Maria Kwaśniewska was a renowned Polish athlete famous for scoring the bronze medal for Poland in the javelin throw competition at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Int the photo featured in this post she is posing together with two German athletes who scored the gold and silver medals and of course, Adolf Hitler. When she stood on the podium, she was the only one not to raise her arm in the Nazi salute.
This petite Polish woman who was chosen as the “Miss of the Olympics” surely made an impact on the leader of the III Reich when he watched her performance. “Such a little lady, but such a great javelin thrower! Congratulation to the little Pole!, said Hitler to her after the ceremony. I’m not feeling smaller than you, and you are not tall – riposted Kwaśniewska. The German propaganda later claimed that the Führer meant “little Poland”. Surely Hitler was surprised by the demeanour of this “little Pole!”
Kwaśniewska despised Hitler and the Nazi regime, but luckily for her and many others, she didn’t burn the picture souvenirs from the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. When WW2 broke out she cancelled her training in Genoa where she was preparing for the Winter Olympics in Finland and decided to come back to Poland. When everyone was trying to flee from Warsaw, she returned to the capital and took part in the defence of the city.
Her outstanding sacrifice during the September 1939 siege was even acknowledged by the President of Warsaw Stefan Starzyński, who awarded her a Cross of Valour, a different medal than those she was used to getting before the war. When the German occupation began, Kwaśniewska joined the underground resistance.
Her home was located near Pruszków, a small town in the suburbs of Warsaw where the Germans established a camp for civilians evacuated from Warsaw during and after the Warsaw Uprising. There she witnessed the suffering of many and decided to help by getting people out of the camp.
One method turned out to be perfect! Instead of an ID, Kwaśniewska used her photo with Hitler! How could German guards not pass a woman who claims to know the Führer and has a picture with him? They even saluted her!
Thanks to her secret weapon Kwasniewska managed to get out of the camp many ill and weak people living in appalling conditions, destined either to become forced labourers or concentration camps prisoners. Her home was used as a safe shelter, not only for those evacuated from Warsaw but also for Jews and homeless people.
Maria Kwaśniewska, the “the little Miss of the Berlin Olympics” continued her sports career after the war and later became a highly decorated sports activist. She passed away on 17 October 2007, aged 94.
Maria Kwaśniewska (on the left) posing with German athletes
and Adolf Hitler (1936). Photograph: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe
Source: IPN Facebook page
Copyright: Kwasniewska family