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Polish Union of Swimming red felt badge with an eagle awarded postwar to a Polish Army swim coach

Object | Accession Number: 2004.374.2

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    Polish Union of Swimming red felt badge with an eagle awarded postwar to a Polish Army swim coach


    Brief Narrative
    Polish Union of Swimming badge awarded to Henryk Zguda between 1947-57 when he was a sports trainer and swim coach for the Polish Army. In 1952, he took the Polish water polo team to the Olympics. The badge features the Polish eagle, the national crest of Poland, represented without the crown during the Communist era. Henryk, a 25 year old Catholic, was arrested in occupied Krakow by the German SS on May 30, 1942. On June 15, Henryk was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp. He was given a red triangle with the letter P to identify him as a political prisoner. He was transferred to Buchenwald on March 12, 1943, where he worked in the stone quarry. In spring 1945, Buchenwald was evacuated and, on April 10, Henryk was forced on a death march to Dachau. He was liberated by American troops on April 29. Henryk was hospitalized and then sent to Neu Freimann displaced persons camp. He returned to Krakow in 1946.
    received:  approximately 1950
    received: Krakow (Poland)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Nancy Zguda
    Subject: Henry Zguda
    Henryk Zguda was born on July 12, 1917, in Krakow, Poland, to Catholic parents, Wincenty and Karolina Zguda. Wincenty fought for the Austrian Army in World War I (1914-1918). In 1918, he returned to Krakow with malaria. He had a seizure and was taken to a hospital in Berlin where he died. Henryk and Karolina lived in a two room apartment with five other family members. After Karolina got a job at the state tobacco factory, they moved to their own apartment. In 1933, Henryk joined the Youth Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), where he swam and played water polo competitively. He dropped out of school in 1935 to work full time for the Emil Freege seed company. In 1939, he was attacked by a group of youths for looking Jewish. His friend, Kazimierz (Kazio) Szelest, organized a group and retaliated against the other group.

    When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Henryk was at work. He headed east with a friend, Tadeusz Glab, and made it to the Vistula River, where hundreds of others had gathered. They untied a barge and loaded it with about 100 people. On the other side, he and Tadeusz met up with a Polish scout and kayaked down river. After two days spent hiding in the bushes, the Polish scout left. Henryk and Tadeusz found a nearby village where peasants gave them food and shelter. With nowhere to go, they returned home.

    Henryk obtained German identification and work papers and returned to work at Freege. On May 30, 1942, Henryk was stopped by the German Security Police. Even though Henryk had papers and spoke German, they beat and arrested him and loaded him into a truck, where twenty friends from the YMCA sat. They were taken to Montelupich Prison where Henryk was interrogated and beaten for two weeks. On June 15, 1942, the prisoners were transported to Auschwitz concentration camp. Henryk was shaved, assigned prisoner number 39551, and issued a uniform with a red triangle with the letter P, identifying him as a Polish political prisoner. He was quarantined in Block 11. Every few hours, the capo ordered everyone to the center of the room. Henryk heard screams but no gunfire. The capo told him nail guns were used in executions to save ammunition. One morning, the work leader asked who spoke German. Henryk raised his hand and was chosen to work on a forest detail. Henryk was beaten for dropping a bundle of bark; the second time he did so, the guard aimed his rifle at Henryk, but the Polish foreman made a joke of Henryk’s physical condition and the guard did not shoot.

    Henryk did not eat every day, as the capos often stole his food; he was often beaten. One morning, he laid down outside and waited to die. Then someone called his name. It was his friend Kazio who had disappeared in 1940. Each Sunday, the Germans had boxing matches and Kazio was a guard favorite because he often won them money. In exchange, Kazio had special privileges. Kazio moved Henryk into his room and got him a job peeling potatoes. Henryk was promoted to cook, in charge of making soup, and got to wear clean, pressed, uniforms. The possessions of arriving Jewish prisoners were confiscated and put into barrels. Many hid valuables in food and the food not taken by the guards was brought to the kitchen. Henryk once found money wrapped in a condom in a marmalade jar and a hidden gold watch which he hid in a floor drain for Kazio to use in the Polish underground.
    The kitchen was located near the front entrance and Henryk could hear the screams as incoming families were separated and saw people strung up on the hanging pole. On March 12, 1943, Henryk was deported to Buchenwald. Prisoners were allowed to keep their belts and Kazio had a belt made for Henryk with a secret compartment for a gold watch. After arriving at Buchenwald, the prisoners were submerged in a barrel full of disinfectant to rid them of lice and typhoid. Henryk became prisoner number 10948 and worked in the quarry. Henryk met a friend, Stanley Jonas, and in return for his watch, Stanley got him a job as a stone mason indoors. The masons got a daily milk ration to help ward off lung disease caused by rock dust. On April 6, 1945, Buchenwald was evacuated and, on April 10, the prisoners were sent on a death march to Dachau. On April 29, they were liberated by US forces. Henryk was ill with a stomach disorder and unable to eat. He tried to drown himself in a bath. He drank the cold water from the spigot until his stomach ballooned, but the chlorinated water cured him. He wrote his mother a letter letting her know that he was ill, but alive.

    After a few weeks, Henryk was transferred to a displaced persons camp, diagnosed with paratyphoid fever, and transferred to Neu Freimann DP camp. His fever abated, but he contracted pleurisy. He obtained one of eighty train tickets to Poland. He packed five SS uniforms and boarded a train for Krakow. His mother told him that the Krakow paper had reported his death in a camp. Still ailing, Henryk went to St. Lazarus hospital. It was full, but his friend, Dr. Sidoriwicz, found him and brought him to a clinic, where fluid was removed from his lungs. At night, a bored Henryk snuck out to the movies with friends. He was caught and kicked out of the clinic.
    In 1947, Henryk became a sports trainer and coached swimming for the Polish Army. In 1952, he took the Polish water polo team to the Olympics. Rather than join the Communist Party, Henryk defected to Belgium in 1957, with the help of friends from Buchenwald. He had never liked Communism, but would not leave his mother. On December 31, 1958, he immigrated to the United States on the USS America. He Americanized his name to Henry. He lived in New York City and trained as a physical therapist. He then moved to California and married Nancy Conforti in 1960. Henry, age 86 died in Arizona on December 2, 2003.

    Physical Details

    Identifying Artifacts
    Object Type
    Badges (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Shield shaped red felt badge with a light brown felt, uncrowned, Polish dexter facing eagle basted in the center with light brown thread. The eagle has a red metallic thread embroidered eye, silver metallic thread embroidery on the body, wings, leg, and tail, and gold on the beak and talons. The letters PZP are embroidered in silver metallic thread at the top edge and have paper backing.
    overall: Height: 5.125 inches (13.018 cm) | Width: 3.875 inches (9.843 cm)
    overall : wool, metal thread, paper

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The badge was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by Nancy Zguda, the wife of Henry Zguda.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2022-08-23 10:23:08
    This page:

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