Auschwitz champion: the story of the boxer who fought for hope

Little known even in Poland, Teddy’s story inspired a film about the tragic fate of sportsman Tadeusz Pietrzykowski in the Nazi concentration camp, which has just been released in theaters.

Polish boxer Tadeusz Pietrzykowski was a dodging virtuoso, but everything worked against him in his first fight at the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz.

Severely emaciated, prisoner number 77 had to face a much heavier German inmate, a kapo responsible for supervising other prisoners. “I got warnings and people were gesturing to me like I was crazy: “He’s going to kill you, eat you up ””, he remembered after the war, according to his official statements at the Auschwitz museum. “There was not a second to think … There was bread to be gained. I was hungry, my friends were hungry“, Will recall Pietrzykowski, nicknamed”Teddy», The pre-war Warsaw champion, in the bantamweight category.

His courage paid off. With a successful left blow to the face, Pietrzykowski bleed the kapo, Walter Düning. The loser chose not to take revenge and rewarded the boxer with bread and meat.

Teddy then made dozens of fights at Auschwitz, winning almost all of them, which earned him privileges, ensuring his own survival but also that of other inmates.

Teddy embodied hope in the hell of Auschwitz

Little known even in Poland, the story of “Teddy»Inspired the film«The champion of Auschwitz», Which has just been released in theaters. “It’s an incredible story. Very few people know that there was boxing in Auschwitz, that there were sporting events», Tells AFP Piotr Witkowski, who plays the role of Walter Düning.

Pietrzykowski “was dangerous for the Germans because he embodied hope in the eyes of the inmates, he showed that it was possible to win against the system, against the evil NazisHe said.

Tadeusz Pietrzykowski, a Catholic, arrived in Auschwitz in June 1940 as a political prisoner arrested during the attempt to join the Polish army which was forming in France. He was part of the first mass transport to the camp. Almost a year later, he was offered the opportunity to fight Düning. The Germans were tired of fighting only among themselves and were looking for other opponents.

There were cheers from Poles and German prisoners. It was an interesting event, something new at Auschwitz. This fight therefore triggered others, between detainees of different nationalities.», Underlines Renata Koszyk, curator of a new exhibition on sport at Auschwitz, presented on the site until next March. “However, sport was not a widespread phenomenon there. Most of the detainees were so exhausted from the daily work that they could no longer put in the extra effort, sometimes even walking to see.The fight, she insists. Among the spectators were SS officers who had fun making bets.

Boxer to survive

In exchange for his fights, “Teddy»Benefited from various advantages: lighter work, more food, which he shared with others, according to the testimonies of fellow inmates.

The leeway he enjoyed as a star boxer at the camp allowed him to procure medicine for prisoners, pass on various information and complete missions for the resistance movement. “My father fought and showed courage and generosity towards his fellow inmates (…) and was helped in return too», His daughter Eleonora Szafran told AFP.

While Pietrzykowski was suffering from typhus, at the camp hospital, it was rumored that the SS were planning to send patients to the gas chambers. To save the boxer’s life, his friends smuggled him out of the hospital and hid him for a while.

The book Mistrz (Champion) written by his daughter, presents Pietrzykowski’s war memories, including his attempt to assassinate the Auschwitz commander, scenes of Nazi brutality and cruelty he witnessed.

One million Jews died at Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with tens of thousands of other prisoners, including Polish Catholics, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war, between 1940 and 1945.

Tadeusz Pietrzykowski survived Auschwitz and other concentration camps. After the war he tried to regain the ring, but was prevented from doing so by illness. He became a physical education teacher, also pursuing his lifelong passion for painting. He died in 1991.

The actor who embodies him on screen, Piotr Glowacki, expressed the hope that the spectators will be inspired by it, “have the courage to follow Teddy’s example, to choose the right and to defend those who suffer segregation because of their race, nationality, sexual orientation, opinions (…), to side with the oppressed“.


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