This is the most important thing I have ever learned: the greatest thing you will ever do is be loved by another person.
No matter how many books I read by Holocaust survivors, I always manage to encounter horrors I’ve never heard of before and marvel anew at the capacity humans have to survive the unimaginable. In his first sentence Eddie Jaku introduces himself as your new friend and I found that so endearing. It got me immediately invested in his story and I would have thought it was a clever way to grab you emotionally from the get to if I didn’t believe he meant it wholeheartedly. But I did believe him.
Intermittently addressing you, his friend, throughout the book, Eddie tells you his story. From his school days to his experiences in multiple concentration camps and beyond, you can’t help but feel you’re sitting across from him as he regales you with his stories and the wisdom he’s accumulated along the way.
Kindness is the greatest wealth of all.
Despite taking you on a journey through the darkest humanity has to offer (the murder of his dog hit me particularly hard, probably in part because it was before Eddie stepped foot in a concentration camp so I wasn’t expecting the brutality of this), Eddie has managed to hold onto hope.
There are always miracles in the world, even when all seems hopeless. And when there are no miracles, you can make them happen. 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.
This is a quick read, one that is undeniably heartbreaking at times. I felt like Eddie was probably holding back on describing some of the more difficult aspects of his story, but fair enough. I can’t even begin to imagine how painful it was for him to write about any of his early life.
Ultimately, my experience of this book was one where I felt better after reading it than I felt before I began. I made a new friend, albeit one I’ll probably never meet. I was reminded that it is possible to be happy and live a fulfilled life, even when you’ve experienced pain that feels insurmountable. I was encouraged to inject some more kindness into the world.
It is never too late to be kind, polite, and a loving human being.
My only quibble, and this is simply because Eddie made me care deeply about them, is that I yearn to know what happened to Henni after she moved to Australia and to Kurt. I adored reading about Eddie and Kurt’s friendship and to leave Kurt’s story in 1946, without any information about their (I hope) continued friendship, hurt a little.
Once Upon a Blurb
Life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It is up to you.
Eddie Jaku always considered himself a German first, a Jew second. He was proud of his country. But all of that changed in November 1938, when he was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp.
Over the next seven years, Eddie faced unimaginable horrors every day, first in Buchenwald, then in Auschwitz, then on a Nazi death march. He lost family, friends, his country.
Because he survived, Eddie made the vow to smile every day. He pays tribute to those who were lost by telling his story, sharing his wisdom and living his best possible life. He now believes he is the ‘happiest man on earth’.
Published as Eddie turns 100, this is a powerful, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful memoir of how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times.