Eyewitness to Hell on earth
A former British soldier and prisoner of war has recalled the horror he felt after swapping uniforms with a Dutch Jew – and breaking into Auschwitz. Denis Avey, 92, was captured during the Second World War and sent to the IG Farben plant, known as Auschwitz III, where the deadly gas was produced. But when Mr Avey was told about the mass killings and smelled the horrendous stench from nearby crematoriums he vowed to witness the atrocities for himself.
The brave soldier bribed guards with cigarettes and swapped uniforms with a Dutch Jew who was roughly the same height. With the risk of almost certain death, he broke into the deadly camp and witnessed for himself the ‘vaguely human’ corpses piling up each day. Mr Avey has now for the first time told the incredible story in a book called The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz. He recalls using the cigarettes and chocolate from Red Cross packages to bribe guards during weeks of preparation. Mr Avey twice sneaked into the camp where on both occasions he spent the night alongside Jewish prisoners close to death. ‘I did my homework over weeks and weeks, but the common denominator of all that was a tremendous amount of luck,’ Mr said.
‘My life depended on 50 cigarettes – 25 in, 25 out. He (the guard) could have shot me easily.’
He said his motivation for getting inside the camp was to ‘put one over on the enemy’ and witness the slaughter so that he could tell the world afterwards. Young: Mr Avey in 1941 before he was captured and sent to Auschwitz Mr Avey recorded seeing piles of corpses of workers who died each day. They were carried away by fellow inmates who showed no emotion. Body carriers collapsed, earning them a beating and almost certain death.
‘Auschwitz III was like nothing else on earth; it was hell on earth. This is what I had come to witness but it was a ghastly, terrifying experience.’
Men were pulled from line-ups and taken away to be gassed, but there was no protest, so weak and dejected had they become. Mr Avey described the ‘foul air’ of the sleeping area and putrid ‘soup’ the men were served which he dared not eat. He held whispered conversations with the inmate lying next to him who was in on the plan, finding out what he could about the concentration camp. On both occasions Mr Avey and the guard managed to change back into their own clothes, despite the risk of discovery.
‘The difference between right and wrong is fast receding. Awareness is being diluted, people are just saying ‘such is life’. People are like this now.’ After surviving the camp and the ‘death march’ at the end of the war, Mr Avey tried to tell the army about his experiences. But when army officials showed little interest in what he said he gave up and kept silent for 60 years.