Across all of our military madmen, there are not many that might regularly be described as cowards. If anything, they tend to have an excess of bravery. One man who could compete with any of them for nerve and courage under duress was Charles Coward, a coward by name but certainly not by nature. He was also known by another moniker: the Count of Auschwitz, a name that he earned through his ability to smuggle Jews out of the death camp and, on one occasion, to smuggle himself in.
Coward was a quartermaster in the British Royal Artillery when he was captured in 1940, shortly before the Dunkirk evacuation. He was one of the many British officers who took their orders to sabotage and disrupt the enemy if captured to heart, managing to free himself on several occasions, even at one point breaking out and making his way into a German field hospital, where he was accidentally awarded the Iron Cross while posing as an injured German. He would sabotage any work operation to which he was assigned and made at least 9 escape attempts before finding himself stuck in Auschwitz on a forced labor battalion.
There were over a thousand Brits stuck in the camp and Coward, as a German speaker and former quartermaster, was put in charge of the Red Cross packages that were assigned to them. This gave him access to the trains that arrived at the camp, where he saw the thousands upon thousands of Jews that were deposited at Auschwitz every day. Via Coward and other workers, the British prisoners of war donated portions of their food rations over to Jews and sent coded messages back to Britain, smuggled with the Red Cross. He even managed to swap clothes with one Jewish inmate for an evening and sneak himself into the Monowitz camp to experience the conditions with his own eyes.
Later, Coward would take Red Cross chocolate rations and use them to bribe SS officers to get the dead bodies of forced laborers from the work details, from which he would take the identity documents and then give them over to Jews: he himself estimated that he saved at least 400 Jews from the gas chambers in this way. Eventually, the British prisoners of war were taken to a different camp and then marched from Poland to Bavaria, where they were met by the advancing Americans and freed.
The level of bravery involved bordered on madness, but Coward would continue it after the war. Using the experiences that he gained at Auschwitz, he became a star witness for the prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials, providing testimony to the conditions of the camp and even physical details such as the location of the gas chambers. He was awarded the honor of Righteous Among the Nations by the state of Israel in 1963, the highest award is given to gentiles who assisted and saved Jews during the Holocaust.
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Story by Mike Wood