Soldier, 92, breaks silence over Auschwitz heroics

Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:00am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - It took him more than 60 years to break his silence, but in a new book 92-year-old Denis Avey tells the story of how he broke into Auschwitz concentration camp twice to witness for himself the horrors of the Holocaust.

Avey was a British soldier captured during World War Two and sent to a labor camp close to Auschwitz where he worked at the IG Farben plant alongside inmates from the concentration camp, nicknamed "stripeys" after their uniforms.

While Avey, a headstrong, battle-hardened soldier, was told about the mass extermination of Jews and experienced the sickening smell from a nearby crematorium, he wanted to see for himself what was happening in Auschwitz.

While conditions in his own labor camp were appalling, the food was better and treatment less harsh than in Auschwitz.

And as a prisoner of war, Red Cross packages occasionally made it through containing chocolate and cigarettes, which could then be bartered for better provisions and aid survival.

After weeks of preparation, including bribes to a guard, Avey twice swapped uniforms with a Dutch Jew of roughly the same height to sneak into the camp where he spent the night.

On both occasions the men managed to change back into their own clothes, despite the risk of discovery and certain death.

"I did my homework over weeks and weeks, but the common denominator of all that was a tremendous amount of luck," Avey said in an interview to promote his biography "The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz," co-written by Rob Broomby and published in Britain by Hodder & Stoughton.   Continued...

<p>Former British prisoner of war, Denis Avey, poses for this undated photograph received in London on March 31, 2011. REUTERS/David Poole/Hodder &amp; Stoughton/Handout</p>