The man who broke into Auschwitz – Denis Avey with Rob Broomby

Who would be crazy enough to break into one of the most notorious Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany…twice!

Despite its very specific title this book isn’t just about Auschwitz.  It is a wider story of Denis Avey’s life and his experiences in World War II.  The largest part is about his war experiences although it does cover a bit about his childhood in Essex and his life after the War.

I didn’t find the Denis Avey who comes through in the narrative a particularly likeable person.  I suspect he is entertaining in small doses and a class one pain if you see him regularly; an opinionated, cocky man who demands to be the centre of attention.

For me the most interesting part was learning about his active service in North Africa.  I have a personal interest in this campaign as my Grandfather fought there and I know very little about what it must have been like for him; he was killed in Italy later in the war and all that survives are sanitised letters to his family at home.  I knew the desert could be cold but had no idea about just how awful conditions could be.  In my naivety I hadn’t considered the brutal combination of the topographical conditions and warfare.

It was also interesting learning about the life of a POW in Italian hands.  Most of the books I’ve read have been about POWs in Nazi Germany so this was a different story as well.

Oddly, I found the Auschwitz part of the narrative the least interesting; if you want to know about life inside the IG Farben complex Primo Levi is a much better guide.  And I found the use of “Stripeys” to describe the concentration camp prisoners distasteful, whether or not it was the term used at the time.

For me the character of the man, as he is revealed in the book, makes it possible that he was foolhardy enough to break into the KL part of Auschwitz but I feel that if it did happen the noble motive of “bearing witness” he ascribes to it probably came later and it started off as an act of “derring do”.

At the end of this book, and in the couple of weeks since I finished reading it, I keep coming back to the central conflict within it; Denis Avey had a challenging War.  He fought in difficult conditions in Africa, he was a prisoner of war in Italian hands for a period of time and he was a prisoner of war near one of the most notorious prison camps in the world and yet…  And yet I am not sure how much of the story I believe, not sure what is truth and what is embroidery and not sure that I care enough to find out more.

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