charles_cowardA member of Camberwell Old Comrades Lodge #4077 under the United Grand Lodge of England, Charles Coward, or “The Count of Auschwitz” as he would come to be known, joined the British Army in 1937 and was captured by the Germans in 1940. In retrospect the Germans would have deeply regretted capturing Coward as he probably did more damage to the German cause than he ever could have done had he not been captured, for as a POW he basically launched a one man war.

He escaped a total of nine times, including two times before he had even arrived at a POW camp! During one escape Coward was awarded the Iron Cross while posing as a wounded soldier in a German army field hospital. During another, Coward spotted a V-1 Rocket base and managed to convey its location to British Intelligence. Between escapes, Coward managed to continuously thwart the German war effort, organizing numerous acts of sabotage while serving on work details. For the remainder of the war, Coward continuously sent coded messages regarding military intelligence via letters to his family.

In 1943, Coward was sent to the notorious Auschwitz . Here he was appointed the International Red Cross liaison for British prisoners of war  in the area. In this position, he devised an elaborate scheme to “buy” corpses of non-Jews by bribing guards with Red Cross supplies. At night, when Jews deemed unfit to work were being marched to the gas chambers, they would quickly jump out of line and conceal themselves in a ditch. Coward would then arrange for the corpses he had purchased to be spread along the road to substitute for the hidden Jews, who would then be smuggled away to freedom, using the identities of the corpses. In this way, Coward is estimated to have saved 400-800 Auschwitz inmates from death. Coward also used his Red Cross position to smuggle food and other supplies to Jewish prisoners, including dynamite, which was used to partially destroy the gas chambers.

In 1944, Coward was transferred to a small work camp and was conscripted to work in an IG Farben-run coal mine. Along with his fellow POW’s, Coward did his best to deliberately slow down and sabotage production. After the war, Coward testified at the Nuremburg trials, and in 1953 testified in a lawsuit brought against IG Farben for using slave labor. During this trial the German judge commended Coward for his courage and remarked:  “He did this for the mere reason he and the prisoners were fellow human beings”.

In 1963 Coward was awarded the title of one of the Righteous Among the Nations and had a tree planted in his honour in the Avenue of Righteous Gentiles in Israel. A book about Coward’s exploits, The Password is Courage , was published in 1954, and a movie of the same name was produced in 1962. He was also awarded the Israeli Peace medal; one of only two British citizens to be so honored, the other recipient being Brother Winston Churchill.

Sources: Wikipedia; HQ Magazine (Issue 17, April 2006); The Holocaust Educational Trust Site