Book Review: The Man who Broke into Auschwitz by Denis Avey

A touching tale

From the onset, the memoir looks like a grand adventure which is ironically what the author, once a British soldier set out to do. He had, in his words, “no sense of allegiance to the queen” but had “in a spirit of adventure” enrolled into the army. Much as his father, who had no obligation to do so in his age, drafted himself with an intention to look after his son. His memories of Auschwitz which is what the second half of the book is mostly about, is as vivid as a finely cast glass. His extraordinary foray across the length and breadth of Africa and Europe is sprinkled with generous anecdotes and recounting. At times, his observations, while stark and pedestrian seems apt for the life he is living. And at times, the simplicity in thoughts and idealism brings to fore the innocence of the man living in times as harsh as the holocaust. To hear him describe the camp III, is listening to horrors of the war from a third person narrative as he sees the Jews recklessly led towards death. Macht frei, german for work sets you free is brought out in all of its ironies and the subsequent attempts at finding evidence of the same is again, ironic. He lives through to tell the tale of his experience but what he goes through after having scaled the landscapes of Europe and in the safe precincts of the Great Britain is heart wrenching. Sometimes, more than the atrocities at the concentration camps. It would be interesting to listen to Ernie, now that we have the outsiders perspective. Coming on to the title, atrocious and unbelievable as it sounds, the author puts himself in the concentration camp of his free will in order to understand really what went on inside. His observations of the thousands of the “poor fellars” inside the camps, his brief conversations with the inmates is not sufficient to satisfy the curiosity. He, through his words, makes us believe that adventure was what he had always wanted his life to be, and in doing so he touched upon the basic human aspect of curiosity, empathy. All came together in his multiple attempts to scale the walls of the concentration camp and see for himself the decay and the hardships that went on inside. The times when humanity lost its meaning in entirety. It seems heroic and a striking parallel to Forest Gump can be drawn. Only, it concentrated mostly on the war and the holocaust. Sceptics abound as to the accuracy of his memories, who having lived through 60 years after the ordeal could recount each moment as if it happened only yesterday. Only when it comes to the later part of his life in London that his memory seems to give way. While that may seem to be proof of his fickle memory, and makes one doubt as to the authenticity of his story, one also feels somewhere that its often the sad times that one remembers vividly in his lifetime. The narrative sometimes narrows to the clichés, and the observations often deviate to the grandiose. Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage. In effect, the prison could bound him physically but could not bound his mind to wander. Cigarettes, the instrument one often hears about when one listens to the World War II anecdotes, is also brought out as an important protagonist. One that eventually is instrumental in helping the author come out of his PTMD- post-trauma mental disorder. I picked up this book hoping to start being a regular member of the GoodReads club, starting, obviously, with finishing with the clubs April reading. That was how I came to know of the author and the book. Of the holocaust books I have read so far- Every Man Dies Alone- Hans Fallada, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay- Michael Chabon, though its not strictly a holocaust book but delves deeply into the Nazi perpetrated crimes, I found the former book by Fallada as the most moving and touching. The account of the elderly couple is stark and minimalistic in its take on the Nazi-era Germany. In contrast, this book is as much about the war from a soldier’s perspective as it is about the various concentration camps and what went on in there. Knowing that the allied powers were close at hand, Avey recognized the importance of satisfying his curiosity and despite the dangers, risked his life a second time to understand better the camp in its monstrosity. He understood the chances of any survivors in the camp were minimal, and believing in his own indestructibility, as is evident from the streaks of adventurous heroism, he set out to know. Recounting it, I believe took more of an effort than placing himself at the swords end. Read it for a grass-root account of the war and for a humbling knowledge of the goings-on.


1 Comment

  1. nice!
    your reading streak is (pardon me for the adjective) breath taking

    Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.
    writing is awesome and loved the line

    feedback am i allowed?

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