Brown meets soldier who traded places with Auschwitz inmate

Denis Avey swapped clothes with a Jewish prisoner at the concentration camp on two separate occasions.

January 25, 2010 05:57
2 minute read.
Former British soldier Denis Avey (left) speaks wi

Denis Avey 311. (photo credit: Jonny Paul)

LONDON - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown met at his Downing Street residence Friday with a former British Prisoner of War at Auschwitz-Birkenau who swapped places with a Jewish prisoner to help save lives in the concentration camp.

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Brown met with Denis Avey ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day on Wednesday and was told of Avey's extraordinary actions during the war, when he swapped clothes with a Jewish prisoner at the concentration camp on two separate occasions. His remarkable story has recently been discovered.

His heroic actions provided the Jewish prisoner with the opportunity to receive vital food and rest in the British camp, while for Avey, it was a chance to gather facts from within the death camp.

Avey was a prisoner of war held in Monowitz, a smaller camp near Auschwitz, where he convinced an unknown prisoner to swap uniform two nights so he could witness the atrocities for himself.

During his time in Auschwitz he befriended prisoner Ernst Lobethall and was able to procure cigarettes, used to bribe camp guards, and chocolate, enabling him to survive Auschwitz. Lobethall died in 2002, never finding out the name of the British soldier who saved his life.

At the meeting, the prime minister also signed the Holocaust memorial book to remember those who perished and honor those who survived. The book has been placed in Parliament over the past week and has been signed by the leaders of all the main parties.

Joining Avey at the Downing Street meeting was survivor Ben Helfgott, MBE; Lord Janner, chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, and two non-Jewish Holocaust Educational Trust student ambassadors from Overton Grange School in Sutton, South London, who have participated in the government-funded Lessons from Auschwitz Project, which has taken over 5,000 students and teachers from across the UK to Auschwitz-Birkenau during the past 10 years.

"As we approach Holocaust Memorial Day, a time to reflect on the horrors of the past, it is people like Denis Avey and his extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion for others, that give us hope for the future," said Brown.

"His story is even more poignant on this, the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Berkenau; a reminder of the unimaginable cruelty faced by those held there, and why we must continue to fight persecution and intolerance wherever they are found.

"It is a remarkable tale of a truly remarkable man," the prime minister added.

"I was delighted to meet the prime minister today to tell him about some of my experiences. We absolutely must learn from the past to ensure that we never let such evil ideas take hold again. What I saw at Auschwitz, I would never want anyone else to have to witness," Avey said.

"Denis Avey is a hero," Lord Janner said. "He risked tremendous personal danger at Auschwitz to learn exactly what went on in that terrible place, and at the Holocaust Educational Trust we work to ensure that his efforts were not in vain - and that all young people learn about, remember and pass on to others the lessons of the horrors of the Holocaust."

The Holocaust Educational Trust hopes Holocaust Memorial Day 2010, under the theme "The Legacy of Hope," "challenges us to make the experience and words of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides a meaningful part of our future, and use their example to inspire positive action."

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