Emily Dickinson’s most widely known poem is a 3-stanza powerful metaphor for hope symbolised by the nuances of a small, singing bird. Feathers, though they are light, and delicate are also strong and enduring. When life is hard, when stress and suffering become all that we know in life, we always have hope to help us to soar above the storm.
Eddie Jaku’s unputdownable masterpiece The Happiest Man on Earth reminds me of Dickinson’s poem. In arguably one of the darkest times in human history, Eddie has succeeded in recounting a story that is filled with stories of hope, resilience, and love.
Eddie Jaku was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1920. He studied mechanical engineering in Tuttlingen. Little did he know that this education would be a life-saving gift. On 9 November 1938, Eddie was arrested and taken to a concentration camp. From this moment on, his life changed forever.
Hope is defined as having an optimistic attitude towards the desired outcome.
Faith is trusting in a person, thing, or belief in the absence of proof.
In life, we need hope and faith, and Eddie certainly has both. However, it would be wrong to jump straight into this without also touching on some of the other amazing life lessons The Happiest Man on Earth gives us.
When faced with adversity, failure, danger and even death, how would any of us cope?
Eddie lived through what can only be described as hell. As we know, Hitler was determined to wipe out the Jews, leaving behind only his ‘perfect’ race. His grip on Europe accelerated during WW2 with little if any retaliation from other countries. Before Hitler and his army were overthrown, they were responsible for the death of over 6 million Jews.
Eddie Jaku experienced some of the most vile and terrible treatment in his time as a Nazi prisoner. Freezing cold conditions, no clothes, beatings, minimal food and witnessing the death and destruction of his culture as he knew it. Despite the arduous and inhumane treatment that he faced his positivity, kind nature and resilience gave him the strength to keep going.
“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”
“One good friend is my whole world”
Although there are many moments in the book that are filled with love, this is personified through the friendship that forms between Eddie and Kurt. As the Nazis slowly erode the identities, and deplete endurance of these two men, their bond only grows more impenetrable.
In their darkest moments, they balance one another in incredible ways restoring each other’s hope, faith, and willpower. Their friendship became a catalyst for survival, a beacon of hope, and the foundation by which Eddie’s faith in humanity was left, for the most part, intact.
“I cannot emphasise enough, especially to young people. Without friendship, a human being is lost. A friend is someone who reminds you to feel alive”
“Where there is life, there is hope”
If there is an anecdote for hatred, I think Eddie discovered it. His faith and belief in hope, friendship and love were potent enough ingredients to ensure his survival. Eddie refused to be defined by his pain and suffering and in doing so has become a symbol of hope and happiness worldwide.
Eddie takes every reader on an unforgettable journey filled with emotion, life-lessons, and stories of inhumane experiences that most of us could not even imagine. And somehow, as we flick through the last few pages of this wonderful book, we are not left feeling dismayed, disillusioned or overwhelmingly sad. No. We feel joy, hope, and inspiration.
Hope is a thing with faith, happiness, and Eddie Jaku.