Thursday, July 12, 2012

Olympics Brief History of the Olympics - 1940 and 1944 International Prisoner-of-War Olympic Games




The ongoing war meant the Olympic Games of 1940 and 1944, designated for Tokyo and London, could not be held. However, several POW camps in Poland went ahead with their own Olympics, both in 1940 and 1944.



The prisoners in Stalag number XIII-A in Langwasser, close to Nuremberg made an Olympic flag (29 cm by 46 cm) from the shirt of a Polish prisoner. The Olympic rings were drawn in crayon and banners for Belgium, France, Great Britain, Norway, Poland, Russia and Yugoslavia. The events were carried out in complete secrecy from the captors and the Olympic oath was sworn with the flag by three prisoners, one Polish, one French and one British. The sporting programme included football, handball, volleyball and basketball tournaments, as well as athletic competitions and boxing and chess tournaments. The number of competitions (464) considerably exceeded the number of participants (369) and some participants took part in several contests. In total, there were 48 meets in all events. Only the boxing tournament was not completed, as this category proved to be too exhausting and dangerous for people living in prison camp conditions.



Teodor Niewiadomski hid the flag and smuggled it and other souvenirs including a miniature poster, a paper medal and a volume of poetry, out of the camp. These artefacts were eventually presented to the Muzeum Sportu i Turystyki, Warsaw, Poland.



In 1979 director Andrzej Kotkowski made a film called Olimpiada '40 which tells the story of Teodor Niewiadomski and the Special Olympics.”



In 1944 Polish POW at Woldenberg (Dobiegniew) Oflag II-C POW camp held their POW Olympics. The prisoners wanted to remain fit and, at the same time, honor Janusz Kusocinski, a Polish athlete who won the 10,000-meter race in the 1932 Olympics. This time the German gave their permission. Lieutenant Antoni Grzesik was the overall organizer and in addition to the sporting events, art, painting, sculpture and music contests were organized. The Olympic Flag was made with a bed sheet and pieces of coloured scarves was raised. The event was considered good for prisoners’ morale.



While many of the events were held in secret, the 1944 Woldenberg Olympics, held at the camp in Woldenberg, and another held at the camp in Gross Born (both in Poland), were held on a much larger scale. About 369 out of the 7,000 prisoners at the Woldenberg camp participated in several games, including handball, basketball, and boxing. Fencing, archery, pole vaulting, and javelin were not allowed. The flags for the games were made with excess bedsheets which even the German guards saluted. Winners of sporting events were given medals made out of cardboard.



In 1944, the IOC organized many events to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its foundation at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Held from 17 June to 19 June 1944, this celebration was referred to as "The Jubilee Celebrations of IOC" by Carl Diem, the originator of the modern tradition of the Olympic torch relay.

Further Reading
Grys I (1996) The Olympic Idea Transcending War Olympic Review, 1996
Podolsky S (1995) The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995;
Olympics Behind Barbed Wire, Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

Reviewed 27/02/2016

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