In The Happiest Man on Earth, Eddie Jaku shares, in terrifying detail, his story of survival. He lived through the Nazi regime and was held captive at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. While reading along, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could endure the trauma, loss, and horror of those years and get to the other side to become ‘happy,’ let alone The Happiest Man on Earth.
Yet, Eddie somehow stays grounded with his faith in humanity intact. And ultimately, he teaches us to honor and celebrate life!
Here are four of Eddie’s extraordinary qualities that inspired me the most:
1. His enduring pursuit of kindness and connection serves him well.
Eddie is a loving, caring, and all-around incredible human being.
Even in the darkest of hours, he seeks and appreciates the kindness and goodness of others. A key person in this story is Eddie’s best friend, Kurt. On rediscovering each other at Auschwitz, they cared for each other like brothers. Eddie carved out brick space behind a toilet wall that served as a secret hiding place. The two men would leave small gifts for each other behind the brick, including soap, toothpaste, and incredibly precious pieces of rags.
Despite the hell Eddie is forced to live in, he still has room in his heart to tend to his friendship with Kurt. He even claims this loving relationship played a central role in his survival.
Eddie says, “I can tell you that I would not be here today without Kurt. Thanks to my friend, I survived. We looked after each other. When one of us was injured or too sick to work, the other would find food and help the other. We kept each other alive.”
2. His sense of hope leads the way.
Hope is a central theme in this story. Even when all seems hopeless, Eddie’s big heart and ability to remain hopeful are astonishing.
After recently escaping, Eddie discovers how frail he is. In fact, it takes all the strength he has to drag himself to the side of the highway. Soon after, American soldiers discover him, wrap him in a blanket, and take him to a hospital.
When a nurse finally tells him his survival odds are only 35%, he digs deep within himself. He says:
“At that moment, I made a promise to God that if I lived, I would become an entirely new person. I promised I would walk from German soil and never come back to the land that had given me everything and then taken it from me. I promised that I would dedicate the rest of my life to putting right the hurt that had been done to the world by the Nazis, and that I would live every day to the fullest.”
An important note is that hope isn’t an emotion. Brene Brown says, “Hope is a function of struggle – we develop hope not during the easy or comfortable times, but through adversity and discomfort.” Eddie cultivates and demonstrates hope for all of us to witness through his story.
3. In The Happiest Man on Earth, Eddie’s willingness and ability to let go sets him free to live a life of happiness.
Perhaps the most meaningful aspect of Eddie’s happiness comes from his ability to let go of the immense burden of sadness and grief he must have felt.
In his story, he shares how even after meeting and marrying his life partner, he still feels sad and disconnected.
However, when his first child is born, a son, he experiences profound healing that seems to liberate him from the pain and sadness.
Eddie says, “When I held my eldest son, Michael, in my arms for the first time, it was a miracle. In that one moment, my heart was healed and my happiness returned in abundance. From that day on, I realized I was the Luckiest Man on Earth.”
His willingness to let go is profound. This was a powerful lesson for me. At times it’s hard for me to let go of old hurts. Eddie shows that healing and moving forward are possible. He was open to receiving healing, and the healing came and blessed him.
4. Eddie teaches us that happiness is a choice in The Happiest Man on Earth.
What made Eddie the Happiest Man on Earth? A promise that he made to himself.
He said, “I promised when I came out of the darkest hours of my life that I would be happy for the rest of my life and smile, because if you smile, the world smiles with you. Life is not always happiness. Sometimes, there are many hard days. But you must remember that you are lucky to be alive – we are all lucky in this way. Every breath is a gift. Life is beautiful if you let it be. Happiness is in your hands.”
Eddie’s example is a testament to the power of making that choice.
Eddie Jaku passed away in October 2021 at the age of 101. Eddie was 100 years old when The Happiest Man on Earth was published. His book is considered an important and solid addition to Holocaust literature. It’s also important as an inspirational guidepost for readers (including me): Eddie teaches us how to live.
Did you like this story? Please forward it to a friend today!
Ps: You can order a copy of the book here.
For more inspiration, see powerful takeaways from Attitudes of Gratitude here.