Happy 100th Eddie!

April 13, 2020 by Henry Benjamin
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Eddie Jaku, one of the best-known faces in the Sydney Jewish community turns 100 tomorrow [Tuesday] but the Coronavirus put paid to plans for a special celebration with family and friends at the Sydney Jewish Museum.

Eddie Jaku with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian last year

Instead, Eddie and his wife for 73 years, 96-yr-old Flore, will spend the day locked down in the Montefiore Home.

Up until the virus closed down so much of Australians’ lives, Auschwitz survivor Eddie had been a fixture at the museum telling his story of the Holocaust and imbuing into thousands of school students the need of humanity the understanding and respecting others.

When the pandemic crisis is over, Eddie will continue to drive himself to his precious work at The Sydney Museum.

Eddie Jaku received the OAM in 2013 and was a finalist for 2020 NSW Senior Australian of the Year.

His son Michael said: “He has spoken publicly for decades about his experiences during the Holocaust and the lessons to be learned with his full backing of my mother. Their partnership has been a close and continuous one both emotionally and in their various successful business ventures.”

Eddie told J-Wire: “I started in the Museum on 18th November 1992 but for the five years before I was a regular speaker for the Jewish Board of Deputies’ events.”

Eddie and Flore will celebrate their 74th wedding anniversary next week on April 24. He has advice for young couples about to tie the knot. He said: “Couples entering marriage have to be prepared to do lots of compromising and sometimes let their partner have the last word.

Eddie and Flore Jaku

Happiness is your hands – it doesn’t fall from the sky.”

Looking back on life, Eddie reflected: “The worst moment of my life was Kristallnacht. The 9th November 1938 -the day when I was bashed to pieces. I lost my freedom and my dignity and everything I stood for.

The happiest days of my life when I left my last camp and went back to Belgium where I married Flore and the days when my sons Michael & Andre were born.”

Asked about his famous permanent smile, Eddie responded: “The real Eddie is happy, smiling and helpful. I will never retire from what I have to do for my parents, my lost family and 6,000,000 victims.

The Holocaust is drifting into history and Eddie has concerns for the future.

He told J-Wire: “Yes I am very worried.  When all survivors have gone, it will not be remembered as it is now.”

Eddie Jaku at 100. “I used to give two lectures each week but now sometimes even three as requested by schools or groups”

Eddie and Flore have four grandchildren, Danielle Jaku-Greenfield, Marc Jaku, Phillip Jaku and Carly Jaku and five great-grandchildren Lara (14), Joel (11) and Zoe (6) Greenfield and Samuel (7) and Toby (5).

Last year, Eddie Jaku gave a talk on TED. No better than to learn about his life when from his own mouth.

Eddie Jaku has been an icon at the Sydney Jewish Museum almost since its inception and it is difficult to overstate his importance to the spirit and substance of our programs” says president Gus Lehrer.

He added: “One distillation of the SJM’s message is the triumph of good over evil; that notwithstanding the efforts of the Nazi regime and its allies, the Jewish people have survived and thrived. Eddie Jaku is the embodiment of this triumph. The absence of any bitterness or hatred from his narrative is in itself an inspiration to the thousands of students who have seen and heard him.

One of the core objectives of the Survivors of the Shoah who founded the SJM was that their experience should not be forgotten and that their suffering should be their gift to a better future for the world. Eddie Jaku
reminds us every day of this objective. He symbolises the aspirations of the Survivors, as well as what the SJM is about.

Being a symbol can sometimes be a great burden. However, Eddie Jaku has carried this burden apparently without effort.

We have all benefited from his inspiration. On behalf of the Sydney Jewish Museum, I wish him “bis 120 juer”, and then 120 more.

The CEO of The Sydney Jewish Museum Norman Seligman told J-Wire: “Eddie Jaku has to be one of the most articulate, inspiring, youthful and sprightly centenarians around!

Eddie epitomises the concept of a mensch in terms of his personality and the message he conveys to those he speaks to. He is a true inspiration to all, evidenced by the numerous messages of appreciation that he receives. Many parents can thank Eddie for the hugs and expressions of love they receive from their children after they heard Eddie’s life-changing lessons!

I have listened to Eddie many times, whether at events, talking to schools and adult groups, or one on one, and no matter how often one gets the opportunity, each time spent with Eddie is an absolute privilege. To have gone through so much tragedy and to come out not hating is indeed an awesome quality.

I often ask Eddie if he will have a quick chat to some Museum visitors and he always says yes. Sometimes he says he only has a few minutes, but an hour later he is still there with his admiring audience appreciating the experience of a lifetime.

On behalf of the Sydney Jewish Museum family, I want to thank Eddie for all that he has done for us for more than 25 years.

Eddie, we wish you BIS 120 and look forward to being able to celebrate with you and Flore in person once we have passed these very difficult times.”

Eddi Jaku with his sons Michael and Andre and daughters-in-law Linda and Eva at the Sydney Jewish Museum in 2017.

Resident historian at the Sydney Jewish Museum Professor Konrad Kwiedt and his wife Jane said: “Eddie’s 100th birthday is truly an historic event, a testament that Adolph Hitler did not prevail.  Eddie Jaku, once Ali Jakubowicz, is one of the last witnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust and one who has witnessed four forms of the Holocaust. In 1938 he witnessed public violence erupting during the bloody pogrom of the Reichkristallnacht in his Saxonian home city of Leipzig. Escaping to Belgium he was denounced and deported in early 1944 to Auschwitz.  Here he encountered the industrial killing of Jews by poison gas. As a skilled toolmaker, he was subjected to forced labour in Auschwitz-Monowitz. He fell sick and was cured by Jewish doctors in the camp hospital. In January 1945 he survived the death march to Buchenwald concentration camp and from there to one of its satellite camps where he was liberated. Repatriated to Belgium he later embarked with his wife Flore on the long journey to Australia – the edge of diaspora.

Eddie has told his story of survival to tens of thousands of people – Jews and non-Jews, school and university students and countless other visitors to the Sydney Jewish Museum. He has told his story until today with the hallmark accent – a mixture of Saxonian German, French and Australian. He always instilled in his listeners the obligation to remember and to honour but not to hate.

Richard Balkin, the president of the Zionist Council of NSW commented: “The Zionist Council of NSW wishes Eddie Jaku a happy 100th birthday. Eddie is a legend in the Sydney Jewish community and a staunch supporter of the State of Israel.

We wish him health and happiness to 120!”

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Lesli Berger and CEO Vic Alhadeff said: “Eddie Jaku is synonymous with the most wonderful positive spirit, despite having endured the very worst that mankind threw at him. “Thousands of members of the wider community have been awed by Eddie’s determination to radiate goodwill in the world, and we stand in admiration of his extraordinary energy and unique contribution, not only to our community but to our country.”

The president of JCA, Stephen Chipkin told J-Wire: “Eddie Jaku was born in the middle of the Spanish flu pandemic. He now celebrates his 100th birthday in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Clearly, nothing much has changed!

And in a sense, that is one of Eddie’s most endearing traits – his constancy over time. An unerring ability to always look at the bright side, with a smile that lights up a room.

Eddie begins his talks to visiting school children at the Sydney Jewish Museum with the words: “ you are looking at the luckiest man alive”, and that says it all.

He reminds us of the capacity of the human spirit to rise above hardship and cruelty to connect with warmth and love.

We are clearly the lucky ones – lucky to have Eddie in our community, with his debonair charm, twinkle and positivity.

A treasure of our community turns 100.

What a blessing for us all.

Eddie, thank you and bless you.”

Dan Springer paid tribute to Eddie Jaku on behalf of JNF.

He said: “Having experienced the depths of inhumanity, Eddie Jaku has inspired so many, including thousands of schoolchildren, with his smiling optimism, positive energy and message of tolerance and hope. JNF Australia joins the rest of our community in thanking him for those gifts to our society and wishing Eddie a Happy 100th Birthday and continued good health, together with Flore and the family.”

In the meantime, celebrations have not been shelved. They only have been deferred by an attack of a virus which pales into significance to the attacks which Eddie Jaku has survived.

 

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