The Count of Auschwitz

The Fellowship  |  May 20, 2020

Liberated prisoners at Auschwitz
Liberated prisoners at Auschwitz

Today as we mark 80 years since the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp opened, our Advocate and Ally of the Jewish people is a war hero and hero of the Holocaust.

Not a Coward

Charles Coward was hardly the chicken his name might suggest. Besides being a heralded escapee of Nazi prison camps, Coward also saved the lives of hundreds of Jews who were fellow prisoners of his.

Born in 1905, Coward enlisted in the British army during the years between the World Wars. Still in the service as Quartermaster Battery Sergeant Major when England entered the war, Coward found himself captured by the Nazis in 1940. He would prove to be a headache for the Germans…and their anti-Semitic plans.

Before the Nazis could even get Coward into a camp, he had already escaped twice. He made seven more escape attempts. One of the most memorable found Coward – fluent in German – posing as a Nazi “hero.” His German enemies unknowingly awarded their prisoner the Iron Cross, the highest German military award! But even when held prisoner, Coward made sure to sabotage German facilities during his slave labor details.

Courage and Cunning in a Concentration Camp

The Nazis couldn’t handle this escape artist bungling their evil plans, so they shipped Coward to Auschwitz in December of 1943. Coward’s fluency in German afforded him the position of Red Cross liaison for British prisoners. This “job” let Coward move freely around the camp. There, he saw trainloads of Jews being brought to their deaths. He had to do something.

First, Coward and his fellow British prisoners smuggled food and other supplies to the Jewish prisoners.

Coward also smuggled things out of Auschwitz in the form of military intelligence. Writing to a made-up “Mr. Orange,” Coward sent detailed information to British authorities.

And finally, Coward helped smuggle people out of Auschwitz, as well. Bribing Nazi guards with chocolate and other contraband, he bought identification paperwork of Gentile prisoners who had died in the camp. He then gave these papers to Jewish prisoners, who first adopted these safer identities before being sneaked from the camp themselves. Using this brilliant scheme, Coward saved more than 400 Jews from the death camp.

A Courageous Gentile

For his bravery, this man known as “The Count of Auschwitz” was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1963, a year after Hollywood memorialized him on the silver screen in the movie The Password Is Courage. And it was Charles Coward’s courage that made him both an Advocate and an Ally of the Jewish people.

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