Scrapbookpages Blog

April 27, 2011

Learning about the Holocaust from the Denis Avey story

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 10:12 am

In doing a search on Denis Avey, whose Holocaust story has been in the news a lot lately, I came across a video of Denis, and also an article about how Christian youth groups can use the Denis Avey story to learn about the Holocaust, while at the same time, learning about the Christian religion.

Here is a quote from the article, which you can read here:

The Bible tells us that Jesus did exactly what Denis did. He chose to put himself in a dangerous situation and swap places with those who were going to die. But unlike Denis, Jesus actually died on our behalf. […]  Theologians call this trading of places ‘Substitutionary Atonement’. It’s a complicated way of saying something very simple: Jesus died in our place.

The most interesting part of the article is the suggestion for a game that could be played by youth groups to learn about the Holocaust.  Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t approve of role-playing games about the Holocaust.

Here is a quote from the article which describes a Holocaust game for youth groups:

Game: Sweetie Smuggling
In order to lighten the mood and to keep the group active and interested, you could play the following game.

Promote two people in the group to become ‘guards’ and station them outside of the room. Tell the rest of the group that they are ‘prisoners’. The aim of the game is for the prisoners to smuggle as many sweets (candy) past the guards as possible, and the guards to confiscate as many items as possible. The winning side is the one with the most items at the end.

One by one, the prisoners have to choose if they want to smuggle an item, then walk out of the room past the guards. If they are carrying an item, it should not be visible. This should lead to some very creative hiding items on people. The two guards are only allowed to ‘search’ half the number of people in the group. For example, if you have a group of ten prisoners, the guards can only search five of them. This way, the guards must choose carefully who they want to search.

Obviously it is not a good idea for the young people to physically search each other, so an adult should keep an eye on who has an item, and make sure they are honest when challenged by the guards. If the guards catch someone smuggling, then they confiscate the item. If a prisoner makes it through with an item, then they get to keep it. If a prisoner is accused of smuggling but is not carrying an item, then they can go free.

When the game is finished, get everyone sitting down again and tell the story of Denis Avey.

You can hear Denis Avey describe his Auschwitz experience in a video here.

The video starts with an advertisement, so wait for Denis, who begins by explaining the selection process at the Auschwitz II camp, which was not the camp that Denis allegedly sneaked into.  Then we immediately see a photo of elderly women in the barracks at the Auschwitz II camp, who survived the selections for the gas chamber.

Next, we see an old photo of the Arbeit Macht Frei gate at the entrance into the Auschwitz I camp, which also has nothing to do with his story of trading places with a Jewish prisoner at the Auschwitz III camp.

Finally, we are told in the video that it was Auschwitz III where British prisoners were held.  You can read about the POW camp where Denis Avey was a prisoner here. The POW camp was very close to the barracks where the Jewish workers lived at Auschwitz III.  After Denis explains that the SS guards at Auschwitz III were “shooting from the hip for nothing at all,” we see a photo of child survivors at the Auschwitz II extermination camp.

Towards the end of the Denis Avey video, there is a photo of a man who appears to be near death.  The word “Why?” is printed on this photo, which was taken by the British at the Bergen-Belsen camp.  Why is this man dying?  Because the Nazis did not have a typhus vaccine.  The photo on the video is the one shown below.

Iconic photo of man dying of typhus at Bergen-Belsen

We are told in the video that Denis Avey observed what the Nazis were doing to destroy the Jews and other victim groups.  Avey allegedly learned this at the Auschwitz III camp where the Jews and the British POWs were working in factories. There are no photos of Auschwitz III shown; instead we see lots of recent footage of the Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau.  You can read about the Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz, here.

This crazy mixed up video about Denis Avey, and the games that are suggested for youth groups, only serve to trivialize the Holocaust.  What’s next?  A Denis Avey video game?  I previously blogged about the Sonderkommando Revolt video game, which was withdrawn in December 2010 before it went on the market and another video game about Bergen-Belsen.

I tried to buy a copy of Denis Avey’s book at my local Barnes and Noble store, but  I was told that the book had not been published yet. It will not be available until July.  So I went online and located a website that has an excerpt at

Here is a quote from The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz:

There was a sign with that cruel promise: Arbeit macht frei – “Work sets you free”. This was Auschwitz III-Monowitz.

This is a huge mistake by Denis Avey.  This sign was not on the Auschwitz III Monowitz gate, but rather on the Auschwitz main camp gate, as shown in the photo below.

Gate into the Auschwitz main camp

Denis Avey stayed for two nights in the barracks of the Auschwitz III camp.  The barracks are shown in the photo below.

Barracks at Auschwitz III

Avey tried to question the prisoners but all they would tell him is something about the “Frauenhaus,” which was their name for the brothel where the prostitutes stayed.  According to this excerpt from the book, the prisoners at Monowitz did not tell him about the gas chambers.

Avey described the soup, which he said was made from rotten cabbage and potato peels.  He said that he didn’t eat the soup, so how does he know that the cabbage was rotten.

Avey wrote that “Breakfast was odd-tasting black bread smeared with rancid margarine. I couldn’t eat it.”  Again, how does he know that the margarine was rancid if he didn’t eat it.  The prisoners were given whole grain bread instead of fluffy white bread because “black bread” is nutritious.  During World War II, everyone ate margarine because butter was scarce and very expensive.