Pioneering Pre-War Poles: The Stories Of Poland's Early Lesser-Known Champions

Though Poland joined the ISU in 1928, it was not always a nation that kept with 'the skating times'. By the mid-1950s, there were still no indoor rinks in the country and Mother Nature so limited the development of the sport outdoors that skaters could only train fifty to sixty days of the year on one of the country's two outdoor rinks. Despite their challenges, skaters persevered and had occasional successes internationally before World War II. However, weather, politics, and even war played a hand in the stories of many of Poland's early champions. In today's blog, we'll learn a little more about some of these pioneering Poles!


The son of Charles and Wanda Maria (Smirzitz) Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski, Henryk Juliusz Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski was born March 27, 1889, in the village of Niemirów, which borders modern Belarus. His father was a pharmacist. In Warsaw in 1908, Henryk made history as the first and only Polish skater in history to win a medal in singles skating at the European Championships. However, he technically represented Austria due to his residence in Lemberg (Lviv), now part of Ukraine but then under Austrian rule due to the Partitions Of Poland.

After the end of The Great War, Henryk joined the military. He fought in the Polish-Bolshevik War, reaching the ranks of Captain Of Artillery and Supreme Officer of the First Artillery Division before studying at the Wyższa Szkoła Wojenna, a military college and receiving a scientific degree as a 'Certified Officer'. In 1922, he returned to the figure skating world, winning his first of three consecutive Polish Championships in pairs skating with his wife Olga (Pośniak) Przedrzymirska. That same year, he was elected Vice-President of the Polish Figure Skating Association. Three years later, he was also elected Vice-President of the Polish Ice Hockey Association.

Tragically, Henryk was killed on September 8, 1944, in downtown Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising. His brother Emil, a general in the military, was captured by German troops and spent much of the War as a prisoner. After being liberated by Western allies, he emigrated to Great Britain and Canada.


Photos courtesy National Archives of Poland

Born August 2, 1911, in Dąb, a northern district in the city of Katowice, Poland, Walter Grobert trained with the Silesian Skating Association. He became somewhat of a local skating star by the early thirties. He won the Polish national title in 1935 and the following year made history as the first singles skater representing Poland to compete in the European Championships.

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

Henryk Juliusz Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski, a Warsaw native, had won the bronze medal at the 1908 European Championships but represented Austria at those Championships due to the Partitions of Poland at the time. Unfortunately, at the 1936 Championships in Nazi Berlin, Walter finished dead last. Surviving World War II, he returned to competition for a time before becoming a dentist. He lived in Katowice until his death on July 2, 1993.


Edyta Popowicz. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

A Silesian Sonja Henie, Edyta (Gosiniecka) Popowicz was the darling of Polish figure skating during the early thirties. Though she never competed at the European or World Championships, she won four consecutive Polish national titles and earned a silver medal at the Slavic Games in 1932. Prior to 1930, women in Poland only competed in pairs skating - not singles - so she was truly a pioneer. Her husband fought in the Battle of Lemberg and the Polish-Ukrainian War and worked for the Central Mining Institute in Katowice, where he designed mining machinery and equipment. Edyta survived two World Wars and passed away on December 17, 1993, at the age of eighty.


Artur Breslauer. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Silesian siblings Artur and Pawel Breslauer were Poland's answer to the Jenkins brothers... when future Olympic Gold Medallists Hayes and David were just little boys. They came from a family of well-known Katowice morticians who arranged the funerals of the princes of Pszczyna and the famous Polish journalist and politician Wojciech Korfanty. The Breslauer family was chock full of accomplished sports stars. Artur and Pawel's father and brother were both accomplished road and speedway motorcyclists and Pawel himself was a champion relay runner before he began seriously pursuing figure skating.

Pawel Breslauer. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Pawel won the Polish Championships in 1936, 1937, and 1949 and Artur took top honours in 1938 and 1939. After World War II, Pawel changed his last name to Wroclawski, not wanting people to think he was German as Breslau was the Germanicized name for the city Wroclaw. Though Pawel enjoyed a long coaching career in Poland after the War, Court records sadly suggest that Artur may not have survived life in Poland during the War.


Stefania and Erwin Kalusz. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Following the retirement of Zofia Bilorówna and Tadeusz Kowalski in 1935, Chorzów siblings Stefania and Erwin Kalusz reigned supreme as Polish pairs champions for four years running. Seeking better weather conditions by training in Zakopane and at the Engelmann rink in Vienna, the consistent young pair placed fifth at three European Championships and competed at three World Championships, their best finish being seventh at the 1937 World Championships in London.

Stefania and Erwin Kalusz. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

World War II effectively ended this promising young team's competitive career. Erwin, who was an accomplished cyclist and a mathematics student, enlisted in the Wojsko Polskie during World War II. He was killed on the Italian front while attempting to desert the army. After the War, Stefania married famous Polish singer Janusz Gniatkowski. She passed away in June of 1985.

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