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Denis Avey is a remarkable man by any measure. A courageous and determined soldier in World War II, he was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in a camp connected to the Germans’ largest concentration camp, Auschwitz.
But his actions while in the camp – which he has never spoken about until now – are truly extraordinary. When millions would have done anything to get out, Mr Avey repeatedly smuggled himself into the camp.
Now 91 and living in Derbyshire, he says he wanted to witness what was going on inside and find out the truth about the gas chambers, so he could tell others. He knows he took “a hell of a chance”…
“You wouldn’t think anyone would think or do that, but that is how I was. I had red hair and a temperament to match. Nothing would stop me.”
He arranged to swap for one night at a time with a Jewish inmate he had come to trust. He exchanged his uniform for the filthy, stripy garments the man had to wear. For the Auschwitz inmate it meant valuable food and rest in the British camp, while for Denis it was a chance to gather facts on the inside…
He talked to Jewish prisoners but says they rarely spoke of their previous life, instead they were focused on the hell they were living and the work they were forced to do in factories outside the camp…
“There were nearly three million human beings worked to death in different factories,” says Mr Avey. “They knew at that rate they’d last about five months.
He says he would ask where people he’d met previously had gone and he would be told they’d “gone up the chimney”.
Part of the historic record so rarely taught in detail, nowadays.
I’ve known a few survivors of Auschwitz. Been there once. Knew one pair of survivors who met inside the concentration camp – and married afterwards.
I’ve known soldiers with the courage to travel beyond the boundaries of humanity like Avey – and spent the remainder of their lives surviving what now is called PTSD. My dearest heroes.
RTFA. Imagine a little of what Denis Avey saw and experienced.