The smile has gone but the memory remains

October 12, 2021 by Henry Benjamin
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Eddie Jaku passed away in Sydney this morning leaving a legacy of hope for a troubled world.

Eddie Jaku

The 101-yr-old who survived Auschwitz achieved unexpected worldwide fame following the publication of his book The Happiest Man on Earth which created inspiration for hundreds and thousands who read it.

Eddie was a pillar of awe as he retold and retold his Holocaust memories to thousands who visited the Sydney Jewish Museum including a huge number of school students.

Eddie Jaku wrote: “This is my message, as long as I live, I’ll teach not to hate.”

The Happiest Man was the biography Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards.

His son Michael told J-Wire: “He had heart problems more than three months ago, but he had had a successful, miraculous operation which fixed all that, but when you’re 101, you know your days are numbered.”

The Happiest Man has been published in more than 30 languages including India, Japan, China, all the Baltic states, all the Scandinavian states, and then naturally the ones you’d expect, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the UK, the United States.

J-Wire asked Michael Jaku about what personal memories, he will take into the future given that in Eddie’s later days, his family had to share his father with the community.

He said: “Even though we were sharing him, a lot of the things that he did, I certainly was interested in those same things.

We were both on the board of the Holocaust Survivors Association and The Sydney Jewish Museum where he was the celebrity guide.

I’m still a volunteer for the Museum, the Board of Deputies where I was the chair of the Shoah Remembrance Committee, and he was often active with the Board of Deputies, as a Holocaust survivor.

So we were on parallel paths. It wasn’t like oh where’s Dad – he’s off again because half the time I was there with him.

And even at the Monte, where he resided for the last few years., I’ve been a volunteer for the last 10 years.”

He added: ” We always thought it was quite remarkable, especially as the years wore on because he had been so well for so long, he was lucky to have a charmed old age, and it’s only very recently that it caught up with him.

He’d never seemed like 101-year-old but the last few months since the heart attack, it was starting to show that, his charm, old age finally caught up with him.

“You must not hate. You say, “I don’t like this person”, but you don’t hate. Hate is a disease. It destroys first your enemy, but you also. It destroys you.”..Eddie Jaku 

J-Wire asked Michael Jaku if Eddie spoke about the Holocaust at home. He responded: “He talked about it but didn’t harangue us about it like I know some, some Holocaust survivors do with their kids.

He brought up anecdotes and we always knew that he and his friend Kurt were very close because of their experiences. It was never like a secret but in the later years during the last few decades, especially with his work at the museum that he really came out with a lot, a lot of things we didn’t know.

It wasn’t because he was holding back, or that he didn’t want us to know or he wanted to protect us.”

According to Michael, in his younger years, Eddie Jaku ‘was not so remarkable’.

He said: “My dad frankly didn’t read much as far as literature is concerned, he didn’t play any sport and didn’t have any hobbies. There’s nothing remarkable in that sense, but obviously, he touched people emotionally, he had a lot of charisma, that’s the word I’d use about my father,”

Sometimes my brother, myself, and even my mother would think ‘what are you what are these people talking about saying ‘I’ve been inspired by the book. It’s changed my life’.

The second edition of Eddie Jaku’s book The Happiest Man on Earth is due to be released next month.

Michael Jaku explained: “It will be in a totally different format, with a lot more photos, one extra chapter because the book just took off, it became a story in itself and people have been asking, especially the publishers what happened to Eddie’s sister and his best friend.

This is a different form of the book which won’t be sold overseas.


Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia:

Eddie Jaku OAM described himself as the happiest man on earth. Sadly Eddie has passed away, aged 101.
Having survived the Holocaust, Eddie chose to make his life a testimony of how hope and love can triumph over despair and hate.
He will be sadly missed, especially by our Jewish community. He was an inspiration and a joy.
Shalom Eddie and thank you for your great gift to us all and our sincere condolences to all your loving family and friends.

Natalie Ward Minister For Multiculturalism:
I express my deepest sympathies to the family of Mr Eddie Jaku OAM and the Jewish community over the loss of this giant of tolerance and optimism.

A Holocaust survivor, one of the founders of the Sydney Jewish Museum and the author of the inspirational memoir “The Happiest Man on Earth”, Eddie dedicated his life to educating others about the dangers of hatred.

Eddie passed down important written and oral histories, so we and future generations never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust.

As he related in “The Happiest Man on Earth”, after surviving Kristallnacht, the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps and a death march, he vowed to smile every day and not to hate.

In 1992, Eddie helped found the Sydney Jewish Museum where, as a guide, he shared his experiences and belief that happiness can survive the darkest of times. His life-affirming story left many of his listeners deeply moved, and full of hope.

I was lucky enough to meet Eddie and see the joy and energy he brought to all those around him.

He made me smile.

May his memory be a blessing.

Alain Hasson, CEO of JCA:

The team at JCA is extremely saddened to hear of the passing of a treasured member of our community, Eddie Jaku. Eddie was a light to us all, and he will be deeply missed by not only the local Jewish community but all those who were fortunate enough to have known him. He played an integral role in Holocaust education and remembrance whilst still spreading messages of joy and gratitude, and was in every sense of the word a true mensch. Baruch Dayan Ha’emet.” 

From George Foster, President of the Australian Associaton of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants:

Eddie was an incredible man, who was a Life Member of the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants. He will be sadly missed by the Association and all who knew him. His energy, spirit, and motivation to tell the story of his horrific experiences is an inspiration to us all. Many people around the world will have the opportunity to read and understand what Eddie has given to the world. He was a man who did not carry hatred within him but gave the world light when there was darkness, and he did it with such grace and humility. He was indeed a survivor!

David Freeman, Presidemt of the Montefiore:

We are saddened by the passing of Eddie Jaku OAM – a huge loss to us here at Montefiore, to our Sydney Jewish community and to the countless people around the world whose lives he touched with his public speaking and writing about his experiences as a Holocaust Survivor. Although Eddie’s two years with us at Montefiore Randwick were marked by the challenges of the pandemic, his remarkable presence and warmth was felt by fellow residents and staff alike, and we were privileged to celebrate milestones together including his 100th birthday and the success of his bestselling memoir The Happiest Man on Earth. Wishing Eddie’s beloved wife Flore, sons Michael and André and extended family long life.

Eddie Jaku is survived by his wife Flore, sons Michael and Andre, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Peter Wertheim: co-CEO of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry:

The passing of Eddie Jaku OAM is a devastating loss for his family, the Jewish community and Australia.

Somehow, Eddie seemed to be indestructible.  He survived Kristallnacht and the horrors of both Buchenwald and Auschwitz, where his parents were murdered. Yet Eddie overcame every adversity.  He moved to Australia where life began anew.

In his later years, through his volunteer work at the Sydney Jewish Museum and his many public talks, Eddie became something of a hero figure and role model for new generations. He exemplified what it means to overcome evil with grace and dignity.  His happy disposition and optimistic outlook, despite everything he had endured, were an inspiration.

Eddie endeared himself to all who knew him. He offered love and understanding to all, and demonstrated by his example the futility of hatred and bitterness. He was a shining example of how living a long, happy and productive life is the best revenge.

We wish long life to everyone in Eddie’s family.   May his memory be a blessing.

Dan Springer CEO Jewish National Fund:

We join the rest of the community in mourning Eddie Jaku z”l, a beautiful light that has passed from this world, while cherishing his inspiring legacy. The warmth of an encounter with Eddie and his defiantly positive vision will be remembered by many, including those of us who were privileged to hear him most recently at a JNF seniors event. Wishing all the family a long life and may Eddie’s memory always be a blessing, as was his life.

Darren Bark: CEO of The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies:

Eddie Jaku was a beacon of light and hope for not only our community, but the world. He will always be remembered for the joy that followed him, and his constant resilience in the face of adversity.

While the past few months Eddie was separated from family and friends due to COVID-19, his spirit and strength remained unbroken. He remained an active part of our community and his impact will be felt for generations to come. Eddie’s powerful story has – and will continue to – educate people around the world on the perils of hate, and how happiness can be found even when surrounded by darkness.
The world is a little less bright without him in it, and we will always treasure the memories and stories we were privileged to have heard.

We wish the entire Jaku family a long life, may his memory be a blessing.

Yair Miller, CEO of The United Israel Appeal:

The world and our community are poorer for the loss of this remarkable man. Eddie leaves a legacy that will live on through the tens thousands of people he influenced and educated over so many decades. Many survivors managed to rebuild their lives and make a meaningful contribution but few were able to do so in the positive and energetic way in which Eddie did. Always smiling and always willing to engage Eddie was first and foremost amensch. May his memory be a blessing to his wonderful family.

Chris Minns, Leader of the Opposition in the NSW Parliament:

I rise as Leader of the Opposition to pay tribute to the late Mr Eddie Jaku, who passed away last night at the age of 101.

My colleague the Shadow Minister for Police, Walt Secord also extends his sympathy, as he’s known Eddie for more than 33 years when they first met as a journalist at the Australian Jewish News.

I know that Mr Jaku was a member of the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, but he was also an author and a guide until recently at the Sydney Jewish Museum, and most importantly a wonderful human being.

For the record, my close friend Dr George Foster from my local Synagogue is President of the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants.

Eddie Jaku was born in Leipzig in 1920 in Germany. He was deported to Buchenwald in 1938. He escaped only to be jailed in camps in Belgium and France between 1939 and 1941. In 1943 he and his family were deported to Auschwitz, he never saw his parents again.

After being liberated in 1945 he weighed just 28 kilograms. As the Premier said eventually he and his wife Flore migrated to Sydney, Australia in 1950.

As the renowned Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel, said, ‘God made men, because he loves stories’. Following a long and successful career Eddie began sharing his survival story publicly at the Sydney Jewish Museum. His autobiography The Happiest Man on Earth, won last year’s biography Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards.

Eddie was an intelligent, gentle and warm human being whose smile and manner put everyone at ease. From the highest leaders in the land, to small school children struggling to comprehend the horrors of the Shoah.

Our thoughts are with his family at this time.

He is survived by his wife for 75 years, his two children, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren.

May Eddie Jaku’s memory be a blessing.

The Sydney Museum:

“This is my message, as long as I live, I’ll teach not to hate.” The passing of Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku OAM has left a huge void in the hearts of the Sydney Jewish Museum ‘family’. Eddie’s impact, as the ‘happiest man on earth’ will be felt for generations to come.

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