Denis Avey

Denis Avey

British war veteran who visited Auschwitz
Country: Great Britain

Biography of Denis Avey

Denis Avey, a 95-year-old British veteran of World War II, is known for voluntarily journeying to one of the most horrifying places on Earth during the war - Auschwitz. In order to accomplish this, Avey exchanged places with a Jewish prisoner who was destined for the concentration camp. He witnessed the horrors occurring in the camp with his own eyes and later shared his experiences with the world by publishing the book 'The Man who Broke into Auschwitz' in 2011.

Denis Avey

Denis Avey was born in 1919 in Essex, England. As a young boy, he pursued boxing and displayed leadership qualities in school. He later enrolled in Leyton Technical College. In 1939, at the age of 20, Denis joined the army and served in the 7th Armoured Division, famously known as the 'Desert Rats'. Eventually, Avey became a prisoner of war after being captured by the Germans during a North African operation. Although he successfully escaped, the ship carrying him sank, leading to 20 hours in the water and a long journey on foot before being recaptured by the Germans.

Denis Avey

As a British prisoner of war, Avey was sent to the Monowitz camp, located adjacent to the infamous Auschwitz. The living conditions in Monowitz were comparatively better than in Auschwitz, but the prisoners often worked together in the mines. During his time in Monowitz from 1943 to 1945, Denis witnessed the suffering of Auschwitz prisoners firsthand. He formed a close relationship with a neighboring Jewish prisoner named Ernst Lobethal. A daring and noble idea came to Avey's mind - he decided to switch places with Ernst temporarily. This allowed Ernst to have a short break from the grueling work while Denis had the opportunity to see Auschwitz with his own eyes.

By talking to the prisoners in Auschwitz, Denis gained firsthand knowledge of the atrocities committed there. He later said, "Auschwitz was absolute evil that should never have existed." In return for his act of kindness, Ernst received better quality food and Denis was able to support his friend with cigarettes and chocolate. The cigarettes ultimately played a role in saving Ernst's life, as the bribed guards showed him some leniency during the notorious Death March. It was also Denis who delivered a letter and a package from Ernst's sister, Suzanne, who had managed to escape the horrors of the concentration camps and find safety in England. After the war, while Denis was back home, he often thought of Ernst but believed that his friend had not survived. Similarly, Suzanne, Ernst's sister, whom Denis had met, also believed her brother had perished. Unfortunately, they were unable to re-establish contact.

Meanwhile, Denis Avey lived a long life. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the war and his time as a prisoner, but only started speaking about his experiences in the 2000s. His story of infiltrating Auschwitz gained recognition when his book 'The Man who Broke into Auschwitz', written in collaboration with Rob Broomby, was published in 2011 and became a bestseller. Later, during the preparation of the book's release, Denis learned that his friend Ernst had survived, relocated to the United States, changed his surname to Lobet, and lived a long life there. Ernst, too, had not forgotten the courageous British prisoner of war and recorded his own story on film for the Shoah Foundation, mentioning that Denis had helped him survive.

Interestingly, Ernst passed away without ever learning the name of his British friend; in Denis Avey's narratives, he remained simply known as 'The Redhead'. Today, Denis Avey is 95 or perhaps 96 years old and resides in Bradwell, Derbyshire, England. He worked as an engineer throughout his life and was married twice.

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