Incredible true story of boxing champ who fought for his life in Auschwitz turned into major new film
The remarkable story of a Polish boxer who fought for survival inside the notorious Nazi-German death camp Auschwitz will soon hit the big screen.
Entitled ‘The Champion’ (Mistrz, in Polish), the film tells the extraordinary story of boxer Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski.
Born in Warsaw in 1917, Pietrzykowski was drawn to boxing early, training with well-known coach Feliks Stamm, who is considered the father of Polish boxing.
During the pre-war years, he became vice champion of Poland and champion of Warsaw.
After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, he tried to get to France, where he hoped to serve as a pilot in the Polish army, but was caught at the border between Hungary and Yugoslavia.
He was sent to the city of Tarnów in south-eastern Poland and, from there, to the Auschwitz.
He was one of the 728 Poles and 20 Polish Jews who travelled on the first mass transport to the concentration camp on 14 June 1940.
In the camp, he received the prisoner number 77.
At Auschwitz, the Germans forced him to fight. His first was in March 1941, against a kapo called Walter Dunning, who had been middleweight vice champion of Germany before the war.
Weighing 70 kg, Dunning was much heavier than Pietrzykowski who, after several months in the camp, weighed just 40 kg.
"He was the smaller of the two, but he was agile and fast. He had an incredible punch, aimed right for the stomach, and knew how to duck his opponent's blows. He won the fight and got his bread and margarine. You have to admit that the Germans kept their promise,” recalled Auschwitz survivor Tadeusz Sobolewicz decades later.
Pietrzykowski fought several dozen more fights at Auschwitz.
In 1943, he was transferred to the Neuengamme concentration camp in northern Germany, where he was also forced to fight, and later to Bergen-Belsen, where he remained until the camp was liberated in April 1945.
The new film, which will be Polish director Maciej Barczewski's first feature film, draws on archival statements of former prisoners of Auschwitz and the memories of Pietrzykowski, who died in Poland in 1991.
The boxer will be played by Polish actor Piotr Głowacki, who has starred in films including “Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge” (2016) and “In Darkness” (2011).
The cast also includes Marian Dziędziel, Grzegorz Małecki, Rafał Zawierucha, Marcin Bosak, Marcin Czarnik and Piotr Witkowski.
Shooting was completed recently and the film will be released in Poland this autumn.