CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku, who last year published his best-selling memoir, “The Happiest Man on Earth,” has died in Sydney, a Jewish community leader said. He was 101.
“Eddie Jaku was a beacon of light and hope for not only our community, but the world,” New South Wales state Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive officer Darren Bark said in a statement.
“He will always be remembered for the joy that followed him, and his constant resilience in the face of adversity,” Bark added.
Jaku died on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid tribute to Jaku’s decision 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,” Morrison added.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, whose Jewish-Hungarian mother also survived the Holocaust and arrived in Australia in 1950 as a stateless child, said “Australia has lost a giant.”
“He dedicated his life to educating others about the dangers of intolerance and the importance of hope,” Frydenberg said in a statement.
“Scarred by the past, he only looked forward. May his story be told for generations to come,” Frydenberg added.
Jaku said in a speech in Sydney in 2019: “I do not hate anyone. Hate is a disease which may destroy your enemy, but will also destroy you.”
“Happiness does not fall from the sky. It’s in your hands. I’m doing everything I can to make this world a better place for everyone,” he said.
Jaku was born Abraham “Adi” Jakubowiez in April 1920 in the German city of Leipzig. His parents and many of his wider family did not survive the war.
He was tossed out of school in 1933 at the age of 13 because he was Jewish, but managed to finish his high school education in another city under an alias in 1938 with a qualification in precision engineering.
Jaku said his qualification spared him the gas chambers in the years that followed because he worked as a slave laborer.
He was sent to and escaped from concentration camps including Buchenwald and Auschwitz, where his parents were gassed on arrival.
He escaped from what he suspected was a death march as an Auschwitz prisoner as Allies approached. He spent months in hiding before U.S. troops found him near starved and sick with cholera and typhoid.
In 1946, he married in Belgium his Jewish wife Flore, who had spent a comparatively uneventful war in Paris pretending to be Christian, and they migrated to Australia in 1950.
The husband worked at a Sydney garage and his wife as a dressmaker before they went into real estate together.
Forever marked with an Auschwitz prisoner number tattooed on his left arm, he also became a volunteer at the Sydney Jewish Museum, sharing his experiences and philosophies of life with visitors.
“When anybody left Eddie having spoken to him, they really just felt as if their whole outlook on life had changed,” museum chief executive Norman Seligman told Nine Network television.
Jaku said with the birth of his first son Andre, “I realized I was the luckiest man on Earth.”
He is survived by his wife of 75 years, his sons Andre and Michael, four grandchildren and five great grandchildren.