Trained and fit – outstanding athletes in the Warsaw Uprising


Their training and fitness could not be overestimated in the unequal struggle against the occupying forces, but many of them paid the ultimate price for their participation in the heroic uprising. On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, we recall the stories of the outstanding Polish athletes who fought in it.

Many Polish athletes took part in the Warsaw Uprising – some famous, such as Eugeniusz Lokajski, Poland’s most outstanding pre-war javelin thrower, who documented his career in hundreds of photographs, and others less well known, such as Janusz Zalewski, a sailor and architect by training, who was murdered in a Wola hospital. Their training and fitness could not be overestimated in the unequal struggle against the occupying forces. Many of them paid the ultimate price for their participation in the heroic uprising.

On 1 August 1944, the day the Uprising broke out, about 800 members of sports clubs from Warsaw and the surrounding area reported for mobilisation. They took part in the fiercest battles in Czerniaków, Mokotów, Śródmieście, Stare Miasto and Wola, often in very dangerous actions. They were on the front line, in the medical and civil services, in radio communications and the production of means of warfare. More than 120 professional athletes died in the Uprising, including members of clubs such as AZS, Polonia, Skra, WTW (Warsaw Rowing Association) and Legia.

Prominent tennis players, the brothers Ignacy and Ksawery Tłoczyński, and three-time national athletics champion Tadeusz Hanke fought in the 'Ruczaj’ battalion, which on the first day of the Uprising led a successful operation to capture the Czechoslovak Office building on Koszykowa Street. More than seventy SS men were captured as a result. A separate article will be devoted to this, one of the most spectacular achievements of the insurgents.

On the first day of the Uprising, Janusz Zalewski, alias 'Supełek’, the 1936 Berlin Olympic sailing champion, took part in the capture of the SS supply depots on Stawki Street, together with a unit from the 'Kedyw’ – 'Kolegium A’. To get there, however, they first had to engage in heavy fighting in a nearby school. As a result of his injuries, he was taken to a hospital in Wola, which unfortunately was stormed by the Germans a few days later, who brutally murdered all the wounded and the doctors.

The most famous athletes associated with the Warsaw Uprising are the two excellent horsemen, Tadeusz 'Bór’ Komorowski and Henryk 'Leliwa’ Roycewicz.

Foto: Forum-0431233428

Tadeusz 'Bór’ Komorowski – Paris Olympian in the team all-around in 1924 and leader of the Polish equestrian team at the Berlin Games twelve years later – was appointed major general by Kazimierz Sosnkowski in March 1944. It was 'Bór’ who decided to break out of the Uprising, and it was he who had to sign the capitulation act 63 days later. The figure of the General also deserves a wider discussion and will be presented in a separate text.

Captain Henryk 'Leliwa’ Roycewicz, the Berlin Olympic silver medallist in the team event, led the 'Kiliński’ Battalion, which captured the famous PASTA building, built at the beginning of the 20th century and owned by Polska Akcyjna Spółka Telegraficzna (PASTA; Polish Telegraphic Joint-Stock Company) since 1922. The capture of the building, which housed the telephone exchange, was one of the greatest successes of the Warsaw insurgents. A dozen days later, Henryk Roycewicz was seriously wounded in the fighting at the rear of Nowy Świat. Fortunately, his wounds were not fatal. After the war, Roycewicz was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for attempting to overthrow the regime. He left prison in the spring of 1954 and was rehabilitated three years later.

Javelin thrower Eugeniusz Lokajski, alias 'Brok’, the 1935 Academic Vice-World Champion whose only injury prevented him from successfully competing for a medal at the Berlin Olympics, took almost a thousand photographs during the Uprising, recording both the battles and the everyday life of the inhabitants. The photographs were later reproduced many times in numerous publications, including albums. These, of course, were not the only achievements of the sportsman during the Uprising. Lokajski also took part in shootings, and attacks on the Esplanada, the PASTA building and the police headquarters. 'Brok’ died in the last days of the uprising under the rubble of a bombed-out house in Marszałkowska Street, where he had gone to buy film for his camera.

As a result of the successful operation, our soldiers obtained valuable weapons and other materials, which were extremely important in their situation. It is well known that the state of armament of all insurgent units was abysmal. Thus captured were 1 HMG, 6 LMG, 75 submachine guns, a considerable amount of ammunition, almost 150 grenades, an armoured car equipped with a machine gun, and a car with a trailer full of food, clothing and bandages.

The Loth family is also linked to the wartime history of Polish sport, particularly Warsaw’s Polonia. August Loth was one of the club’s founders and its president. Jan Loth, who took part in the first-ever match of the Polish national football team, was also a Polonia player. Other members of the family were Alfred Loth, an engineer specialising in the construction of internal combustion engines, and Professor Jerzy Loth, an excellent geographer and traveller – outstanding sports activists, meritorious to the Polish and international Olympic movement.

Their brother Edward Loth, a footballer and athlete who, after graduating in medicine, became a scientist specialising in orthopaedics and rehabilitation, was killed in the Warsaw Uprising. During the uprising, he was a lieutenant-colonel in the Home Army and was in charge of the Mokotów district’s health service. His daughter Helena Loth-Giżycka, a nurse, died with him. It happened in Wejnerta Street during the enemy’s attack on the 'Baszta’ positions.

Of course, talented young sportswomen also took part in the Warsaw Uprising. As nurses and liaison officers, they served in medical centres and field hospitals, risking their lives to help the wounded. On the fourth day of the uprising, Polish javelin champion Zofia Chenclewska died in Ochota, while AZS basketball and handball player Danuta Stefańska-Majewska was shot. A German bullet also killed Bożena Kokalij-Kowalewska, Poland’s multiple water-jumping champion, who was on medical duty at the field hospital.

Krzysztof Szujecki