Bronisław Czech (1908-1944) – the man and the athlete

A skier, three times an Olympian (1928 – finished 10th in the Nordic combined, 1932 – finished 7th in the Nordic combined, 1936 – finished 7th in the 4x10km relay), a graduate of the Central Institute of Physical Education in Warsaw (1934), a coach and a great patriot, during the inter-war period one of the most popular Polish sportsmen.

He was born on 25 July 1908, in Zakopane, Poland to Józef and Stanisława Czech. As a 12-year-old, he achieved his first sports success in a skiing competition organised in Zakopane where, as a prize, he received the longed-for pair of skis. At the age of twenty, he won the Polish Nordic combined championship for the first time, and for the last time when he was twenty-nine (two years before the outbreak of World War II). This proves that Bronisław Czech was not a hero of just one competition but that he managed to maintain a high sports level throughout his whole professional career. At that time he was the only sportsman to become the champion in both the Alpine skiing combined and Nordic combined in the same year (1937), thus proving his versatility.

Starting in 1928, Bronisław Czech represented Poland in the most prestigious international sports events (Olympic Games, FIS competitions). The closest he ever came to winning an Olympic medal was in St. Moritz; it was then that Polish skiing became recognisable worldwide, since a previously unknown 20-year-old Pole fought on equal terms with the best sportsmen. His greatest achievement in the FIS competitions was the fourth place in the Nordic combined and winning the world championship in the downhill race in Zakopane in 1929 (unofficially, as the event was held outside the main competition). It needs to be emphasized that in the FIS competitions – unlike in the Olympics – the number of competitors was not limited, hence a very high sports level of those events. Scandinavians (mainly Norwegians) won repeatedly, usually taking the top dozen positions. This is why when a particular competitor managed to achieve a result approximate to those of the elite; he was ranked among the leading athletes in the world.

The level of Polish sportsmen’s skills was a reflection of the difficult situation of the Polish skiing at that time (lack of qualified instructors and coaches, equipment, etc.). Bronisław Czech won the downhill event at the FIS competition using home-made spring bindings, whereas foreign competitors were already using bindings specifically designed for the Alpine events.

Bronisław Czech was well-known for his passion for strenuous training as well as for his exceptionally healthy lifestyle. During his long professional career he never stopped being a gentleman. He was a man with an extraordinary sense of humour, a frank and sociable person, which undoubtedly contributed to his lasting popularity – not only within the sports community.

He was one of the first qualified skiing instructors in Poland (from 1932) and studies at the Central Institute of Physical Education inspired him to learn about the theoretical bases of ski training. His article entitled Domowy Wyrób Nart (Home-made Skis) was published in a 1933 issue of Wychowanie Fizyczne (Physical Education), and a year later another one came out: Jesienna zaprawa do biegu i skoku (Running and Jumping Training in Autumn). Together with A. Kasprzyk he published the book Narciarska zaprawa biegowa i skokowa (Ski Running and Jumping Training). It was the first textbook addressed to technically advanced skiers and the 177 pages of instructions were complemented by drawings and photographs whose purpose was to make the presented methods easily understood. As a coach Bronisław Czech was responsible for preparing the Polish national team for the most important international events (e.g. the Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the FIS competitions in 1939). During the season preceding the outbreak of WW II, he was in charge of training at the Kasprowy Wierch School of downhill skiing.

Bronisław Czech’s professional career was stopped by the outbreak of WW II. The social rank which he earned because of his sports activity led to his arrest and incarceration in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where he was moved together with the first shipment of prisoners (his camp number was 349).

Despite his young age (he was imprisoned at 32) he was socially mature and did not attempt to escape, because he did not want to cause problems to other people. Bronisław Czech gave the greatest proof of his moral standards when he refused to train German youths in exchange for his freedom.

He died on 5 June, 1944. His family was informed about this fact by a laconic message from the Gestapo.

Bronisław Czech’s symbolic grave can be found in the Pęksowy Brzyzek National Cemetery in Zakopane. Many streets (e.g. in Warsaw, Zakopane, Gdańsk, or Szklarska Poręba), more than a dozen schools, and the University School of Physical Education in Krakow (1977), were named after him.

Halina Zdebska, PhD.

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