Sport and sportspeople in KL Auschwitz. New temporary exhibition at the Memorial
"Sport and Sportspeople in KL Auschwitz" is a new temporary exhibition at the Auschwitz Memorial that tells the story of sport and sportspeople deported to the German Nazi Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp through archival material, artworks and original objects, including items from the families of Antoni Czortek and Tadeusz Pietrzykowski.
The term "sport" in KL Auschwitz was distorted by using it to refer to the exhausting exercises combined with the drill and singing applied on a mass scale. This form of sport, referred to after the war as pseudo-sport or quasi-sport, was usually a way of enforcing discipline and punishing prisoners.
'The term "sport" in Auschwitz was always associated with something very difficult, with an instrument of torture and the different world of Auschwitz to which people were deported. Sport was turned into the hate machine,' said Andrzej Kacorzyk, director of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
'Pre-war sportsmen and sportswomen were also deported to Auschwitz and other concentration camps and extermination centres. They were Olympians, national champions, people who tried to overcome their own weaknesses and set records,' he added.
Particular prominence in the exhibition is given to two boxers: Antoni "Kajtek" Czortek and Tadeusz "Teddy" Pietrzykowski.
Tadeusz Pietrzykowski was a pre-war Warsaw boxer, and Auschwitz prisoner deported to the camp in the first transport of Polish political prisoners on 14 June 1940. He crossed gloves with a German functionary prisoner, which triggered an entire series of boxing bouts in Auschwitz I and several sub-camps.
For the nearly three years he was at the camp, Pietrzykowski racked up more than 40 fights and was second to none among the other inmates. At the exhibition, visitors can see a boxing glove given to the Museum's Collection by his daughter, Eleonora Szafran.
'Sport was the essence of life. After the war, Dad knew he had to devote his life to young people. It is incredible that we can see this glove on display at the exhibition. He showed me a certain way so that I would never forget it. It goes for all the families of those prisoners who survived, their descendants. At some point, when we are gone, all that will remain are these exhibits,' said Eleonora Szafran.
The unique mementoes presented at the exhibition are letters from Anton Czortek to his wife, donated by his son, Bogdan. As he stressed, these are the only memorabilia from the camp times in the family collection and unique documents. Antoni Czortek was forced into boxing fights in Birkenau, including against his pre-war friend and ring-mate, Zygmunt Małecki. He reluctantly recalled his time in the camp's hell.
'The letters my grandfather, Antoni Czortek, wrote to my grandmother from Auschwitz are not the only thing we hold dear as a family heirloom. They are, above all, a testimony to his tragic life entangled in the reality of the occupation,' said Katarzyna Czortek, Antoni Czortek's granddaughter.
'It is a testimony to the man he was, but above all a Pole, patriot and great athlete,' she added.
'In addition to boxing, camp sports were also team sports, especially football, volleyball and basketball. Camp sports also include wrestling, athletics. Mental sports were also popular among prisoners, particularly chess, but also card games,' said Renata Koszyk, curator of the exhibition.
'Sport in the camp was not treated as a competition, but more as a way of spending time off work. These sports existed regardless of the extermination that was perpetrated here,' she emphasized.
Skiers who were deported to KL Auschwitz were also employed in the camp workshops, where they made practical and artistic objects due to their skills. The exhibition presents their works, including camp letters decorated with drawings.
The exhibition Sports and Sportspeople in KL Auschwitz has been prepared using archival materials and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Collections. The exhibition will be available for viewing on the grounds of the Auschwitz Memorial until 31 March 2022.
Exhibition curator: Renata Koszyk
Design: Aleksandra Mausolf
Coordination: Zuzanna Janusik
Consultation: Dr. Wanda Witek-Malicka