On reading The Happiest Man on Earth
I was consciously avoiding reading this book. A book about Holocaust is never easy. But as luck would have it, this book found its way to my home. My husband got it from the library and I saw him one day with his face dug into this book as he could not stop reading it!
It saddens me when people label books and call it “another Holocaust book”. It is never just another Holocaust book. It affects survivors in different ways. Many committed suicide after coming out of concentration camps. Countless stories are unheard. Many never talk about it because of the pain it gives them. So the world should sit up and listen when survivors tell their account because every experience has something valuable to teach. Because these are the last of the Holocaust survivors- the next generation would not get to listen to them first hand. Because the world owes it to them.
This book is a lesson in history, of hope, of survival, of finding kindness in the darkest places, and a reminder that whenever you get a chance- always choose Love.
There are books you love and then there are books that leave a mark on you forever changing your life. This is one such book, where the simplicity of the words holds the greatest truths of life. God sends some special people to persuade the rest of us to never give up. It is their victory in their will to lead the best life, which somewhere shapes the rest of us who come across them.
Eddie Jaku wrote this book at the age of 100, in 2020. He addresses his readers as ‘friends’. And when he calls you his friend, you truly feel the warmth of his friendship. After Holocaust, he moved to Sydney with his family- living in the suburbs I frequently visit. He was involved in the founding of Sydney Jewish Museum and was one of the volunteers there. He used to speak there every week up until 2020. I kick myself thinking that we could have had a chance to meet him. My husband and I on many occasions wanted to visit SJM. I remember we were once near Sydney Jewish Museum and were ready to go in but it was closing time at 4:30pm and families were coming out and catching up outside. I would like to imagine that Eddie and his beautiful family was one among them. Because as Eddie says- “There are always miracles in the world. Anything can happen.” :)
It’s a pity that due to covid and also the age of many survivors, most of the interactions have gone online, if any at all. Sydney Jewish Museum is building AI interactions through sessions, so that it feels as if the survivors are directly interacting with you and answering your questions. This is also a grim reminder that soon the world will not have any survivors left. A world which increasingly witnesses acts of hatred, needs to keep reminding itself to learn from history and reorient itself towards kindness.
While every line is impactful in this book and has a purpose, specially because it is followed by a story which lead to that thinking, I’m leaving you with a few lines which stayed with me-
- “Life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It is up to you.”
- “In my mind, this is really the best revenge, and it is the only revenge I am interested in — to be the happiest man on Earth.”
- “The human body is the greatest machine ever made, but it cannot run without the human spirit”
- “Weakness can be turned into hatred”. If enough people had stood up then, on Kristallnacht, and said, ‘Enough! What are you doing? What is wrong with you?’ then the course of history would have been different. But they did not. They were scared. They were weak. And their weakness allowed them to be manipulated into hatred.
- “Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of unified Germany, once warned the world to watch out for the German people. With a good leader, they were the greatest nation on Earth. With a bad leader, they were monsters.”
- “Shared sorrow is half sorrow; shared pleasure is double pleasure.”
- “You see, your food is not enough. There is no medicine for your morals. If your morals are gone, you go.”
- “Perhaps you do not love your job, or you work with difficult people. You are still doing important things, contributing your own small piece to the world we live in. We must never forget this. Your efforts today will affect people you will never know. It is your choice whether that effect is positive or negative. You can choose every day, every minute, to act in a way that may uplift a stranger, or else drag them down. The choice is easy. And it is yours to make.”
- “Remember that every breath is a gift.”
- “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.”