Scrapbookpages Blog

April 10, 2011

New book: The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz by Denis Avey — is it an insult to the millions who died there?

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:49 am

According to a news article in the Daily Mail which you can read here, there is some doubt about the truth of the story told by Denis Avey in his new book, The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz, which was recently published in ten countries and is already a best seller. Some people are calling his story an insult to the millions who died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Back on March 4, 2010, I wrote about Avey’s story; you can read my blog post here.

This quote from the Daily Mail news article caught my attention:

What is also troubling is that the story of Mr Avey’s swap is almost identical to that told by another former POW at camp E715 called Charles Coward.

In a post-war trial, Coward gave testimony — now widely discredited by Holocaust scholars — in which he claimed to have smuggled himself into Auschwitz by swapping places with a Jewish inmate. This tall tale is included in a book about Coward’s exploits which is called The Password Is Courage and billed on the jacket as The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz — the very same title as Avey’s book.

The chance that two British POWs both independently thought up the life-endangering idea to swap places with an inmate of Auschwitz for the night stretches credibility to breaking point.

I have not read Avey’s book and when I first heard about his story, I was confused because I thought that he was claiming that he had sneaked into Auschwitz I, the main camp, which was about six miles from the Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz, where Avery was working when he was a POW.

Now it is clear that his claim is that he sneaked into the barracks at Monowitz, the Auschwitz III camp, where he learned all about the gas chambers from the Jewish prisoners.  What threw me off at first was that Avery described the camp as having the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign, which was on the gate at the Auschwitz I camp, but not on the Monowitz gate.

Sgt. Charles Coward had been captured by the Germans in May 1940 but he was not sent to the E715 POW camp near Monowitz until December 1943. While he was a prisoner at E715, Coward smuggled out news about what was happening at Monowitz in letters to the British War Office and informed Swiss representatives of the Red Cross, who paid two visits to E715 in the summer 1944.

Coward testified at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal regarding his observations about Monowitz.  This quote is from his testimony:

DR. DRISCHEL (counsel for Defendant Ambros): Witness, it is remarkable that you state in your affidavit that for a few cigarettes you saw the gas chambers in Auschwitz and the crematoria. Can you tell its where that was in the city of Auschwitz?

COWARD: To my best belief the gas chamber and crematorium, as it was known, was about 50 yards from a railway station at the far end of, I think the name was Monowitz.

DR. DRISCHEL: Did I understand you to say that you saw the gas chambers in Monowitz?

COWARD: No, not actually in Monowitz, no. Where the station was at Auschwitz, you see – I very likely misunderstood your question. At Auschwitz there was a railway station, you see, and about 50 to 100 yards from Auschwitz there was a siding where they used to bring the civilians, you see; and about 20 yards on the other side of this siding was where this particular guard took me and showed me the place.

The “siding” that Coward mentioned was called the Judenrampe or Jewish ramp in English.  The Judenrampe was an actual ramp, that is, a platform made out of wood, on which the Jews disembarked from the trains.

Railroad tracks at Auschwitz where the Judenrampe was formerly located

The Judenrampe, where the Jews got off the transport trains was “some distance from the railroad station” in the words of Sgt. Coward. The wooden ramp has since been torn down, but the tracks are still there. In May 1944, the railroad tracks were extended into the Birkenau camp when the transports of Jews from Hungary began to arrive, and the Judenrampe was no longer used.

When I visited Auschwitz in 2005, I saw some old abandoned buildings, to the left of the tracks, which might be the location that Sgt. Charles Coward was talking about when he testified about the gas chamber that was “20 yards from the siding.” The photo below, taken in October 2005, shows one of these old buildings.

Abandoned building near the former Judenrampe

Today, there is no claim by the Auschwitz Museum that these buildings once housed a gas chamber. However, an SS judge named Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen testified in defense of the SS at the Nuremberg IMT.  He claimed that there was a gas chamber at Monowitz but the SS was not involved.  You can read about his testimony here on my web site.

Here is another quote from the Daily Mail news article:

The trouble is that increasing numbers of people don’t believe him. They include former Auschwitz prisoners, historians and Jewish organisations — and they all doubt very much that he broke into Auschwitz.

This week Dr Piotr Setkiewicz, the head historian at Auschwitz, said that he did not believe Mr Avey’s story of the swap. He said that his fear was the story could provide ammunition for Holocaust deniers who are keen to exploit implausible memoirs in order to ‘prove’ that the Holocaust did not take place.

Don’t worry about Avey’s book.  It will soon be classified as a novel and made into a movie.  Just because a book is in the Holocaust fiction genre is no reason to throw it out.    The basic premise of the book is that a British POW  traded places with a Jewish prisoner in order to learn about the gas chambers.  What’s wrong with that?