The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz: A True Story of World War IIby Denis Avey
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.
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.
- Da Capo Press
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- Hachette Digital, Inc.
- NOOK Book
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- 3 MB
Meet the Author
Denis Avey fought in the British army during World War II and was captured and held as a prisoner of war in a camp near Auschwitz III. In 2010 he received a British "Hero of the Holocaust" award.
Rob Broomby is a British Affairs correspondent for the BBC World Service. He was formerly the BBC Berlin correspondent and has worked as a broadcast journalist mainly with BBC Radio for more than twenty years.
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