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Bearing witness to Nazi horror

COLUMN ONE

While others were desperate to get out of the death camp at Auschwitz, a POW risked his life to get in. He needed to see what was happening, knowing that one day there would be a reckoning.

April 03, 2010|By Henry Chu

In an emotional reunion late last year, the BBC brought together Avey and Lobet's sister, Susanne Timms. Wiping away tears, the two sat on Avey's sofa, their hands clasped, as they watched Lobet's video.

In it, he describes how the British POW he knew only as "Ginger" gave him 10 packs of cigarettes. ("It's like being given Rockefeller Center.") He traded some of the precious hoard for favors, including one that ultimately enabled him to make it through the death marches.

"The soles of my shoes had started to wear very thin, and of course there are also shoemakers in the camp," Lobet recalled. "I had new heavy soles put on my boots for two packs of English Player's cigarettes. And that later on came . . . to save my life on the death marches."

Timms, 87, never expected to meet the man who saved her brother.

"He's a wonderful man. He's got a very strong personality," Timms said in a telephone interview. "I only wish my brother knew before he died."

Now, despite his years, Avey remains in vigorous health, except for a pinched nerve in his back and a bit of a wheeze after he walks.

There's still something of the brash young soldier about him. With a cackle of laughter, he challenges a visitor less than half his age to a strength contest and describes his years of judo training, boasting impressively: "I could kill you with just one finger."

He and his wife live with their two springer spaniels, surrounded by rolling green hills. These days, though, that tranquillity is broken constantly by phone calls from reporters, community groups and others eager for him to recount his experiences.

The man who kept his story bottled up for decades now seems happy to share it.

henry.chu@latimes.com

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