The man who smuggled himself into Auschwitz
Children in Auschwitz
More than a million people died in Auschwitz
By Rob Broomby
Denis Avey is a remarkable man by any measure. A courageous and determined soldier in World War II, he was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in a camp connected to the Germans’ largest concentration camp, Auschwitz.
But his actions while in the camp – which he has never spoken about until now – are truly extraordinary. When millions would have done anything to get out, Mr Avey repeatedly smuggled himself into the camp.
He arranged to swap for one night at a time with a Jewish inmate he had come to trust. He exchanged his uniform for the filthy, stripy garments the man had to wear. For the Auschwitz inmate it meant valuable food and rest in the British camp, while for Denis it was a chance to gather facts on the inside.
He talked to Jewish prisoners but says they rarely spoke of their previous life, instead they were focused on the hell they were living and the work they were forced to do in factories outside the camp.
He arranged for cigarettes, chocolate and a letter from Susana to be sent to him and smuggled them to his friend. Cigarettes were more valuable than gold in the camp and he hoped he would be able to trade them for favours to ease his plight – and he was right.
Mr Lobethall traded two packs of Players cigarettes in return for getting his shoes resoled. It helped save his life when thousands perished or were murdered on the notorious death marches out of the camps in winter in 1945.
The BBC has now reunited the pair after tracing Susana, who is now Susana Timms and lives in the Midlands. Mr Avey was told his friend moved to America after the war, where he had children and lived a long and happy life. The old soldier says the news is “bloody marvellous”.
But before he died Mr Lobethall recorded his survival story on video for the Shoah Foundation, which video the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. In it he spoke of his friendship with a British soldier in Auschwitz who he simply called “Ginger”. It was Denis.
Ernest Lobethall moved to the US