When Eddie Jaku was born in Leipzig in 1920, nobody had any idea what was soon to unfold, just a few years later, in Germany, Europe, and the rest of the world. Germany’s defeat in the First World War had left an underlying feeling of hatred and revenge among the German people, which eventually led to one of the most horrific chapters in human history.
After World War I, Germany’s humiliation and disastrous economic situation facilitated the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, who promised the people a better future. Their solution, however, turned out to be anti-Semitism.
Eddie Jaku was born Abraham Salomon Jakubowicz, and enjoyed a peaceful upbringing with his family. His father was of Polish descent and had worked in America on a German merchant ship, but decided to return home, because he missed his country and family. When he returned to Europe, he was taken prisoner by the Germans, who thought he was an illegal Polish immigrant. Since he was an excellent mechanic, however, he was offered a job as a skilled technician and settled in Germany, where he set up his own factory.
Eddie was 13 years old in 1933, and was about to start secondary school, when all Jews were suddenly forbidden from attending school by the Nazis. His father knew from personal experience how important it was to have a good education, and he tried hard to make sure that Eddie would have a good future. He managed to steal the identity of a missing boy, Walter Schleif, and gave it to his son. He got Eddie into one of the best mechanical engineering schools in the country, even though it was a nine-hour train journey from their home in Leipzig, in the knowledge that this sacrifice would pay off in the future. Eddie’s father was right, and the young boy’s life would certainly have turned out very differently if he had stopped going to school.
Eddie suddenly found himself all alone, an orphan with the dangerous secret of his false identity, and it was a very difficult time for him. Years later, in 1938, he was completely unaware of the events unfolding in Germany and was extremely homesick, so he decided to return home, even though it was dangerous. When he got back, he found that Leipzig looked very different from how he had left it, his parents’ house was empty, and his family had all disappeared. Little did he know that he had returned on Kristallnacht, which would go down in history as the night that the Nazis destroyed synagogues and countless Jewish homes and businesses. At 5 o’clock in the morning, Eddie was woken by ten Nazis, who beat him and took him away. He could no longer hide behind his false identity as Walter Schleif, so he went back to being Eddie Jaku.