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.
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.
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
"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."