“I’m the happiest man, because I was condemned to die,” Auschwitz survivor Eddie Jaku says in the BBC’s Best of Today podcast. On Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” in 1938, his family were betrayed to the Nazis by their neighbours. Ten soldiers broke their door in, beat Jaku to a pulp and bayonetted his dog, Lulu, “when it tried to save me”. One of the men then engraved a swastika into his arm with a bayonet.
Jaku spent five years in concentration camps. At Auschwitz, those who gave up on life “went to the wire and electrocuted themselves”. But he vowed to survive and to be happy. “Because they wanted me to be miserable, I am the opposite,” he says. “And that is my victory.”
Jaku, who died this week aged 101, fled the abandoned camp at the end of the war and was found, emaciated, by American soldiers. He moved to Australia and became a lifelong peace campaigner, determined to heal the wounds Hitler had inflicted on the world. That meant being endlessly kind. He was a longstanding volunteer at the Sydney Jewish Museum, sharing his story with visitors. His credo: “Happiness is the only thing that becomes doubled if you share it.”
Jaku maintained this approach throughout his life. Last year, at the age of 100, he published a memoir, The Happiest Man on Earth. Hate, he says, is something he simply chose not to feel. “To hate somebody is a disease. First it destroys your enemy, but in the process it destroys you too.”
Listen to the interview here.