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

Denis Avey with Rob Broomby
  • Review
By – December 21, 2011
Four miles east of the Auschwitz I main camp, the SS, at the urgent request of I.G. Far­ben and oth­er Ger­man man­u­fac­tur­ers, built Auschwitz III (also called Buna or Monowitz), a slave labor camp designed to pro­duce syn­thet­ic fuels and rub­ber for the Ger­man war effort. At its peak Buna employed” 5,000 slave labor­ers, most­ly Jews from Ger­many, Aus­tria, Poland, and the Nether­lands, among eight oth­er coun­tries. The Jew­ish work force was aug­ment­ed by sev­er­al hun­dred British pris­on­ers of war, includ­ing Cor­po­ral Denis Avey, who had been cap­tured in ear­ly 1944 and trans­port­ed to the Buna camp, where he was forced to work on sev­er­al I.G. Far­ben projects

Like oth­er British POWs at Buna, Avey was treat­ed fair­ly well. Still, the British pris­on­ers found them­selves toil­ing dai­ly along­side a sep­a­rate group of starved Jew­ish wretch­es.” Deter­mined to learn more about the con­di­tions of the Jew­ish pris­on­ers, Avey devel­oped a plan to swap places, overnight, with a Jew­ish inmate. On two occa­sions Avey expe­ri­enced first hand the work­ing and liv­ing con­di­tions of Jew­ish slave labor­ers. As a result of his efforts, Avey saved the life of Ger­man Jew­ish pris­on­er Ernest Lobethal, who had lived before the war in Bres­lau.

In 2010 Avey was award­ed the British Hero of the Holo­caust” medal for his brav­ery, one of fifty-six such awards pre­sent­ed by the British government 

Carl J. Rheins was the exec­u­tive direc­tor emer­i­tus of the YIVO Insti­tute for Jew­ish Research. He received his Ph.D. in Mod­ern Euro­pean His­to­ry from the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Stony Brook and taught cours­es on the Holo­caust at sev­er­al major universities.

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