The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz

A British POW reveals story of friendship with Auschwitz inmate, which included role reversal to show POW the treatment of Jewish prisoners.

Published: April 3rd 2011
in News » World

The main gate at the former Nazi death camp of Birkenau.

In what sounds like a scene from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a British Prisoner of War has come forward with his story of his forbidden friendship with an Auschwitz inmate which included role reversal, and the two men switching places to allow the British POW a firsthand look at how Jewish prisoners were really being treated.


Set during World War II, the 2008 film The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells a similar story through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp, whose forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence has startling and unexpected consequences.


The 92-year-old POW, Denis Avey, was captured by German soldiers while fighting in north Africa and was taken to a camp near Auschwitz where he met Jewish prisoners with whom he had worked at a nearby factory run by Germans.


Avey secretly became friends with Hans, a Jewish prisoner, who pleaded with him to tell people in England about their horrendous situation.


Avey first wanted to change places with Hans, so that he could see it with his own eyes before telling others.


Avey’s “costume” included his newly-shorn head, a dirty face, and Hans’ clothing. He would then join Jewish prisoners on their way back to Auschwitz from the factory. The next morning he walked back out to the factory, and swapped clothes with Hans in a hut.


Despite the lack of an eye-witness to verify his story, Avey, who was not able to contact Hans since the end of the war, has been honoured by the British government with a silver medallion that recognizes those who rescued people from the Nazis.


During a visit to The Holocaust Center in Newark, England, Avey said that back then, no one knew anything about "the horrifying state of Auschwitz and, believe me, it was a place of evil. It was a desperate place. I didn't see a butterfly, a bird, a bee, or anything — everything had turned its back and I thought even the great architect had turned his back," he said.

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