Gordon Brown backed HMD by praising a “brave and courageous” British PoW who swapped places with a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz.
Denis Avey, now 91, was a guest of the Prime Minister, along with survivor Ben Helfgott and Holocaust Educational Trust representatives at Downing Street last Friday.
With his wife Sarah also in attendance, Mr Brown signed the Holocaust memorial Book of Commitment and spoke with the group for 45 minutes.
In 1944, Mr Avey was a prisoner of war in Monowitz, one of the smaller camps around Auschwitz. After hearing rumours about what was happening in Auschwitz, he persuaded an inmate to swap places for two nights so he could witness the atrocities for himself. There he befriended Ernst Lobethall, who he gave 200 cigarettes — currency for bribing guards — which helped save his life.
Before his death in 2002, Mr Lobethall recorded his story for the US-based Shoah Foundation, mentioning the prisoner known to him as “Ginger”. He had never subsequently meet his saviour.
“It is a huge honour to meet you,” the Prime Minister told Mr Avey. “We are very proud of you. We’re very grateful you are here, not just because of your courage but your willingness to tell people what happened, so the world does not forget.”
Mr Avey said he had been proud to tell the PM “about some of my experiences. We absolutely must learn from the past to ensure that we never let such evil ideas take hold again. What I saw at Auschwitz, I would never want anyone else to have to witness.” The HET group also included student ambassadors from the trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz programme.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg have also signed the Book of Commitment.
Brown’s message in HMD BOOK
“The story of the Holocaust is one of cruelty: it is also one of courage, of how people can still find the ability to be human even in the most inhuman of times. I am reminded of the rabbi who was not himself ever in a camp, who was asked why he did so much for Holocaust education when he was not himself a survivor. And he replied that he was a survivor, not just of all Jews but all of humanity. Humanity survived our descent into evil and if we commit today to remember and to the resistance of evil then that is the legacy of hope.”