Holocaust survivor EDDIE JAKU, 101, who resolved that happiness was the ...

Holocaust survivor EDDIE JAKU, 101, who resolved that happiness was the ...
Holocaust survivor EDDIE JAKU, 101, who resolved that happiness was the ...

Eddie Jaku, a Holocaust survivor who became famous for his focus on peace, tolerance and hope, died this week aged 101, describing himself as the 'happiest man on Earth'. 

Though he was imprisoned in Auschwitz and his parents were killed, Jaku was determined not to let bitterness overshadow his life.

In this extract from his recently published memoir, Jaku, who was married to Flore for 75 years and leaves two sons, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, describes how he found the will to live again after being tortured and starved: 'I have seen the very worst in mankind, the horrors of the death camps, the Nazi efforts to exterminate my life and the lives of all my people.

'Through all of my years I have learned this: life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful.

'My story is a sad one in part, with great darkness and great sorrow. But it is a happy story in the end because happiness is something we can choose.

'I will show you how...'

Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku, who became famous for his focus on peace, tolerance and hope, died this week aged 101

Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku, who became famous for his focus on peace, tolerance and hope, died this week aged 101

It was February 1944, the worst of a bitter Polish winter, when the train crammed with my family and hundreds of other people arrived at Auschwitz and I saw the infamous sign looming over the barbed wire fences: Arbeit macht frei — work sets you free.

We did not know about Auschwitz then; how could any of us imagine such a thing was even possible? 

But at the age of 24, I had experienced enough of the Nazis to realise the inhumanity of which they were capable.

The journey there was nine days and eight nights. There was no food and very little water, just one 44-gallon drum to last all 150 of us through the journey.

A person can survive a few weeks without food, but not without water. 

My father took charge. From his pockets he produced a little collapsible cup and a Swiss army knife. 

Using the knife, he cut up a sheet of paper into 150 little squares. He explained that everyone in the car would have two cups of water — one in the morning and one at night. Anyone who lost their paper would receive no more water.

Soon the water in other carriages ran out. I could hear them crying out, one woman shouting, 'My children are thirsty! They need water! My gold ring for water!' After two more days, they fell silent.

Eddie, who was married to Flore (couple pictured together in Sydney, Australia, in 1960) for 75 years, leaves two sons, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren

Eddie, who was married to Flore (couple pictured together in Sydney, Australia, in 1960) for 75 years, leaves two sons, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren

Pictured: A group of children stand behind barbed wire at Auschwitz in January 1945

Pictured: A group of children stand behind barbed wire at Auschwitz in January 1945

In our car, only two died. Thanks to my father, the rest survived. At least, until Auschwitz.

My father and I helped my mother and sister down, and while we were helping others, they disappeared into the crowd as the Nazis herded everyone like cattle, using batons, guns, and vicious attack dogs.

Suddenly, it was just me and my father, being jostled towards a man in a clean white lab coat.

This was Dr Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, one of the most evil murderers in history. 

We didn't know it but he was conducting one of his 'selections' — separating those still strong enough to work from those destined straight for the gas chambers.

'This way,' Mengele said, pointing at me. 'That way,' he said to my father, pointing towards a truck being loaded with prisoners.

Later I dared ask an SS officer where my father had gone. 'You see the smoke over there?' he said. 'That's where your father went. And your mother. To the gas chambers and the crematorium.'

This is how I found out I was an orphan.

I was born in 1920, in the German city of Leipzig. Henni, my sister, arrived two years later. 

Our father Isidore owned a factory and worked hard to make us comfortable. On the afternoon of every Friday, the Jewish Sabbath, Mother baked three or four loaves of challah, the richly delicious bread that we ate on special occasions.

When I asked why she made so many for our small family, my father explained that the extra loaves were to give to Jews in need.

I spent the next six months in Buchenwald, the largest concentration camp in Germany. Pictured: Nazisc

I spent the next six months in Buchenwald, the largest concentration camp in Germany. Pictured: Nazis Richard Baer, Dr Josef Mengele and Rudolf Hoess

He told me there is more pleasure in giving than in taking, that the important things in life — friends, family, kindness — are far more precious than money. I thought he was crazy but now, after all I have seen in this life, I know he was right.

On Friday evenings we sat down for a Sabbath dinner, lovingly prepared by my maternal grandmother. 

She lived with us and cooked on the huge wood stove that also heated the house. When we came in frozen from the outside, we sat on cushions next to that stove to warm up, me with my dachshund puppy Lulu on my lap.

How I treasured such nights, not knowing then that poor little Lulu would be bayoneted to death by the Brownshirts, the Nazi paramilitary force responsible for the atrocities committed on the night of November 9, 1938.

Known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, it was named for the shattered shards littering the streets after they looted and destroyed Jewish-owned stores, homes and synagogues — among them the 200-year-old house in which generations of our family had been raised.

I was then studying at an engineering college hundreds of miles from Leipzig, and had returned home to surprise my parents on their 20th wedding anniversary, unaware they had gone into hiding.

I awoke at 5am to the sound of the door being kicked in. Ten Nazis dragged me from bed and beat me half to death. 

One took his bayonet and started to engrave a swastika in my arm, stabbing Lulu when she went to bite him. 

I spent the next six months in Buchenwald, the largest concentration camp in Germany. There, the daily ration was a bowl of rice and stewed meat we had to eat with our hands.

One morning, I slept through the bell for headcount and was whipped. Another time, I was thrashed with a rubber baton for having my shirt untucked. But I at least had a way out of Buchenwald: my value to the Third Reich as a qualified engineer outweighed the insanity.

Requisitioned to an aeronautical factory, I was allowed a brief visit to my family before I reported there. 

We seized the opportunity to

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