Lecture in commemoration of 65 years since the liberation of Auschwitz
British POW Denis Avey, 91
‘Why I smuggled myself into Auschwitz’
Good evening ladies and gentleman. Can you hear me? I must start with an apology because I forget things these days. I forget words. I forget incidences.
Recently I entered into the bathroom and I forgot why I came into there. I am 91 years of age and I have lost all my friends. I use super glue.
I think I should give some background where I come from. I am a bit of an idiot..
I grew up on a farm and was taught to respect all people.
One thing I rejected was bullying. I could use myself those days. Out of 400 boys I never had a single incident of bullying.
I studied in London engineering.
After the termination of studying, the war broke out. Like a silly ass I joined up. I learnt flying but didn’t get a licence.
I went to an old friend and he said ‘you join the military and then I’ll get you a transfer to the RAF’. But he didn’t. Of course, he saved my life. They all died.
I was sent to Libya. I was taken prisoner by the Germans. The Germans were different people. I was wounded they took me to hospital – I recovered. They put me on a boat with other prisoners, ostensibly on the way to Italy.
Unfortunately, half way we were hit badly by torpedoes. By a miracle I got out. They hit the engine room – it was full of water. I got out.
There was a cargo boat. I was 20 hours in the water. Ended up in Greece.
I was unconscious. I finally came to. Made my way in land. I met a farmer. I told him I was English. Couldn’t speak any Italian. He gave me some clothes. I made my way to Padres in Greece. I didn’t know where I was. I picked up the language a little and learnt where I was. I got into Italy. Got rationed. It was shocking.
I was very suspect.
Put on a cattle truck into Austria with 30 other chaps. They took me into a Russian POW of camp. It was frightful condition. The food was so bad. It stunk to high heavens. The rats were running round.
They finally took us to a mine to work.
The German caught us. They immediately put 11 of us against the wall. Shot 5 of them.
They sent us then to Auschwitz for 18 months.
There was a camp with running water, mattresses. It was beautiful. They realised it was the wrong place.
They then took us to IG Farben. They were building a factory to produce synthetic rubber, which Hitler desperately wanted.
It was double wired. The security was the SS, Gestapo, Hitler Youth. What have you. We worked in there.
Incidentally this camp was previously used by Russian POW. There was supposedly an air raid shelter. It had iron doors, underground. I looked at it and got speaking to them and subsequently was told that the Russians were exterminated there by Cyclone B. It is a powder that when exposed to air it turns into gas and all these Russian prisoners were killed. …
I was told this by different people at different times, therefore must be true.
Back in Italy. They asked what did I do in civil life, I said I was a cat burglar. They couldn’t make head or tails from that.
We worked in IJ Farben 12 hours a day and 7 days a week together with ‘stripees’, which meant Jews and criminals. We rebelled against this. It wasn’t right. We went into the officer’s office and said this is against the Geneva Convention. He took his gun out, put it on the desk and said ‘this is my Geneva Convention’.
We worked alongside the striped Jews and we weren’t allowed to speak to them. If you spoke to them, the bullet.
When I said about security in there, rather flippantly, it was amazing. I was able to walk around with a length pipe on my shoulder and no one asked me anything.
I got to speak to one Jewish prisoner and he was a hell of nice guy.
He told me he had a sister in Birmingham.
You were able to write letters, once a month. They never ever got there.
This one however did. I memorised her address and I wrote to her that he has hurt his hands and cannot write.
She sent 200 cigarettes and a bar of chocolate. Cigarettes were worth a king’s ransom.
I got this 200 cigarettes and gave them to Ernst Loebental.
I didn’t know his name then. You don’t give names, take names. If you dropped names you he would get the bullet.
I asked him his name and he said Ernst. He asked me my name and I said Ginger. I gave him these cigarettes.
I thought he died on the death march.
By a miracle he got off the death march and made it to America and made a DVD about his experience and he said that the cigarettes saved his life.
He used the cigarettes to get a pair of boots, they were wearing thin. He then got his boots fixed with thick soles and it saved his life during the death march. Had he not got them fixed, he would have been frostbitten after a few miles and would have been shot dead.
We went on the death march and we were walking by dead bodies for miles.
They would just shoot those who fell. It was minus 40 degrees.
I will come back to Auschwitz again.
We all realised what was happening there. These poor devils.
They also came from Hungary. Big strapping fellows. Within 4 months they were dead. Less then 4 months.
They got less than a thousand calories a day.
All they had was a piece of bread in the morning, a little piece of margarine, cabbage soup in the afternoon and again in the evening. You could smell the soup a mile off.
There was the selection. The terrible smell of the crematorium. !2 miles a way in Crakowitz, they complained about the stench..
All the executives at Nuremberg said they didn’t know anything about it at all. It was so evident. Everyday they were killed. We knew it. You came inured to it, unhappily.
The fact of them dying wasn’t enough. They had to carry them back and be counted to make sure they had the right number.
We had, with a number of chaps with me, a reasonable job, labouring work. Being an engineer, I recognise the fact we could do a hell of a lot of damage. It was damage that could be effective in the long term, not with a big bang. If it was traced back to use we would be shot. We did a lot of damage, sabotage.
Because of this, Auschwitz 2 didn’t make an ounce of rubber. Nothing went out of the gate. They desperately wanted rubber and also Methanol, as well.
Because of all the cruelty, the bestiality that I witnessed, I had to found out everything. I am one of these weirdoes. Gestimates was never in my vocabulary at all and I had to find out things for myself
Over many weeks with another Dutch Jew. We arranged for me to get exchange clothing with him for me to get into Barkenau. How they were living, what they were eating, how they were being treated.
We worked over weeks to get this right.
We even got wooden shoes to make sure the exchange was pretty quick and accurate.
Suffice to say it happened. I shaved my head. Put dirt on my face. We bribed the commanders. I got in with the commanders of the Jews and he got in with ours.
I walked to Birkenau and he went to the small camp. What an idiot I was. It wasn’t Birkenau it was Auschwitz 3. It was worse that Birkenau, with the exception that there was no crematorium. But they would take the trucks down with people down every down to be gassed and then to the crematoriums.
When we marched to Auschwitz 3 we slouched along.
At the main gate, it said ‘arbert macht frei’. Then you walk to attention, so you don’t get called to selection. If you slouch you get the selection and you get gassed the next day.
I used to ask every day what happened to that person, what happened to that person, they would just say – they went up the chimney.
I got into Auschwitz 3. It was a wooden building. In the cubicles they slept three by three with just one blanket. The night time screams were terrible, Poor devils. I almost went crazy.
I will tell you something about Auschwitz. If I tell you every description in the dictionary, and talk to you about it for months, it would not come to what it was like. It was evil, underlined by the stench of the crematoriums. Everything about it was evil. Event nature didn’t exist. I never saw a bird, a butterfly.
I even thought that the architect turned His back on it.
The reason why I went in, I think it is a saying by Albert Einstein, the world is an unhappy place. There is a lot of evil in it. There is nothing worse than seeing evil and walking on the other side.
I learnt at an early age. It got me into a lot of trouble. But you can sleep at night.
When I walked through the gate in Auschwitz 3, there was always one person hanging on the gates, which said ‘ufpasten’. Watch out, it could be you.
I went in there to get names of Kapos, SS, what they were eating.
I couldn’t have lived even four years on what these hafflingers lived.
To see a big man and within a few months down to skin and bones and then on a lorry to Birkenau … That is how it used to be.
I was once working in Birkenau laying cables, up to our knees. Up on the hill they were laying the cables, one poor fellow, when they were spoken to by the SS they would have to stand to attention, not look at them, and then they would be beaten irrespective what they were doing.
I saw there was once this young boy stood to attention and blood streaming down his face. Do you speak German? I swore at them. I shouted to the German ‘untermentch’. The worst thing you can say to an SS. He stopped. I don’t know what happened to that person, Probably off to the gas chambers.
About quarter of an hour later, he came over behind me and hit me in the face with his gun.
After the war I had to have the eye treated and taken out.
In Auschwitz 3 those wretched people who ran it claimed total innocence. At Nuremberg trial, 104 were taken to the trial. 74 were charged for kidnapping, mass murder, everything.
They were judged by inexperienced non federal judges from America and the American High Commissioner commuted them all.
You imagine why I am dead against those people.
Then Eisenhauer came over and ostensibly burnt down IG Farben.
Two or three years later they were taken away to the US and became executives of ig corperations.
IG Farben financed Auschwitz 3, so they would have to walk so far to work.
I am telling you know without exaggeration, nearly 200,000 prisoners in Auschwitz were worked to death. Not killed. Were worked to death and they claimed total innocence. They lived for no more than 4 months. They were clubbed and beaten everyday without any justification whatsoever.
I will tell you something light to lighten this up. We went one night in to the camp and we used to get bread. We were searched on this occasion at night.
This person next to me was searched and they found a chicken in his trousers. Pistols came down, and they put three of us in the bunker. I had nothing to do with it.
The next day in the cement bunker, too low to stand up, they came and he was being beaten to death, where did you get this chicken, who gave you this chicken?
He said he was working for the German’s like I should do, we were working down the trucks and came this chicken and it attacked me. I had to kill it in self defence. There was a pregnant silence.
It took a few minutes – you know German humour – the German fell out off his chair laughing. That saved a bullet. It saved his life.
Incidentally I went to Auschwitz 3 twice. The third time I nearly go caught.
Now to the death march.
About 27 January, they took all the prisoners out of Birkenau and Auschwitz. On the death march, we could hear the Russians shooting.
Some men wanted to go that way and I told them don’t. They went and the Russians shot them. They didn’t care about anyone other than themselves.
On the death march, one chappy said that he counted the shots, there were on one day 500 shots. All dead.
We walked to Czechoslovakia.
On our column they had a horse and cart to take their stuff. I didn’t know what they had there.
They were flogging this horse left right and centre. It was in the snow and they were flogging. I am a horseman and I said ‘lay off, it won’t survive. Let me have him’. They let me and he did 50 miles through the snow.
We got to an area and I had a feeling they were going to set the machine guns up and were going to shoot us.
The horse had had it – they strung it up and shot it up.
I must admit that I ate from it raw. Others also did. We were so hungry.
We came to the border and I escaped. There was no food for days. They also had very little.
I stole food and clothes.
I made my way through Nuremberg and another 50 miles until the American lines.
There was the American commander. He was armed up to the eyeballs. Two 45’s on either side...
He didn’t ask who I am, where I come from. I spoke perfect English.
They flew me to Brussels in a Lancaster.
They asked me where I want to go. I said the front of the craft.
He allowed me. We flew over the English Channel. Very low. It was a mess, a wreck, until we came to the white cliffs of Dover.
I can’t explain what it was like, it was unbelievable.
We got to this camp, didn’t have a hay penny in my pocket.
Got onto the train and back to my village.
There was a horse and cart in the station and we went down to the village – two days before DDay. My mother didn’t know if I was alive or not.
In conclusion, I was in hospital for two year after the war. I had tuberculoses. They plumbed my stomach. I got away with it.
That was it. Other than that, after the war for years, I had nightmares for years. I still think of Auschwitz every day. I can’t exorcise this. My bed was soaked from sweat for years. I went to doctors, they couldn’t help.
I tried everything. I went in to repenting. To show you what an idiot I’ve been. When I would get a tooth ache, I would knock my head against the wall to get another pain to get rid of that pain.