Unarguably, the holocaust is the nadir in modern human history in every aspect. The extent of tyranny, pain and suffering makes one just numb. Survivors of the holocaust needed enormous energy to not just come out of the shackles of the concentration camps, but also to narrate the suffering, thus going through the pain all over again.
Author : Eddie Jaku
Originally Published : 2021
Publication : Harper
Genre(s) :- Non-Fiction, Biography, History
Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning lent an air of restraint and poise in all that he went through because he was a psychiatrist himself and knew how to control and channelize his mind. Surprisingly, Eddie Jaku treads similar territory, thus turning into the Happiest Man on Earth. The title leaves you with a smile even before you turn the first page. How on earth can someone be positive like this? The Nazis took away his family, friends, his country but his spirit remained untouched.
The book opens with Eddie’s reaffirmation of his and the family’s pride in being Germans first, second and then being Jewish. Glimpses of his family’s joyous life are foreboding of the impending suffering. A young Eddie is thrown out of school for being Jewish. His father then admits him to an engineering institute in Tuttlingen with a false German identity. Unable to meet or contact his family, young Eddie is heartbroken. After graduating successfully, Eddie makes the biggest mistake- he decides to visit his family and is soon captured and beaten by the Nazis. He is taken to Buchenwald, the largest concentration camp in that part.
Escapade and wrath
Eddie and his father manage to flee to Belgium but only Eddie is successful and his father is left in the Netherlands. The mother is thrashed for her son’s crime and Eddie is again in jail in Belgium for illegal entry – now not as a Jew but as a German! Even his travel to far away France does not spare him the wrath of the Germans as Belgium and then France is captured. Eddie finds himself in the Auschwitz prison in Poland. Eddie, using his engineering skills, escapes from the bottom of the train and reunites with his family in Brussels. All these twists and turns leave you overwhelmed for the kind of life he was leading. From here on, we go on a traumatic journey with Eddie through the camp, with his friend Kurt for company and small joys to feel happy about. Saved three times from going inside the gas chamber because of his education, Eddie thanks his father for ensuring he got that. Using ingenious ways to survive and conserve energy, we read through passages of unimaginable torture and pain and are left wondering how could humans unleash this kind of tyranny on fellow humans when we even treat animals with love.
Survival is a miracle
The human body, says Eddie, is the world’s most magical machine. Where there is life, there is hope and Eddie worked hard to find it. But he was weak, just 28 kgs and with Cholera and Typhoid with very less chance of surviving. At that moment, he vowed that if he lived, he would never come back to Germany again and to live every day to its fullest. Finally, he is free. But freedom wasn’t easy. He had no family to return to. Finding his friend again, Eddie is off to work as a refugee and that’s when life begins to bloom again. Eddie meets Christianne (Flore) whom he eventually marries and has a full life. Eddie’s wounds , both physical and mental, weren’t healed when he married Flore. It was only after she gave birth to their first son Michael that he immediately felt healed and joy came back into his life in abundance.
Key takeaways from Eddie’s life
The book is less about the immense suffering and more about how Eddie found true happiness in life. Some highlights from the book:
- Happiness cannot be found outside, it is always there within you and in people you love
- Being alive, being healthy, having a great family and kids, having food on the table and a roof on your head and a work to sustain your life is all man needs to be really grateful and happy. Nothing compares to these riches.
- Being lucky and surviving all odds is the best revenge against fate
- Be kind to everyone and help as much as you can
- Your efforts today in your work will impact people you don’t even know. You could help others or drag them down, the choice is yours to make.
- Small acts of kindness last a lifetime
Why I recommend this book
In a world where we keep searching for more and more happiness in money and everything it can buy, it’s another experience to listen to stories such as that of Eddie’s. Having survived the holocaust, Eddie has lived up to a hundred years of age, only because he could heal himself through love- both that which he got and that which he gave. In his words, hate is the beginning of a disease, that which kills others but also destroys you.
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