The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz: A True Story of World War II

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The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz is the extraordinary true story of a British soldier who marched willingly into the concentration camp, Buna-Monowitz, known as Auschwitz III.
In the summer of 1944, Denis Avey was being held in a British POW labour camp, E715, near Auschwitz III. He had heard of the brutality meted out to the prisoners there and he was determined to ...

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The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz is the extraordinary true story of a British soldier who marched willingly into the concentration camp, Buna-Monowitz, known as Auschwitz III.
In the summer of 1944, Denis Avey was being held in a British POW labour camp, E715, near Auschwitz III. He had heard of the brutality meted out to the prisoners there and he was determined to witness what he could.
He hatched a plan to swap places with a Jewish inmate and smuggled himself into his sector of the camp. He spent the night there on two occasions and experienced at first-hand the cruelty of a place where slave workers, had been sentenced to death through labor.
Astonishingly, he survived to witness the aftermath of the Death March where thousands of prisoners were murdered by the Nazis as the Soviet Army advanced. After his own long trek right across central Europe he was repatriated to Britain.
For decades he couldn't bring himself to revisit the past that haunted his dreams, but now Denis Avey feels able to tell the full story—a tale as gripping as it is moving—which offers us a unique insight into the mind of an ordinary man whose moral and physical courage are almost beyond belief.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Broomby is a BBC journalist who first chronicled the story of British Army veteran Avey, now 93, who was honored as a British Hero of the Holocaust in 2010. After a comfortable rural childhood, Avey enlisted in 1939, serving in Africa with the 7th Armoured Division, known as the Desert Rats, sleeping in the sand, battling malaria, and engaging in bloody combat. Captured, he escaped over the sea, floating in a packing crate, only to be recaptured in Greece. In 1944, he experienced horrors at a POW labor camp near Buna-Monowitz (aka Auschwitz III): "I felt degraded by each mindless murder I witnessed... I was living in obscenity." His curiosity prompted him to swap uniforms with a Jewish inmate in order to sneak into the Jewish sector: "I was tormented by a need to know; to see what I could." Avey recalls it as "a ghastly, terrifying experience." His memory rarely lapses, and his vivid narrative places the reader in the middle of the action. The grim descriptions of despair and anguish inside Auschwitz are followed by Avey's poignant 1945 homecoming, making this an excellent memoir of survival. (July)
From the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews, 5/15/11
“[A] plainspoken, moving story…a unique war story from a brave man.”

Publishers Weekly, 5/23/11
“An excellent memoir of survival.”
DeseretNews, 7/24/11 “Simple, moving, and gripping story that puts one into the death camps and on the death march.”

WashingtonTimes, 8/12/11
“An important and profound book.” 

Asbury ParkSunday Press, 8/7/11
“In 1944, Avey was a British POW, held in a stalag near Auschwitz…It is only now that he felt able to actually tell his story, and it’s a pretty powerful one, at that.”
Asbury ParkPress, 8/28/11
“As the Nazi era recedes further and further into the past, stories like this can shock readers into remembering that these things really happened, that they happened to real men and women, and that their impact is still affecting people’s lives.” 
Kingman Daily Miner, 8/26/11 “There is an old saying that says, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction!’ The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz…fits this statement to a ‘T’…This book is highly recommended. It is another chapter showing man’s inhumanity during WWII through the eyes of a British Christian soldier. Five stars is the rating for this book!”, 9/7/11
“A gripping war-time memoir…[An] astonishing story…Fascinating.”
CharlestonPost and Courier, 9/4/11
“[An] extraordinary story…Avey's voice is strong and down-to-earth, and readers will be hard pressed to put down this testament to the power of human relationships in the face of unimaginable suffering.”

WWI History, November 2011
“An incredible tale of heroism and survival.”
WashingtonJewish Week, 9/21/11 “This is the most amazing Holocaust memoir it's been my good fortune to read… This is a beautiful, uplifting book about a real ben adom, a mensch, who saw evil and, instead of averting his eyes, did what he could to help the victims. Don't miss it.”

Library Journal
Serving in the British army during World War II, Avey was captured and became one of thousands of Allied POWs used by the Germans for forced labor. While much of his memoir with BBC journalist Broomby recounts his combat experiences and postwar struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, Avey's focus is on laboring at I.G. Farben's Buna Works. Memoirs either tell only what the memoirist saw and heard firsthand or else relate details he or she could not have known at the time. This memoir seems more in the latter style, as historical context that Avey didn't know at the time, such as strategic details of campaigns, appears in his story. By presenting a linear narrative, his memoir may perforce have lost some of the chaos of how things actually happened. It is at its most gripping in the section in which he claims to have interacted with Jewish prisoners and somehow switched places with one to see for himself the Auschwitz death camp, a central part of the book that has been disputed since its publication in the UK. VERDICT While valuable for those interested in the experiences of combat and being a POW, the content should be used with caution owing to the doubts raised about the author's veracity.—Frederic Krome, Univ. of Cincinnati Clermont Coll.
Kirkus Reviews

Submerged memories of a remarkable encounter in Auschwitz drove an aged British World War II veteran to reveal his plainspoken, moving story—assisted by BBC journalist Broomby.

Avey admits he did not join the army in 1939 "for King and Country," but rather for adventure; as a strapping farm boy, he proved a crack rifleman and a natural-born leader. After ordeals fighting Mussolini's forces in Libya and General Rommel's forces in North Africa, he was taken prisoner in 1944 and transported to Auschwitz, where he was enlisted to help build a massive rubber factory by the IG Farben company. Though English prisoners were treated fairly well, they toiled alongside a separate group of miserable, starved wretches the English called "stripeys," because of their tattered pajama-like outfits, hardly human "moving shadows" who were barely strong enough to lift anything—the Jews. Gradually, Avey befriended several of the crew, including a man named Ernst and learned that the Jews were simply worked to death (unlike the Englishmen), then vaporized "up the chimney," sending out the sickly sweet odor Avey had noticed. "The scales were lifted from my eyes," he writes, and he arranged with another Jewish prisoner, Hans, to switch clothing so that Avey could infiltrate the Jewish barracks for a night and Hans could eat and rest in the British prisoners' camp. It was a perilous ploy, but it worked, and Avey was duly horrified by the brutal conditions and life-saving mechanisms. He wrote to his mother in coded language about the camp details and to contact Ernst's sister in England. Upon liberation, both Avey and Ernst were force-marched west, but neither knew what happened to the other. The author's post-traumatic torment after the war—when no one wanted to listen to the truth so that the young soldier simply sealed up—underscores the importance of treatment for soldiers and prisoners.

A unique war story from a brave man.

Library Journal
Auschwitz and the horrors of war retold in this first-person account are so unspeakable that Avey only felt comfortable sharing his story at age 90. A British POW in Auschwitz, Avey befriended and traded places with another prisoner to spend two nights in the Jewish sector in order to witness the atrocities. Only a small portion of the book deals with Auschwitz, but Avey's description of life during and after wartime is priceless. Avey's message to the world: everyone must fight to correct wrong and never assume that the unthinkable will not occur where you live. Narrator James Langton covers diverse cultures, accents, and situations with great skill and compassion. His outstanding delivery enhances this moving story immeasurably. Recommended for World War II and Holocaust enthusiasts. This program should be required reading for the military and war industry.—Susan G. Baird, formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., Chicago
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306819650
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 964,785
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 6.26 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Denis Avey is a British Army World War II veteran living in Derbyshire, England.

Rob Broomby is the BBC journalist who first chronicled Avey's story.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 22, 2011

    A story of PTSD and the eventaual relief found through sharing.

    While evidently from the low star ranking so far some didn't like this book I did and found myself making extra time to get back to it and read more. While no big revelations about conditions were revealed in the book it could perhaps be beter described as a book telling the story of hte PTSD impact on a combat vetran and POW of WWII. It shows how finally sharing the hidden anugish of having buddies blownup sitting right next to you and witnessing the abuse of outers can have on a person. The later part of the book telling events of recent years I found enjoyable. No this isn't a book you read with a light mood it's somber but at the same time enlightening. I found myself trying to figure out where Avery found a meaning that Frankle described in his book "Man's Search For Meaning" and gratend the British prisoners in the camp adjacent to Auschwitz didn't receive the same treatment as the ones from that camp thy still most likely needed a reason for living and Avery found that in his need to document even if just mentally the treatment the concentration camp prisoners received. Granted due to the PTSD and personal health issues he ended up keeping things bottled up inside for many decades before finally finindg some comfort in being able to relate his story. And at least one of the prisoners of Auschwitz confirmed his story many years before Avery hinself revelaed his story. If you are somone who enjoys reading WWII era historical stories then you may enjoy this book. The fighting from an enlisted mans view the capitivity and his exposure to the prisoners of Auschwitz and yes he did spend two nights inside the camp itself.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2012

    Very Interesting Book.

    This was a very good book. I highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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