The Happiest Man on Earth - Eddie Jaku

This book is an autobiography of Eddie Jaku. He is a Holocaust survivor.

Eddie gives a detailed account of his life from childhood to the present. He currently spends his time educating people about the Holocaust.

This is the first book I have read that details what it was like for Jewish prisoners during the early days of the Nazis. Up to this point, I had only encountered media that described the situation at the height of the war and the situation following it.

Here are five takeaways from reading this book -

  • Friendship
  • Good People
  • Romance
  • Emigration
  • Kindness


Eddie placed a lot of importance on friendships in his life. There are moments in the book when it seems like all hope is lost, and Eddie is in despair. In those moments, through serendipity, he repeatedly encounters his best friend, Kurt.

This relationship gives him hope and the courage to keep going.

Here are some of my takeaway quotes on Friendship -

I can tell you that I would not be here today without Kurt. Thanks to my friend, I survived. We looked after each other.

This is the most important thing I have ever learned: the greatest thing you will ever do is be loved by another person. I cannot emphasize this enough, especially to young people. Without friendship, a human being is lost. A friend is someone who reminds you to feel alive.

The best balm for the soul is friendship. And with that friendship, we could do the impossible.

Good People

It never ceases to amaze me how many good people came along the way to help Eddie survive. In one instance, the owner of the factory where Eddie worked knew his father, and they were POWs together during World War I. The owner left food for Eddie in the machinery.

I expected to be yelled at and then hanged, but instead he spoke softly. He asked me if I was the son of Isidore, my father, and when I said yes, he started crying. He told me that he had been a prisoner of war with my father, back in the First World War. He was very sorry for what had happened, but said he was powerless to stop it. ‘Eddie, I can’t help you escape, but every day when you come to work, you will find extra food. It’s the least I can do. But please, anything you cannot eat, you must destroy.’


I love the story of two different and opposite people falling in love.

They were opposites in their profession and social lives and had a dichotomy of experiences during the war. While Eddie’s whole outlook on life immediately after the war was marred by his experiences in the concentration camp, his wife was fortunately shielded from the horrors for a long time. She was saved even when it seemed like she would be sent to the camp.

These two people learned to love each other despite the trauma that one of them survived.

But this is what made us such a good pair. You don’t want to fall in love with a reflection of yourself! A strong partnership is with a man or a woman who is different from you, who challenges you to try new things, to become a better person.

I had been programmed to look out for danger. My wife didn’t know anything about this. Those who hadn’t been in the camps didn’t realise how cruel people could be and how easily you could lose your life.


Chapter 12 examines Eddie Jaku’s lament of how Jews in Europe could no longer trust their own countries because those countries betrayed them.

Those Jews freed from the concentration camps now walked amongst people who had at one point denounced them. They walked among people who had plotted to send them away to the concentration camps and divide their belonging. At one point, Eddie notes how he comes across a man wearing his stolen suit.

This chapter helped me understand part of the eagerness of so many European Jews to emigrate elsewhere.

Once, I was out walking and ran straight into the kapo from my dormitory – the Jewish criminal in charge of keeping the other Jews down. I could not believe he was alive, that he was free. I went to the police and asked for him to be brought to justice, and they told me to drop it. He had made a good marriage, to the daughter of a powerful politician in Brussels, and the police did not want to be involved. …… He, and so many other criminals and murderers, would not face justice.

It was a struggle for us survivors to try to fit into Belgian society. Anti-Semitism was still very common, and our level of trust in the world was very low. We had seen horrors that no one who had not lived through it would ever understand. Even those who meant well and tried to empathise would never get it, not really.


And lastly, one of the most important and moving lessons from this book is that of Kindness.

Eddie and Kurt come across two sisters who fail at their suicide attempt. The two sisters had discovered that their entire family had been wiped out. Upon learning about their tragedy Kurt and Eddie, decide to move the sister into their own home and take care of them.

They weren’t mad – they never had been. They had just been through hell. All they needed was a little kindness. It was something that those who didn’t experience the camps found hard to understand. Giving them a home and a place to heal was a way for Kurt and me to give back, to say thank you to God for keeping us alive. In time, they were fully recovered and went out into the world to find work and lovely husbands – we have kept up correspondence ever since.

With a simple act of kindness, you can save another person from despair, and that might just save their life. And this is the greatest miracle of all.