Eddie Jaku, a Holocaust survivor who declared he was the “happiest man on earth”, has been farewelled at a state memorial service in Sydney.
December 15, 2021
Dignitaries including NSW Governor Margaret Beazley, Premier Dominic Perrottet and a raft of state and federal politicians, including Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, turned out at the Town Hall to honour the man many considered a national treasure.
Born in Germany in 1920 to a Jewish family, Mr Jaku witnessed the rise of the Nazis and survived the horrors of Buchenwald concentration camp before being sent to Auschwitz where his parents were murdered.
After defying the odds by surviving the war and despite the horrors he had witnessed, the teenager decided the best revenge would be to enjoy life and vowed to smile every day.
He moved to Australia and helped establish the Sydney Jewish Museum, where he volunteered, determined to teach about the dangers of intolerance.
He marked his 100th birthday by releasing his best selling autobiography ‘The Happiest Man On Earth’.
“As long as I live, I’ll teach not to hate,” he wrote.
His son Michael told mourners on Wednesday his father was a charismatic optimist who loved the limelight.
“After attaining his unrestricted driver’s licence at age 100, he was proud to announce that having been offered a one year or a three-year licence. He opted for the three years.”
Speaking also on behalf of his brother Andre, Michael said: “Our first instinct was to politely decline this honour but on further reflection, and despite the surrealism to us of the occasion and the lead-up to it, we felt that Eddie would have loved all of this: centre of attention and in the limelight – his favourite place to be and with all the pomp and circumstance to boot!
He added: “We, his family, are quite incredulous at the profound impact, in some cases life-changing, which he apparently had on so many all over the world, as evidenced by the many hundreds of letters, emails and messages he received over the years and we continue to receive since his death.
Mr Perrottet described Mr Jaku as “a man who would have been entitled to look back with bitterness and anger but whose legacy of remembrance is instead built on hope”.
“He turned suffering into strength,” he said.
“He loved humanity and gave us his story to share to put right the wrongs of the past.”
Norman Seligman, CEO of The Sydney Jewish Museum, said: “We pay tribute to Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku the self-proclaimed happiest man on earth. He was one of the founders of the Sydney Jewish Museum and was passionately involved since its inception in 1992.
He shared his pledge not to hate and his choice to be happy with tens of thousands of people young and old, including Prime Ministers, governors and premiers. He inspired everyone that he made and always talked about the importance of resilience and passion.”
Following Seligman’s tributes, the president of The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies Lesli Berger added: ” Survivors like Eddie embraced Australia, playing their part, no matter how large or small, restarting their lives upon arrival here in 1950. Eddie built up a successful career, a strong and loving family and stood as a part of the foundation of the Sydney Jewish community in his family have dedicated themselves to our community, supporting and volunteering through many organizations, including the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.”
Eddie’s granddaughter Danielle Jaku-Greenfield told the service: “Pepe would not want us to be miserable though. He certainly loved and lost many family members in his life. He would want us to show love, strength, compassion, empathy and respect, and he would definitely have wanted to be with us all here right now. We are celebrating his life.”
In 2013 Eddie Jaku was awarded an OAM for his contribution to Holocaust education and services to the Jewish Community.
As a 99-year-old he gave a TEDx talk in Sydney about his extraordinary life.
The Great Synagogue’s Rabbi Dr Ben Elton delivered the eulogy.
Eddi Jaku died on October 12, aged 101 and is survived by his wife of 75 years Flore, two sons, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.