I recently read a memoir by an author whose name is probably unfamiliar to you, as it was to me. The memoir’s title is The Happiest Man on Earth, written by Eddie Jaku and published when he turned 100 years old. You won’t however conclude from the title of this book that Eddie Jaku was a survivor of the Holocaust.
Before turning to the very first page, I found myself questioning the incredible contrast between the title and the realities so many of us have read about the Holocaust. Asking how Eddie could have spent seven years experiencing unimaginable terrors and incredible loss and then recanting those tales in a book entitled The Happiest Man on Earth?
The book is heartbreaking at times, painting a clear picture of the torture and suffering Eddie endured at the hands of the Germans. But it’s also incredibly insightful, inspiring, and relevant as today’s society continues to grapple with matters of hate some 77 years after the Holocaust was over.
The Happiest Man on Earth does not try to downplay the horrors of that time period or the inconceivable loss of life. Instead, it tries to show us all that, “Hate is the beginning of a disease, like cancer. It may kill your enemy, but it will destroy you in the process too.” (Eddie Jaku)
One of Eddie’s many powerful points surrounding hatred goes like this: “I still can’t understand how people with whom I went to work, with whom I studied and played sport, could become animals like that. How was it that Hitler could make enemies of friends, turn civilized men into inhuman zombies? How is it possible to create such hate?”
My dear friends, 77 years later, hate is still being created in our society and sadly propagated by those in political power who should be finding ways to abolish such hate, not ignite it.
As Eddie says of Germany, “With a good leader, they were the greatest nation on Earth. With a bad leader, they were monsters.”
Couldn’t the same be said of those politicians who have stood by and allowed “monsters” to run free with hateful words and violent inclinations with no consequences? Those who have pardoned the attack on our US capital – the very symbol of our democracy – as nothing more than a peaceful demonstration?
But perhaps nothing better summarizes the politicians who continue to proliferate hate in this country better than these words from Eddie. “If enough people had stood up 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.”
Far too many politicians today are scared, weak and have allowed their weakness to be manipulated into hatred. Is that the government we want leading us into the future? Is that the nation we want our children to inherit?
The annual ritual of changing the calendar year doesn’t guarantee positive changes are in store for our communities, our families, or our government. Many of those changes are up to us to raise our voices and not allow weakness to be manipulated into hatred the way so many so-called “leaders” in our political system continue to do.
Eddie’s experiences allowed him to become The Happiest Man on Earth by rallying against hate. After surviving one of the most heinous atrocities against humankind, he went forth and spread kindness and generosity each and every day with humility, compassion, and love.
“I never lost sight of what it was to be civilized. I knew that there would be no point surviving if I had to become an evil man to do it.” (Eddie Jaku)