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.

Denis Avey 311 (photo credit: Jonny Paul)
Denis Avey 311
(photo credit: Jonny Paul)

LONDON - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown metat his Downing Street residence Friday with a former British Prisonerof War at Auschwitz-Birkenau who swapped places with a Jewish prisonerto help save lives in the concentration camp.

Brownmet with Denis Avey ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day on Wednesday andwas told of Avey's extraordinary actions during the war, when heswapped clothes with a Jewish prisoner at the concentration camp on twoseparate occasions. His remarkable story has recently been discovered.

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

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

During his time in Auschwitz he befriended prisonerErnst Lobethall and was able to procure cigarettes, used to bribe campguards, and chocolate, enabling him to survive Auschwitz. Lobethalldied in 2002, never finding out the name of the British soldier whosaved his life.

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

JoiningAvey at the Downing Street meeting was survivor Ben Helfgott, MBE; LordJanner, chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, and two non-JewishHolocaust Educational Trust student ambassadors from Overton GrangeSchool in Sutton, South London, who have participated in thegovernment-funded Lessons from Auschwitz Project, which has taken over5,000 students and teachers from across the UK to Auschwitz-Birkenauduring the past 10 years.

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

"His story is even more poignant on this, the 65th anniversaryof the liberation of Auschwitz-Berkenau; a reminder of the unimaginablecruelty faced by those held there, and why we must continue to fightpersecution 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 himabout some of my experiences. We absolutely must learn from the past toensure that we never let such evil ideas take hold again. What I saw atAuschwitz, I would never want anyone else to have to witness," Aveysaid.

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

The Holocaust Educational Trust hopes Holocaust Memorial Day2010, under the theme "The Legacy of Hope," "challenges us to make theexperience and words of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust andsubsequent genocides a meaningful part of our future, and use theirexample to inspire positive action."