At 101 years old, Eddie Jaku has over a century of wisdom and life experience to draw from — and he’s trying to use it to help others see the world in a more positive light.
The self-described “happiest man in the world” has given a TED Talk and written a book about his philosophy. In his 2019 speech, he said that just a smile from “one miserable person” can make him happy.
Jaku is also a Holocaust survivor: He was born in Germany, with the name Eddie Jakubowicz. He told TODAY’s Harry Smith that he was “very proud” to live in the country.
“I thought I lived in the most civilized, most cultured and certainly the most educated country in Europe. And I was German first, and German second, and Jewish at home,” Jaku said.
On Nov. 9, 1938, after Nazi forces burned synagogues and destroyed Jewish homes, stores and other property, Jaku returned home from boarding school to an empty home. In the morning, he was taken to Buchenwald, one of the first concentration camps to be established.
Over the course of years, Jaku and his family reunited, escaped and lived in hiding. But in 1943, they were arrested again and sent to Auschwitz.
“I was finally transported to my hell on Earth, Auschwitz,” Jaku said. “My parents and my sister were also transported to Auschwitz, and I was never to see my parents again.”
More than 6 million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust. In 1945, Jaku was sent on a “death march” but escaped into the wilderness. He was rescued in June of that year.
“What I have seen, it is incredible,” said Jaku. “I tell this to people, but they don’t want to believe it.”
Jaku said that after the war, he was miserable — until he met his wife, Flore, and started a family.
“Eighty years ago, I didn’t think I will have a wife and children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” said Jaku. “And this is a blessing.”
Jaku said that despite his experiences, he does not hate anyone.
“Hate is a disease that may destroy your enemy, but will also destroy you in the process,” Jaku said in his 2019 TED Talk.
“Where there is life is hope. If there’s no more hope, you’re finished,” he added.
Family and friends are key to that hope, Jaku said.
“Friendship is priceless,” he said. “Shared sorrow is half sorrow, but shared pleasure is double.”
Over the course of his long life, Jaku said that he’s learned that “this life can be beautiful, if you make it beautiful.”
“I speak about happiness, I speak (about) what life can be,” Jaku told Smith. “If you are healthy, you’re a multimillionaire.”
He said that he hopes his story inspires others to make positive choices every day.
“I want to make this world a better place for everyone,” Jaku said. “I want everyone to take a step back and say ‘We are here for all of us.'”