or rites of passage in Leipzig’s main synagogue.
Returning to Leipzig ruined Eddie’s life.
The only way for Eddie to receive a good education is to pretend to be someone else.
His father forged his ID card, claiming that he was a German orphan named Walter Schleif. Under this pseudonym, Eddie won one of the best precision engineering courses in the world. In the city orphanage 9 hours drive from Leipzig.
Eddie did not see his family in the next five years. He felt isolated and lonely and was forced to live in lies when he was a teenager. After finishing his studies, he spontaneously decided to go home to visit his parents when he was a teenager—the 20th anniversary of marriage.
It’s been a long time. I miss her very much. He thought it was worth taking the risk. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst decisions Eddie can make.
Eddie returned to his home in Leipzig in the middle of the night and found that everything was closed. None of his family is at home. Eddie didn’t know that they ran away because they believed Eddie was safe and far away. He enters and is welcomed by the cheering dachshund Lulu. He fell asleep curled up in the crib.
But this dream did not last long. When Eddie woke up, a group of Nazi mobs had already broken his door. They found him and beat him hard. It was so bad that his pajamas were stained with blood. When Lulu tried to protect herself, they stabbed him with bayonets.
Then they let Eddie watch his house be destroyed. Unconsciously, Eddie went straight to the center of Crystal Night. On the night when the glass was broken, Nazis in brown shirts attacked Jewish houses and shops.
The worst thing for Eddie is that his friends and neighbors will join the crowd to make fun of the Jewish family who was thrown into the frozen river and looted their belongings. He believes that the community to which his family belongs has disappeared. He would never call himself a German again.
The Buchenwald camp was terrible, but Eddie managed to escape. After
Crystal Night, Eddie was taken to a large zoo hangar near his home, where he liked to go when he was a child, but it was not funny this time. Eddie worried that more and more Jews would be brought into the hangar at night. In the morning, they were transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp, one of the many concentration camps established by the Nazis in 1938.
The conditions in the camp are shocking. The men fold up like sardines and sleep on narrow bunk beds. There is no toilet but a giant cesspool. As there is no toilet paper, men have to wash their hands. Disease and hunger are a constant threat.
Eddie is surrounded by doctors, lawyers, and students, who were formerly outstanding members of German society. They are now treated as inferior people; everything in the field deprives them of their dignity. Eddie couldn’t understand how the German soldiers would obey such cruel orders. The Nazis would beat prisoners with minimal offense and play sadistic games, such as pretending to release these people and then shooting them in the back while running.
But not everyone is equally violent. Eddie was lucky enough to meet a soldier he met at the boarding school, and Walter Schleif was the orphan he studied there. The guards convinced the camp commander Eddie’s mechanical skills to make him valuable. Nazi.
Eddie is allowed to leave, provided that he has worked in a Nazi factory all his life. He agreed, and the camp commander contacted his family, who were returning to Leipzig and waiting to ensure Eddie’s safety before they fled. Nation.
Eddie’s father found out that he realized he would take him to the factory where he was going to work, but Eddie never came. Instead, he and his father drove directly to the Belgian border, paying smugglers to help them escape.
Smugglers lead them through the dark forest to a place where they can be crossed and warn them to be fast. Otherwise, they will become the focus of everyone’s attention. Eddie ran across the border, but when he looked at his father, he was already gone.
Eddie is eager to reunite with his family in Belgium, but every step seems to push him further and further.
Eddie crossed the border into Belgium, but his father was not so lucky. When he stopped to help another refugee, he stepped back and became the focus of the spotlight. They handed him over to the Gestapo and beat him severely. The father and the son are separated.
Back in Leipzig, Eddie’s mother and sister were arrested. A few months later, her mother negotiated with her to be released. Finally, a father, mother, and sister arrived in Belgium. But when they got there, Eddie had already left.
Eddie was arrested as a German for crossing the border illegally and being taken to Belgium. The authorities did not care that his life as a Jew was in danger. They arrested him and detained him on charges of violating regulations. They were locked for a year.
Eddie and his prisoners of war were released when Germany invaded Belgium in 1940. He tried to flee to France on foot to get on a boat bound for Britain, but the evacuation was chaotic, and there was no place for refugees on the ship. Eddie wandered in southern France, relying on the generosity of local farmers to feed himself until he was finally arrested again. This time, he was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Gyur in southwestern France.
Eddie would be safe and comfortable if he could survive the War of Gulsart, but he was not. The French authorities arranged to exchange prisoners with the Germans, and Eddie was loaded back into the train. This time he went to Auschwitz, a famous concentration camp in Poland.
But surprisingly, Eddie escaped. He stole the driver’s screwdriver, jumped off the train before reaching his destination, and tore open the floor. Eddie got on and off the train late at night and returned to Belgium. With the help of friends, he found his family hiding in the attic of a house on the outskirts of Brussels.
The following months are the happiest months of Eddie’s life. The attic was narrow and uncomfortable, food was scarce, but the family has reunited again. But when someone reported the family to the authorities, happiness was short-lived. He was arrested and traveled to Auschwitz by train. This time, no one can escape.
Auschwitz took away Eddie’s family and his will to survive.
The train to Auschwitz was overcrowded. There was no place to sit or lie down or even a place for people to take off their winter clothes. It is a problem because the 150-passenger carriage is very hot. Women and children breathe the same air.
You drove for nine days, but the passengers had nothing to eat, only a bucket of water.
They survived to thank Eddie’s father, who developed a card system for sharing water. He cut out 150 sheets of paper, one for each person, one for each person when the newspaper was delivered in the morning, and one in the evening.
Everyone except two survived, and in other cars, as many as 40% of people died of dehydration. Unfortunately, many of these passengers survived and died immediately.
In Auschwitz, train passengers were divided into two groups: young and healthy, like Eddie, were sent to labor camps; the elderly and children were sent to gas chambers. Have a chance to say goodbye.
Auschwitz is worse than Eddie knew. He never knows if he can survive the night: many men freeze to death while sleeping naked without blankets. Food is always in short supply, and prisoners do forced labor in German factories and mines every day. If you don’t know how to work, you will be killed immediately. Many prisoners chose to commit suicide. The camp was electrocuted.
Eddie’s supporter is his sister Henny. Eddie found out that she was still alive and in a separate part of the camp, and his best friend Kurt, he miraculously always seemed to be in the same place with him.
When did Eddie and Kurt meet? They were both arrested in Crystal Night. Kurt also sought asylum in Belgium and took Eddie to Auschwitz on the same train. Kurt and Eddie take care of each other, share food and clothes, and keep watch if this or that hurts.
The most important thing is that they provide each other with something strange: emotional support. In a place designed to be dehumanized, a true friend is Eddie’s rescue.
At the end of the war, the Auschwitz concentration camp was empty, but the life of the prisoners became more difficult.
On January 18, 1945, the commanders of Auschwitz decided to withdraw from the concentration camp. The Russian army was getting closer, and the Nazis wanted to cover their tracks and hide the regime’s atrocities. Auschwitz was destroyed, and the crematorium was destroyed.
Eddie and other prisoners are walking on the snow. Their delicate prison uniforms and thin shoes cannot protect them from the cold. Without food or water, if they fall, they will be shot. It was impossible, but Eddie kept putting one foot in front of the other, hoping to get out alive.
But Kurt fought. As the journey continued, it became noticeably weaker.
The last group arrived at an abandoned building where they could spend the night. Kurt was exhausted, and he told Eddie that he couldn’t continue. The idea of his old friend being shot was too strong—shelter on the bathroom ceiling. Kurt went upstairs, and Eddie locked himself behind him with a piece of wood. At least now his friend has a chance.
From here, Eddie and the other prisoners continued and finally got on another train, first to Buchenwald, where their nightmare began, and then to a small camp with better living conditions. Still, only A few months later, he was evacuated. Again.
This time the Nazis had no plans. As the prisoners walked around hundreds of miles, Eddie could see his kidnappers become more desperate. He knew he had to run. But how?
On the roadside, Eddie noticed some drainage pipe, a pipe big enough to climb over. He found a way out, but what if he drowned in the process? Eddie managed to grab two wooden barrel stoppers and use them to float himself in the water. As soon as it got dark, he ran away.
Coldwater rolled from Eddie in the pipe, rushing him so fast that he lost his shoes. He was exhausted, passed out, clamped the lids on both sides, and fell asleep. When he woke up, he saw that the top was full of cartridges. The Nazis shot the downpipe, but unbelievably there was none. Eddie went out and looked around. He was free.
By the end of the war, Eddie’s physical and mental health was destroyed.
Eddie survived several detentions, death marches, forced labor, and Nazi beatings, but he almost died at the end of the war despite resistance. When he walked out of the sewer to freedom, he was exhausted. He hid in a cave and survived on slugs and slugs, but the water he drank made him sicker and weaker.
Finally, he decided not to care whether he was caught or shot. After all, if he stayed in the cave, he would die anyway. So Eddie began to crawl into the street on all fours.
At this moment, a tank appeared and saw that American soldiers led it.
When Eddie woke up a week later, he was in a clean ward with white sheets. The nurses and doctors surrounded him and tried their best to keep him alive. But the chance is slim. Eddie weighs only 28 kg and suffers from typhus and cholera; the nurse told him that his survival rate was 35%.
At this time, Eddie promised God that if he is still alive, he will become a force for good in the world, and he will never take his life for granted. Whether it was prayer or medical treatment, Eddie survived. Six weeks later, he went to Belgium to find his family.
Of course, no one is there. Like many survivors, Eddie felt more pain than relief at the end of the war. He doesn’t know where he is anymore. He has lost faith in people. Belgium is full of Nazis. Employees; people who abandon their families and looting property. He was isolated, let it be.
One day, to his surprise, he successfully met with his old friend Kurt again. Kurt was rescued from the bathroom hiding place by Russian soldiers. Meeting Kurt gave Eddie a new reason to live. They found a job and rented an apartment together, and then Eddie found out that his sister Hennie was also living in the city, moved in with them, and began to rebuild their lives.
Eddie fell in love with Flora, but she couldn’t fully understand how he felt during the war.
Flora Molho is a Greek-Jewish girl who spends most of her time in Belgium. During the war, she was not deported because the Nazis did not realize that she was a Jew for many years. When she was finally discovered, Ella fled to Paris under a pseudonym, where she survived the war relatively unscathed. When she met Eddie in the town hall where Eddie worked, he felt sadder for Flora than anything else.
But for Eddie, it was love at first sight. When he told Flora how he felt, she looked at him in disbelief. He was only a few months away from Auschwitz and looked terrible. He was thin, sickly, but complete. He said he wanted to take her to start a new life. Flora could only laugh.
As they get to know each other more and more, Flora also falls in love with Eddie. His mother welcomed him into the family as a son, and they married on April 20, 1946.
They love each other very much, but the first few years of their lives are challenging. Eddie suffered complex trauma in the war. He has been in survival mode for so long that he doesn’t know how to stop living in fear. He also endured great pain for his lost family. The first few years of their marriage were miserable. Eddie didn’t even know why he was still alive.
Everything changed when Flora became pregnant, and Eddie had her first child. When he looked at his child, his heart changed. Eddie realized how lucky he was to be alive. If he were told during the concentration camp that he would eventually get married and have a beautiful son, he would never believe it. However, it is here.
Eddie decides to make the most of his time on earth, consciously choosing to be happy and smiling every day.
Australia became a haven for Eddie and his family because he tried to forget the past trauma.
Eddie never felt that he belonged to Belgium. As a refugee, he can only obtain a residence permit for six consecutive months, not the basis for establishing a life. He and Flora decided to emigrate, and in March 1950, boarded a ship sailing to Sydney, Australia.
For Eddie and Flore, compared with their lives in Europe, life in Australia is paradise. Eddie got a job manufacturing medical equipment, and the family bought a house to settle down. It’s free.
Eddie has wholly avoided talking about his life during the war for decades and did not want his children and grandchildren to experience such terrible experiences. Still, at a particular moment, he felt that he was morally obliged to share his story.
Eddie was shocked by the denial of the Holocaust and realized that as one of the few surviving Auschwitz witnesses, he must speak as much as possible.
In 1972, Eddie and 20 other survivors gathered to share their experiences. I was very relieved to talk to some other people in the world who knew her expertise. The organization was later established as the Australian Holocaust Survivors Association. In 1992, they found the Jewish Museum in Sydney.
Eddie began to regularly talk about the horror and the dangers of fascism he experienced in the museum. He told the audience the depravity and shocking cruelty and kindness he suffered from his compatriots. He shared his unique survival strategy and his decision to become “the happiest person in the world” after the war, no matter what happened to him.
Eddie was 100 years old in 2020, and he and Flor celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. His anniversary, April 20, is also Hitler’s birthday. But when Hitler died long ago without a designated grave, their love continued. Eddie likes to think. Survival and prosperity are the sweetest acts of revenge.