The Man Who Broke INTO Auschwitz

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Okay, just stop whatever you're doing and go read this story. 91-year-old Denis Avey (an original Desert Rat) is now revealing the story of his WWII Auschwitz break-in. In 1943, Avey was a prisoner of war in Auschwitz (though not the main camp), and decided to swap places for a day with a Dutch Jew who was in one of the main camps. While in the camp, Avey took note of everything he could -- names, procedures, etc. -- and later took his information to military authorities (who apparently didn't believe him). Here's a snippet from the opening of the story:

Denis Avey, even at the age of 91, cuts a formidable figure. More than 6ft tall, with a severe short back and sides and a piercing glare, he combines the panache of Errol Flynn with the dignity of age. This is the former Desert Rat, who, in 1944, broke into -- yes, into -- Auschwitz, and he looks exactly as I expected. He removes his monocle for the camera, and one of his pupils slips sideways before realigning. It is a glass eye. I ask him about it. He tells me that in 1944, he cursed an SS officer who was beating a Jew in the camp. He received a blow with a pistol butt and his eye was knocked in.

If Avey's story is difficult to believe, it is worth bearing in mind that it is not without precedent. In 1944, the British PoW Charlie Coward, a sergeant-major from the Royal Artillery who had attempted escape 14 times, infiltrated the camp dressed as a Jewish prisoner to gather intelligence from a British Jewish naval doctor interned there. After the war, Coward testified at the IG Farben trial in Nuremberg. His life story was made into a film The Password is Courage in 1962, starring Dirk Bogarde.

Please read the rest. It's fascinating for its weird combination of daring (even reckless) courage and ultimate futility. You can read another account here, which also includes video.

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March 4, 2010 - 9:20am
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