His prisoner number was 77, his name Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski and his fists helped him survive the hell of Auschwitz. Tune in to PolandIN at 5:10 and 00:15 GMT+2 / UCT+2 to learn the story of possibly the only man whose gumption allowed him to beat up an SS officer and get away with it alive.
Marking the 80th anniversary of the first trainload of Polish prisoners that arrived at the Nazi-German Auschwitz concentration camp, Gabriela Mruszczak’s movie “Auschwitz, Boxing and Bread” telling the story of boxer Tadeusz Pietrzykowski premieres on PolandIN.
During his time in Auschwitz Pietrzykowski is believed to have taken part in 40 to 60 fisticuffs, losing only one or two of the encounters. He faced off many opponents, including an SS officer and a truly worth adversary – a German boxing master.
“Pietrzykowski’s successes in the Auschwitz boxing ring were psychic support for the other inmates in times of mental breakdowns,” says the movie’s director Ms Mruszczak, adding that “it is thanks to him that the Polish prisoners gathering round the fights could feel that ‘Poland has not yet perished’.”
It was perhaps the pre-WWII issue of the oldest Polish sports daily “Przegląd Sportowy” that most accurately described Pietrzykowski: “Those mild blue eyes and the unfazed cheerful countenance can mislead many novices. One would think: ‘what a lanky fellow.’ Meanwhile, ‘the lanky fellow’ is well able to pack a wallop one could never dreamt of!”
Another hero of Ms Mruszczak’s movie is Eleonora Szafran, the daughter of the adamant boxer. It is she who discovered the father’s diaries and decided to continue the search for vestiges of the boxer that he had been. Some of these are the effigies of Pietrzykowski carved in the cell of Saint Maksymilian Kolbe in the former Nazi-German Auschwitz concentration camp.
“In 1941, my father entered his first fight [in Auschwitz] against German capo and Germany’s deputy middleweight boxing master Walter Dunning. The price was a loaf of bread,” Ms Szafran said.
The movie also delves into Pietrzykowski’s role in the camp resistance movement headed by Witold Pilecki. Pietrzykowski also wanted to rush to Maksymilian Kolbe’s help when he was brutally beaten by a German guard but the priest told him not to intervene. Pietrzykowski obeyed.
In 1943 the boxer was moved to another Nazi-German camp, Neuengamme where he fought in 20 encounters. Later he was moved to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where he remained until the camp’s liberation in 1945. Having returned to Poland, he worked as a PE instructor. He died in 1991.