His fists kept him alive

While we associate the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with hard work and rather passivity towards the Nazis, he fought to survive. And he fought it, in a battle to the death, with his fists he survived hell.

Tadeusz Pietrzykowski, pseudonym „Teddy”, was born on April 8, 1917, in Warsaw. Later, he joined the scouting movement and graduated from the Staszic gymnasium. It was there that he started his adventure with the sport. He was fast and agile, and his talent was noticed by Feliks Stamm – a boxer, representative of the „Polish boxing school”. He started training Pietrzykowski, who was becoming an increasingly popular athlete before the war. In the 1930s, he won, among others, the vice-championship of Poland and the Warsaw bantamweight championship. He was also interested in plastic arts.

When the war broke out, he wanted to actively participate in the battles against the aggressors. He was assigned to soldiers fighting in defense of the Warsaw district of „Ochota”. He fought in it until the end of the September campaign, and then he joined the Union of Armed Struggle. In 1940, he planned to join the Polish Army in France. Unfortunately, he failed to do so and was caught on the border between Hungary and Yugoslavia. He was taken to Polish prisons, including Tarnów, from where in the first transport, on June 14, 1940, he was taken to the camp in Auschwitz. Tadeusz Pietrzykowski received number 77 in the camp.

At first, his sports career did not matter. He worked as hard as the other prisoners in the mower commando and the carpentry shop. However, fellow prisoners quickly realized that the prisoner nearby was the same Pietrzykowski whose boxing career they followed before the war. It was the fellow prisoners who informed the hero of today’s story that one of the capos is looking for an opponent to fight in the ring. It quickly turned out that the German is the Third Reich middleweight champion, which is much higher than Teddy, especially if we take into account the living conditions of both men in the camp. Pietrzykowski took up the fight and, to everyone’s surprise, won it. He also won successive fights, which were gaining popularity, both among German personnel and among prisoners. It is estimated that Tadeusz fought 40 to 60 fights in the KL Auschwitz camp, losing only one of them. He fought mainly with other inmates, but there were also fights with kapos or other members of the camp crew. The victories translated into an improvement in the quality of life of prisoner number 77 in the camp: he was assigned to lighter work, and he was also given extra food.

In 1943, he was transferred to the camp in Neuengamme. Before the transfer, he received a pair of boxing gloves from one of the kapos, namely Walter Dünning, his first rival, as a tribute to the prisoner. He was liberated in the Bergen-Belsen camp, before the end of the war. Then he joined the 1st Armored Division of general Stanisław Maczek, where, in addition to fighting, he helped in the physical training of soldiers.

When the war ended, Pietrzykowski returned to the ring. However, the years spent in the camp and the terrible living conditions, in which he was for those 5 years, had a negative impact on his health and condition. This resulted in a very quick end to his boxing career. He graduated from university and started training young athletes. He died on April 17, 1991, in Bielsko-Biała. Several films have been made about his story.

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