The Champion of Auschwitz review – Polish boxer fights to live in sturdy drama

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Leslie Felperin

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Dramatising the true story of Teddi Pietrzykowski, an internee who fought to entertain the guards, this is a solid, occasionally sentimental tale

This cleanly hewn drama from Poland, surely destined to be Poland’s submission for the Academy Awards, tells the true story of Tadeusz Pietrzykowski, AKA “Teddi”, a (non-Jewish) Polish bantamweight boxer who was one of the earliest prisoners at Auschwitz. There have actually been a couple of other films about Pietrzykowski over the years, which might explain why writer-director Maciej Barczewski, making an impressive debut here, doesn’t go into a lot of detail about how Teddi fought Nazis at the start of the war during the siege of Warsaw in 1939. Instead, a few slow-motion flashbacks are deemed sufficient to ground the story while the film settles down to the grim business of following Teddi as he tries to survive the camp by getting assigned to a work detail. Inevitably, a lot of this work involves disposing of the dead, and trying not to listen to the screams as Jews deemed too weak for work assignments are herded into the gas chamber on their arrival at the camp.

When a German officer recognises Teddi from his prewar fighting career, an opportunity opens up for Teddi to fight in a makeshift ring for the entertainment of the bored German soldiers. When he survives his first bout thanks to his exceptional skills in dodging punches, he gets an extra ration of bread and starts sharing it with the other men. He grows fond of a teenager named Janek (Jan Szydlowski) who, like Teddi, keeps managing to duck out of the grasp of death and go on surviving.

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