I don’t mean just a hero I mean a real hero, someone who of his or her own choice decided to do something extraordinarily brave in order to help another person. Well if you were at the CCJ meeting several Sundays ago and listened to the story of Denis Avey you would have come away thinking ‘I met a hero’.
This man was captured by the Germans during the 2nd World War and as a POW he was sent to work for Farben close to Auschwitz, Birkenau. While working there he came in contact with Jewish prisoners who were inmates at the notorious death/concentration camp and he actually swapped clothes with one of the prisoners who was of similar build and features so that he could see for himself what as actually going on in there. His friend would also benefit from the better food and conditions (not difficult as the conditions in Auschwitz were beyond anything one could imagine) where Denis stayed. Needless to say that in doing so he was putting his own life at enormous risk. He described as best as he could some of the evil, vicious and inhumane things that he saw there; things that we have all read about or seen pictures thereof but there is something arresting about hearing it from a firsthand witness. He kept the entire audience completely captivated as he described his war experiences some with a touch of humour culminating with his capture and subsequent interment. When trying to sum up Auschwitz his words were “if I spent two weeks using every adjective available I could not even begin to describe how evil it was!” Recently his heroism has been recognised and he has been awarded the British Heroes of the Holocaust Medal (pictured here). On that occasion he met and related his experiences to the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Denis is an elderly man now but he still radiates courage and steely determination as he relates his story, the same determination that made him take such enormous risks to help others. He lives with his experiences every day of his life and admits that this has sometimes made him a difficult person to be with but evidently his moral fortitude and strength of character have sustained him.
From time to time one asks oneself, what would I do if faced with a great challenge? Well this is one man who can tell you what he actually did. To me he is a hero.