Auschwitz III - Monowitz

 Denis Avey

 E715 POW camp at Auschwitz

British Prisoners of War at E715 POW camp at Auschwitz

Photo Credit: Fritz Bauer Institute

One of the British Prisoners of War in the E715 camp near the Auschwitz III camp, also known as Monowitz, was Denis Avey, who was sent there after the POW camp opened in September 1943.

In 2009, Avey revealed that, while he was a prisoner housed in barracks near the construction site of the I.G. Farben Buna plant at Monowitz, he twice sneaked into the Auschwitz concentration camp, after trading places with a Jewish prisoner.

The following quote is from a news article on the BBC web site:

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.

Now 91 and living in Derbyshire, he says he wanted to witness what was going on inside and find out the truth about the gas chambers, so he could tell others. He knows he took "a hell of a chance".

According to his story, as told to the BBC, Denis Avey arranged to change places, for one night at a time, with a Jewish prisoner who was living in the barracks in the Auschwitz camp, but working at Monowitz. The two prisoners traded uniforms: Avey put on the Jewish prisoner's filthy, blue and gray striped uniform and the Jewish man sneaked into the British POW camp wearing Avey's uniform. Although Avey had red hair and spoke only English, the Auschwitz guards never caught on, and the Wehrmacht soldiers who guarded the POWs never noticed that there was a Jewish prisoner amongst the British soldiers. The Jewish prisoners typically had their heads shaved to control the lice that spreads typhus.

Avey described Auschwitz as "hell on earth" with a "terrible stench," and said that he would lie awake at night listening to the screams of the prisoners.

According to Avey, "there were nearly three million human beings worked to death" in different Nazi factories and the Jews knew that they would only last about five months at Monowitz at that rate. When Avey would ask what had happened to prisoners he had met previously, he would be told that they had "gone up the chimney," meaning that their dead bodies had been burned in the crematory ovens at the Auschwitz II camp, also known as Birkenau.

Avey himself witnessed prisoners at Monowitz being shot daily.

On one of his stays at Auschwitz, Avey met Ernst Lobethall, a Jewish prisoner, who had a sister, Susana, that had escaped to England on a Kinder transport before World War II started.

From the British POW camp, Avey was able to contact Susana via a coded letter to his mother in England. Susana mailed cigarettes, chocolate and a letter to Avey who smuggled the package into the Auschwitz camp and gave it to Lobethall. Cigarettes were used as money by the prisoners and Lobethall was able to trade two packs of Players cigarettes to get new soles put on his shoes. The shoes helped to save his life when Lobethall joined the death march out of Auschwitz when the camp was abandoned on January 18, 1945.

Lobethall survived the Holocaust and moved to America. Before he died, Lobethall recorded his survival story on video for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation. In his video, Lobethall spoke of his friendship with a British soldier whom he called "Ginger." That was red-haired Avey's nickname. Lobethall spoke about the cigarettes, the chocolate and a letter from his sister in England that had been smuggled to him at Auschwitz in the midst of the war.

The following quote is from another news story in the Daily Mail, written by Andy Dolan and last updated on December 13, 2009:

Mr Avey told how he twice smuggled himself in to the death camp after befriending a German Jew who had been sent there as part of the Nazi's Final Solution.

Mr Avey was being held in Monowice, one of two smaller camps alongside the Nazis' main concentration and extermination centre at Auschwitz.

As a prisoner of war, he was protected by the Geneva Convention and enjoyed a far more comfortable existence than the Jews destined only for death.

With rumours spreading through Monowice about the horrors taking place at the main camp, called Birkenau, Mr Avey convinced Jew Ernst Lobethall to swap uniforms and places in each other's camp for two nights in 1944 so he could gather first-hand evidence.

The pair met while being used as slave labour at a nearby synthetic rubber factory. At the end of their shift one night, Mr Avey changed into Mr Lobethall's stripy uniform, took his ID card and returned with the Jewish prisoners to Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II.

Mr Lobethall donned the Briton's Army fatigues and walked back to Monowice, known as Auschwitz III, where he would find valuable food and rest.

Contrary to Avey's story, all the Jewish prisoners in the three Auschwitz camps were tattooed with a number that corresponded to their identification number on the IBM Hollerith punch cards which were used to keep track of them; they did not carry identification cards.

By 1944, the Jewish prisoners at Monowitz (Monowice in Polish) had been living in barracks on site for two years. Initially, they had walked 7 kilometers to the Monowitz factories from the Auschwitz I camp, which was the main camp, but according to Avey, the prisoners at Monowitz were living in the Auschwitz II camp, called Birkenau, and walking every day to Monowitz.

Heinrich Himmler visits the Monowitz camp in July 1942

In the photograph above, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler is on the far right; the man in civilian clothes, who is shaking hands, is Max Faust. The newly-built barracks for the Jewish prisoners who worked at Monowitz are shown in the background. Jewish prisoners were transferred from the main Auschwitz camp to the new Monowitz barracks at the end of October 1942.

The quote from Andy Dolan's article in the Daily Mail continues as follows:

Recalling the swaps, Mr Avey said: 'I had to be very careful with how I walked. The Jews were forced to adopt a slouch. If you walked upright, they'd spot you in a flash.'

He said conditions in the death camp - where 1.1 million were killed - were 'absolutely horrendous'.

'The stench of death was overpowering ... The SS would kill with a detached look on their faces. It didn't matter to them.

'The sad irony was that I went in there to find out the truth, so I could tell everybody about the horrors of the Nazi regime.

'But I was so traumatised at my whole experience of the Auschwitz camps it took me 60 years to be able to recount the horrors I saw.'

On December 30, 2009, the BBC reported that Denis Avey was being considered for the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem for his actions in helping to save the life of Ernst Lobethall, a German Jew from Breslau.

The following quote is from the BBC article:

He was no ordinary British soldier and he became an extraordinary prisoner of war. He had fought with special forces against General Rommel's Africa Korps behind enemy lines in the desert.

He was wounded and captured by the Germans, and the ship transporting to him to captivity was sunk. He escaped into the sea and survived the explosion of depth charges close by.

After 20 hours in the water he made it to land in southern Greece. He then hiked the length of the Peloponnese before being recaptured and sent to Germany as a POW.

After two spells in a punishment camp and being sent to work down a mine, he was transported to a compound for British prisoners connected to a sprawling concentration camp. Its name - then unremarkable - was Auschwitz.

The information that Avey was fighting with "special forces" "behind enemy lines" might mean that Avey was a member of the British SOE and because of this, he was subjected to "two spells in a punishment camp."

According to the BBC article:

He fully intended to get as far as Birkenau, where the gas chambers and crematoria were constantly in operation, belching acrid fumes.

He only made it as far as Auschwitz III, where he spent the night on two occasions. Detection, he said, would have meant death.

So which camp did Avey actually sneak into? The Auschwitz main camp for political prisoners? The Birkenau death camp where the gas chambers were located? Or the barracks for Jewish prisoners at Monowitz?

The following quote is from another news article published by a British newspaper on December 31, 2009:

Denis Avey, who lives near Buxton, was being held in Monowice POW camp and was working in a factory when he met Ernst Lobethall, a Jew who had been sent to nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Mr Avey, now 91, convinced Mr Lobethall to give him his ID badge and concentration camp uniform.

He then twice walked back to Auschwitz-Birkenau to gather valuable evidence about the Nazi's Final Solution.

Meanwhile, Mr Lobethall returned to Monowice POW camp, where prisoners were held in far better conditions.

The term Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was not used when Avey was a prisoner at Monowitz, is a name that is used today to mean both the Auschwitz main camp and the Birkenau death camp, which are two separate entities that are a distance of 3 kilometers from each other.

The confusion, about which camp Denis Avey sneaked into, comes from a general lack of knowledge about Auschwitz. The name Auschwitz refers to three separate camps called Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II and Auschwitz III. Auschwitz I was the main camp, where most of the inmates were Polish political prisoners; Auschwitz II was the extermination camp at Birkenau where the Jews were gassed; Auschwitz III was the labor camp at Monowitz, or Monowice in Polish. Monowitz is no longer in existence but the other two camps, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, have been preserved as a Museum, which is now referred to as Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The Denis Avey story is used by youth group to teach the Holocaust.

British POW camp near Monowitz

The Monowitz camp

Information about IG Farben - External site

Monowitz gas chamber?

Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

Survivors of Birkenau camp

Death Statistics

History of Auschwitz

Auschwitz II - aka Birkenau

Selections for gas chamber or labor


This page was last dated January 2, 2010