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"People Think It Could Never Happen Again. Don't You Believe It; It Doesn't Take Much."
on 28 February 2018
"People think it could never happen again and particularly that it could never happen here. Don't you believe it; it doesn't take much".
What an impressive man with an equally impressive story. Denis Avey shares his story of the war through his eyes and his firsthand encounters with two prisoners inside the walls of Auschwitz III Monowitz.
A British soldier, but a prisoner of war no less, Denis finds himself working inside the camp, and watching the awful extermination, beatings and unimaginable cruelty of which he retells in this book. Some of the scenes within, one in particular, are utterly barbaric. This book however is not what I initially imagined it would be - I expected a retelling of how Denis manages to swap places with a Jewish prisoner inside. In fact, the first half of this book focuses more on Denis as a soldier in the desert prior to finding himself in Auschwitz III and how he eventually came to get to the camp with other soldiers. The subterfuge of the swap only features in a very small portion of the book overall.
What I liked about this was the completeness of it. I feel I know Denis Avey's war as well as he would want me, as a reader, to from start to finish (and then some, as he continues to share his experiences after the war). It's fascinating to read a story from the perspective of a soldier who was able to bear witness to the suffering within and give a reliable account of this. But it's also interesting to see how Avey later went on to struggle from the effects of the war, and how he came to find out what happened to some of the people he encountered after being separated from them decades ago with no idea of their stories.
I also appreciated that the story didn't feel as though it was being told for any particular reason other than to make it known that these people existed, lived and loved and were more than just a collective - we know that millions were murdered at the hands of the extermination machine that was Auschwitz I, II and III. But we should recognise these individuals and their stories singularly, and this book does that excellently.
Avey tells the story of how he and a Jewish inmate he only knew as Hans were able to trade places a few times. The kindness and courage that this demonstrated is beyond comprehension and I would urge anyone to give this a read if only in respect of that.
A war with many stories to share; this story will stay with me long after the pages have yellowed and frayed.