History written by football #4 – Polish underground league 1939 – 1945
1 September 1939 nazi Germany attacks Poland without declaring war. This incident started most terrible war in the history of the world. For the next six years world will be something worst then hell. Even devil was ashamed when he saw those atrocities but there is something that you can’t debase or kill. It is football. Sport which was cultivated despite to all German bans. I’m inviting you to time travel. You will see that Underground Poland was not only Army and Administration. It was something more…
Hitler knew that sport in Poland was very important part of culture. That’s why on 1 August 1940 general governor of polish occupied teritories Hans Frank released official regulation under which all sport associations has been dissolved. Creating new associations was also highly prohibited. Everyone who breaks this rule can be condemned to death.
It is interesting that Poland was the only country occupied by Germans where sports was forbidden. Only Germans were allowed to do this. Despite to this polish chairmans, managers and players took a risk. Many of polish cities decided to organise Underground Football League. There were many opinions that this is Death Competition. Those underground matches attracted a lot of fans. If suddenly Germans will came to such match you can be sure that all people (players, fans, coaches, chairmans) will be murdered or beaten. Many of people payed the highest price for watching or playing in this matches. During to whole occupation Nazis murdered ten players from polish National Team, around FIVE THOUSAND of them was sent to Auschwitz or other German Death Camps. Unfortunately I didn’t find any information how many of them survived this hell.
Despite the terror and multiple failtures Poles continued to organize Underground Football League matches. They were sending fake clues to Germans. They were doing everything to cofuse the Germans. They risked their lives to play football. How it looks like when you compare them to modern players? Players which complaining that they does not have free time. Players which complaining that they are tired. It looks funny, right?
Let’s go back to the people who played for passion. Not for sick money. They were playing to feel some happines and give some happines for the fans in this extremely difficult time. I really admire those people. I admire they perseverance and courage. Of course Germans, thanks to informers and Volksdeutches, knew that Poles doesn’t respect their nazi law and they are playing football almost all the time. In this case Germans started to make it difficult in more brutal way. For example there was a club in Bochnia (city near Kraków). Germans wanted to prevent football matches so in the end of 1939 they called road company Volfer – Geber. Few days and football pich and club facilities in the Parkowa street was destroyed. Nothing was left.
Ealier I mentioned how many players lost their lives or was sent do Auschwitz and other death camps. Lot of polish football clubs suffered because of it. Cracovia Kraków – polish Champion lost a lot of their stars. Wilhelm Góra only Cracovia player with World Cup appearance escaped to Scotland. He survived the war and in 1946 came back to Poland. He was immediately arrested by Soviet gendarmes (Poland after II world war was occupied by Soviet Union. There was polish goverment but it was totally depend on the Soviet Union. Poland regained its total independence in 1989(!!!). Last Russian soldiers had left Poland in 1993). Forutnately Góra was smarter then Soviet soldiers. He escaped and never came back to Poland.
Roman Grunberg was great center midfielder. He escaped to Lwów (Lviv) in September 1939. Unfortunately after German invasion to Soviet Union in 1941 Grunberg was arrested and jailed in the Jewish Getto. Two years later he was executed in Janów Camp.
Józef Korbas was also great Cracovia player. He became famous because he scored hattrick in his National Team debut. He was sent to Auschwitz in 1943 and transported to Oranienburg and Sachsenhausen. He survived. So much luck was not with Klemens Majeran who was executed in 1943 in Auschwitz. Those are most dramatic stories of Cracovia team members. If I wanted to describe them all this text would be very long.
29 october 1939. Village Szamociny near Bydgoszcz. Józef Wołoszyn organized a football match. Squads was created from young people from Chodzież, Margonin and Szamociny. Unfortunately match was not ended beacuse Germans breaks it. Those people who was not able to runaway was brutally beaten or murdered.
Let’s came back to Kraków now. There we have interesting story of Garbarnia Kraków. After Poland capitulation Germans occupied all club facilities. They were not using it. They’ve just left it for devastation. Garbarnia players have not undergone any pressures or prohibitions. Professional competitions was organized and a lot of fans was watching it. Garbarnia played in Underground Championship of Kraków. In 1940 and 1943 they finished 3rd. In 1945 they win Championship with unbelievable end result. 10 wins, 0 draws, 0 defeats. They scored 73 goals and 0 was lost.
We were in Kraków so now we must go to Warszawa because there also played ofted and bravely. Przyszłość Włochy FC played on the pitch in Słowackiego 25 street. When Germans forbidden any sports activities FC Przyszłość was dissolved but it was not over. New club Poszum was created. Poszum played on free garden plots in triangle of streets Globusowa, Ciszewskiego and Potrzebna. They even created something like alarm system. Young boys named „stójkowi” (standers) were standing on the corner of those streets and they were sending a warnings every time when Germans were close. Thanks to this everyone had time to run away.
One of the most dramatic stories of this time is a story of Jewish football club Makkabi Warszawa. During the war ALL PLAYERS of Makkabi team was murdered by Germans. Their stadium was destroyed. One of the murdered players was Józef Klotz. He scored the first goal in history of polish National Team. In 1922 Poland win with Sweden (2:1) and Klotz scored the first goal from penalty.
Ten years after the war was ended in the place were Makkabi Stadium was destroyed new one was builded. Right now in this place we can see polish National Stadium.
Unfortunately, not only Germans were the destroyers of polish football. 17 September 1939 Soviet Union attacks Poland. Poles was not able to stop German invasion from West and Soviet invastion from East. After Poland capitulation Soviets started to put their principles into practice. 1935 polish Cup winners Czarni Lwów was dissloved. Lechia Lwów was replaced by Lokomotiv Lviv. Pogoń Lwów, one of the oldest polish clubs was dissolved when club administration members run away from Soviet occupied terrains. They ran away but they didn’t stop working for polish football. Clubs like Polonia Bytom, Odra Opole, Piast Gliwice or Pogoń Szczecin had to search their roots in Lwów.
Let’s go to Łódź now. During the war a lot of players from Łódź were playing in underground, small, street clubs. Most players from ŁKS Łódź was representing underground Wicher Łódź club. Lot of Łódź football stars like Stefan Bomba, Longin Janeczek or Jan Włodarczyk was playing there. Some of them came back to ŁKS after war but unfortunately not all of them. Adam Obrubański was murdered by Soviets in Katyń massacre where they murdered by shot in back of the head around 21 768 Poles. Mostly polish Army officers. Władysław Załęski lost his live in Radogoszcz camp. He had written a letter before he was murdered:
I believe that i will see you again but if not please remember that i’ve always loved you. my thoughts was always with you, with our adventures, with our łks.
Let’s contiunue our trip. We are in Łódź right now and from here is very near to Piotrków Trybunalski. There is a book „Podziemny futbol” (Underground football) where Józef Słodkowicz are talking about football organization in Piotrków Trybunalski:
„During the war, sports in Poland was highly forbidden. Playing football was threatened with severe repression. Despite to this we organized matches from 1940, even if there was a risk that we will be executed. We were playing for a lot of fans. People wanted to watch our matches. Everyone was trying to give his best. Often we were playing without shoes. Our football outfits was made from sheets. Football shoes were made from our normal shoes. Only Arba FC had beautiful football shoes beacuse they made it in factory where they were working.
Mostly we were playing on the pitch in Pawłowska street. Mr. Banaszczyk was the owner of this pitch. He allowed us to use this terrain as a pitch. So we created goals and draw the lines. Pawłówka FC was the host of this „stadium”. I remember when one day Germans found out that the match is planned. They made a raid. Fortunately, we managed to escape to the near forrest. Since then every match was observed by „stójkowi”. When one of them saw Germans, he gave us a sign and after this we needed only few seconds to escape.”
It’s time to come back to Warszawa. On the example of Huragan Wołomin I will show you how everything was organized. In 1941 after first years of nazi terror citizens of Wołomin (city near Warszawa) made a decision to organize sports championships for Wołomin’s youth. It was very difficult because young people was suffering beacuse of hunger. It caused a health and physical degradation. Everything started from Jerzy Świrczak. He acknowledged that doing something forbidden by Germans is also form of fight. He was very enthusiastic and he „infected” his colleagues.
Świrczak was the Underground National Army (Armia Krajowa. The biggest underground army in occupied Europe) soldier so contact with hiding football administration members was easy. It was still 1941 when underground club administration was created. They immediately make contact with Warsaw Football Association in conspiracy. Jerzy Świrczak was the connector between club and association. He was responsible for setting match dates, organizing referees and registering players to the league. There was also a contact point in trusted place which was …. bakery of Marian Bekier in Grochów (Warszawa district).
After few months youths started trainings which met with the high satisfaction of society. People started to make a donations. Thanks to this club was able to buy a sport equipment. In 1943 Huragan played few matches. Administration of Warszawa football association in conspiracy saw huge football quality in the team so they qualified Huragan to Warsaw League. In 1988 Miron Cichecki and mentioned ealier Jerzy Świrczak published a book „Niezłomni KS Huragan 1942 – 1944” which is detailed history of Huragan. Unfortunately there is only polish version of this book.
In the end I’ve left interesting story from Sandomierz (city on the south east of Poland). It seems that not only Poles were killed during the football matches. In 1944 German administration decided to organize match between Wisła Sandomierz and German Army garrison. During the half time partisans from Armia Krajowa group called „Jędrusie” killed member of German authorities. Unfortunately, sentence of death for nazi official was equal to sentence of death for sport life in Sandomierz.
There is a lot of interesting stories about underground polish football. One of them have happy end other not. Unfortunately, I’m not able to write about all of them. It is easy to draw conclusions and say that football is not ONLY sport. I think that all modern players should read this stories and realize how lucky they are. Football is not only money and fame. Football is a passion which does not affraid of the threat of death. Football is a sport which even in the worst and the most dark time is able to give people some hope and allows to feel freedom.