The Happiest Man on Earth | Eddie Jaku

Summary of: The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor
By: Eddie Jaku

A False Identity

Eddie’s father forges identity papers for him to get a good education as a German orphan named Walter Schleif. After five years, Eddie decides to visit his family but walks straight into the thick of Kristallnacht, where Nazi Brownshirts attack Jewish homes and businesses, forcing Eddie to watch as his home was destroyed, and his pet dachshund, Lulu, was killed. The experience shattered Eddie’s life, and he would never consider himself to be a German again.

Lucky Escape

Eddie, a Jewish child in 1938, was taken to Camp Buchenwald after Kristallnacht. Conditions in the camp were terrible with disease, starvation, and cruelty. Eddie was lucky to meet a soldier who valued his mechanical skills. He was allowed to leave the camp and work in Nazi factories with the promise to reunite with his family. But instead, he and his father escaped with the help of a people smuggler.


Enter the extraordinary world of Eddie Jaku, a determined Auschwitz survivor who chose to rebuild his life in the most beautiful way. In ‘The Happiest Man on Earth,’ you will relive moments of pain, suffering, and loss as well as hope, love, and happiness. Follow Eddie’s incredible journey through Nazi Germany and his ultimate escape, as well as his decision to fill his days with happiness and joy. This summary aims to shed light on the importance of understanding the past, the resilience of the human spirit, and the life-affirming power of kindness and love.

The Life-Changing Election

Eddie Jaku’s life took a drastic turn when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Being Jewish suddenly became the defining aspect of their lives as Hitler’s anti-Semitic views gained popularity. Eddie was not allowed to have his bar mitzvah and go to high school. To continue his son’s education, Eddie’s father arranged for him to assume a completely new identity. Hitler brought a tide of anti-Semitism which affected Eddie and his family in unimaginable ways.

Eddie’s Perilous Journey

Eddie’s determination to reunite with his family in Belgium leads to his arrest and multiple escapes, but his happiness is short-lived.

Eddie’s journey towards reuniting with his family was not an easy one. He successfully crossed the border into Belgium, but his father was caught and severely beaten by the Gestapo. Eddie’s mother and sister were also arrested but were eventually released after months of negotiation.

Eddie himself was arrested for crossing the border illegally and was placed in a Belgian camp. He tried to escape by walking to France but was arrested again and was taken to a prison camp called Gurs. The French authorities agreed to a prisoner swap with the Germans, and Eddie was loaded onto a train bound for Auschwitz, but he miraculously escaped.

Eddie made his way back to Belgium, where he found his family hiding in an attic. Unfortunately, they were later reported to the authorities, arrested, and put on a train to Auschwitz. This time, nobody would escape.

Despite the multiple escapes, Eddie’s determination to be reunited with his family ultimately led to his downfall. The months spent together in the attic were short-lived, and their happiness was abruptly cut short. Eddie’s story serves as a reminder of the atrocities of the Holocaust and the strength and resilience of those who survived.

Eddie’s Survival Story

Eddie’s harrowing journey to Auschwitz and his determination to survive with the help of his father’s rationing system and the emotional support of his friend, Kurt.

Eddie and his family were among the 150 men, women, and children crammed into a stiflingly hot carriage on the train to Auschwitz. The journey lasted nine days with no food and only a barrel of water to ration among them. Eddie’s father saved their lives by coming up with a system to share the water, cutting 150 squares of paper to ensure everyone got one cup in the morning and another in the evening. All but two survived the journey, unlike the other cars where up to 40 percent of the passengers died of dehydration.

Sadly, the survivors’ ordeal was far from over as they were sorted into two groups upon arrival at Auschwitz. Young and fit prisoners like Eddie were sent to labor camps, while older people and children were sent straight to the gas chambers. Eddie lost his parents without having a chance to say goodbye.

Auschwitz was a place where prisoners did hard labor every day for German factories and mines. The prisoners rarely had enough food or shelter. Eddie slept naked with no blankets and never knew if he’d make it through the night. Those who couldn’t work were executed immediately, while others chose to take their lives by running into the electric wire fence surrounding the camp.

What kept Eddie going was his determination to reunite with his sister, Henni, who was alive in a separate part of the camp, and his dear friend, Kurt. Eddie and Kurt met during Kristallnacht and were on the same train to Auschwitz. Kurt was Eddie’s emotional anchor, offering not only food and clothes but also invaluable emotional support.

In a place designed to strip prisoners of their humanity, Eddie and Kurt reminded each other that they were more than prisoners, but friends. Together they survived one of humanity’s darkest moments.

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