March 20, 2011

"AN ORCHESTRA?"

I was the man who broke into Auschwitz: Neil Tweedie meets Denis Avey and hears his astonishing tale of breaking into the Nazi's most feared concentration camp. (Neil Tweedie, 3/18/11, The Telegraph)

The music came from an orchestra hidden just out of sight: Wagner, wafting across the blasted ground. Denis Avey was 25 and a prisoner of war for more than two years. It was 1943 and this was the latest in a long line of PoW camps since his capture in North Africa, a collection of huts in the shadow of an enormous industrial complex in southern Poland. The nearest town was called Oswiecim in Polish. To the Germans it was Auschwitz.

“I thought, what is an orchestra doing here?” remembers Mr Avey. The British soldier soon had his answer. The camp just out of sight was full of Jews, slave labourers imported from all corners of Occupied Europe to build a giant plant for the German industrial giant I G Farben. The synthetic rubber and methanol it was designed to produce were vital to the Nazi war effort. The labour camp, known as Monowitz or Auschwitz III, was part of that vast, sprawling killing machine that included Auschwitz I, a Polish army barracks turned concentration camp, and Auschwitz II, otherwise known as Birkenau, the extermination factory, home to the gas chambers and crematoria.

When the labourers of Monowitz had served their purpose, when months of back-breaking work, starvation rations and furious beatings had taken their toll, the lorries would arrive. The men, by then shadows of men, would be driven away to the gas chambers that had already claimed their mothers and fathers, wives and children.

“The site was crawling with strange, slow-moving figures,” says Mr Avey. “Thousands of them in tattered, striped shirts and trousers. Their faces were grey. They were indistinct, ready to fade away at any moment. The lads in the camp called them Stripeys. The orchestra was very good. It played for the SS.”

Denis Avey is 92 now, a resident of Bradwell in the Peak District. His house, hidden down a narrow lane, overlooks a bowl-shaped valley disappearing eastward into the mist. Here, in this restful place, he summons memories, only recently unlocked, of that terrible place; and one of the most remarkable feats achieved by a British serviceman during the Second World War. When thousands would have given anything to escape Auschwitz, Denis Avey was trying to get in. And in mid 1944, he succeeded.



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Posted by at March 20, 2011 6:27 AM
  

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