Inspired by a true story, writer/director Maciej Barczewski’s The Champion of Auschwitz (Mistrz) is about Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzkowski (Piotr Glowacki), the boxing champion of Warsaw. After the Siege of Warsaw in 1940, Teddy was rounded up on the first mass transport to the concentration camp Auschwitz. What follows is a harrowing story of perseverance in the darkest place imaginable and hope in the heart of the Holocaust.
The Nazi officers quickly recognize Teddy’s skills as a fighter and offer him a deal. He’ll box for their amusement, and for each match he wins, Teddy will be given extra food and water. The boxer shares his goods with fellow prisoners, especially the teenage Janek (Jan Szydlowski), who Teddy has taken under his wing. While most of the fights are against kapos, some were versus other prisoners. But, each victory brought hope, not just for Teddy, but for everyone prisoner of Auschwitz.
“…for each match he wins, Teddy will be given extra food and water.”
Watching The Champion of Auschwitz, I found myself captivated by Glowacki’s performance. The actor conveys hopelessness, despair, and an unyielding drive to live while surrounded by death. Teddy’s conversation with Janek about the beginning of boxing and the first Olympics gives insight into the character and adds realism to the imprisoned champion. Glowacki’s emotional perspective is matched only by his physical performance as a veteran boxer. Every match is filmed with gorgeous long-takes of the action, putting the lead’s training for the role and director Barczewski’s eye for realism on full display.
The filmmaker’s style creates the atmosphere needed for a dark but triumphant story. The film takes time in between the intense boxing matches to give moments of humanity to the characters. The musical score accents these vulnerable moments, softly exploring emotions in moments of defeat and soaring beyond the camp walls in victory.
The Champion of Auschwitz occasionally falls into familiar tropes of biopics and sports dramas. But, regardless of the cliches, the story is inspiring. Barczewski adds authenticity to every shot, while the lead actor gives the film its heart. Each sequence of smooth fight choreography had me excited for the next bout and, Glowacki’s dedication to looking and feeling like a veteran of “the sweat science” is remarkable. Suppose you are a fan of boxing films, historical dramas, or the almost forgotten stories of WWII. In that case, this is an inspirational journey into the life of the people’s champion in the worst of circumstances.