Wioślarskie on the Web: Images of Rowing during the Second Polish Republic

Members of the Warsaw Rowing Society (Warszawskie Towarzystwo Wioślarskie, WTW) cross the Poniatowski Bridge in a parade marking the opening of the rowing season, 1927. The numbers of impressively uniformed oarsmen and of interested spectators indicate that rowing was an established and popular sport at the time. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

29 August 2022

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch digs into another online archive and finds evidence of a national rowing community that thrived between 1919 and 1939.

I recently discovered the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe (NAC) which is Polish for “National Digital Archives.” The NAC is the national archive of Poland and holds the central archives of the Polish government. The website nac.gov.pl notes:

The Search the Archives service may be used by genealogists, students, teachers, academics, and any other person interested in using the resources of the Polish archives… You only need Internet access and a browser to use the service… Currently more than 38 million scans of archive materials are available…

The NAC website also reminds us that, Each picture has its own history and some histories have their own pictures. Splendidly, it does not restrict access to, and use of, most of its archive photographs:

Photographs available at www.audiovis.nac.gov.pl are public domain or the owner of the copyright is the State Treasury, represented by the National Digital Archive, and which grant free of charge licences for free use of materials on all known exploitation fields.

On nac.gov.pl click on “EN” on the right of the homepage for English text.

Naturally, I wanted to put the Polish word for “rowing” into the search field and “wioślarskie” yielded 530 results. I have looked at the thumbnail pictures of all of them, but I have not opened every one in full resolution or put every Polish language caption into Google Translate. However, some of those that I have studied in detail are reproduced below and I have attempted to make the selection representative of the NAC’s entire collection of rowing pictures.

With few exceptions, the rowing photographs on the NAC site are from the period of Polish sovereignty that flourished between the two World Wars, the Second Polish Republic. This began with the 1919 revival of an independent Polish State (guaranteed by the Treaty of Versailles after more than a century of partitions by foreign empires) and ended with the invasion of the country by Nazi Germany from the West and the Soviet Union from the East in 1939. These inter-war years were politically chaotic but, despite this, the country achieved significant economic growth. The archive pictures give the idea of an organised and sophisticated people that had the time and the means to pursue leisure activities such as rowing.

The Oath Ceremony of Polish Olympians in the hall of the Warsaw Rowing Society, 1935. In the inter-war Olympic Regattas, Poland first entered a single and a four in Paris in 1924. Its first medal was Bronze in the coxed four in 1928, Silver for the coxed pair and Bronze for the coxless pair and the coxed four in 1932. In 1936, the Polish double won Bronze. From 1925, Polish crews participated in the European Championships. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

Studying the hundreds of rowing pictures, it is clear that competitive rowing was a popular sport. Many towns and cities had splendid boathouses and new racing boats seemed commonplace. There also appeared to be genuine community support for, and interest in, local rowing clubs. The first Polish rowing club was the Warsaw Rowing Society, established in 1878. By 1939, the country had 73 clubs in 41 towns and cities.

Polish clubs appeared to be much more open affairs than British clubs of the period. Notably, in Britain rowing clubs were strictly single sex but the archive pictures indicate that in the inter-war period many Polish clubs were happily mixed. Further, there was at least one women’s club that was wealthy enough to possess both good boats and their own top-class boathouse. The Polish national rowing championships appears to have offered women’s events, something far ahead of its time.

The Warsaw Rowing Society (Warszawskie Towarzystwo Wioślarskie, WTW) was established in 1878 though it may have existed informally since 1873. It was for men only until the mid-1930s.

The archive has only two rowing pictures from before the 1914 – 1918 War, both from the Warsaw Rowing Society. This is from 1889. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
This picture was painted for the 20th anniversary of the Warsaw Rowing Society in 1902. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The Warsaw Rowing Society’s coxed four crew for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics in front of their boathouse. They won Bronze, behind Germany and Italy. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The opening of the 1936 rowing season – blessing the Warsaw Rowing Society’s boats. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

The Warsaw Rowing Club (Warszawskiego Klubu Wioślarek, WKW) was a women’s club established in 1913. It was far in advance of anything that existed in Britain at the time.

The Warsaw Rowing Club’s clubhouse pictured in 1928. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The Committee of the Warsaw Rowing Club for 1928. The impression is that these women were confident, wealthy and serious about their sport. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
A winning crew from the Warsaw Rowing Club, 1927. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
A ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the Warsaw Rowing Club in 1938. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
A winning Warsaw Rowing Club crew from the 1933 inter-club women’s regatta. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
A winning Warsaw Rowing Club crew from the 1933 Polish Rowing Championship in Bydgoszcz, Northern Poland. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
In April and again in July and August 1931, crews from Warsaw Rowing Club visited England for a series of events. In 1929, some English women’s crews had visited Warsaw. The Poles were victorious in most of these encounters. This picture was taken at Putney where the Polish four and single sculler both won.
A Midsummer Night pageant on the Vistula River, Warsaw, in 1931. It was organised by the Inter-Club Rowing Committee (Miedzyklubowy Komitet Wioslarski). Oars of at least ten clubs seem to be on display here. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

Poznań – a city in west-central Poland along the Warta River.

worldrowing.com: (Today) the Lake Malta regatta course is located in the centre of Poznan (and) is one of the most modern venues in the world. The origins of the first Poznan rowing club go back to the year 1904… In 1912, the Tryton Poznan Association was established, and in 1919 the Students’ Sport Association (Akademicki Związek Sportowy, AZS) began life. In the same year the Polish Federation of Rowing Societies (Polski Zwiazek Towarzystw Wioslarskich, PZTW) was established in Poznan.

The 04 Rowing Club (Klub Wioślarskie 04, KW04), Poznań, in 1931. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
A boat Christening at a Poznań rowing club in 1929. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
Members of the rowing section of the Poznań Academic Sports Association (Akademicki Związek Sportowy, AZS) in 1936. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
Polish borders have historically been very fluid. For example, Poznań had been under the control of Prussia/Germany since 1793. When the city and district returned to Poland in 1919, German rowing clubs existing before the war in the regained territories were still members of the German Rowing Association and still had very Germanic names – such as Poznań’s Ruderclub Neptun pictured here in 1935. Picture: Wikipedia. 

Kraków – a city in southern Poland near the border of what is now Czechia (Czech Republic).

The opening of the 1935 rowing season at the Kraków Academic Sports Association. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
1933: Two rowers from the Kraków Academic Sports Association go afloat. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The opening of the new boathouse of the rowing section of the Kraków Military Sports Club (Wojskowego Klubu Sportowego, WKS) in 1926. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

Kalisz – a city in Central Poland on a direct line between Berlin and Warsaw.

Kalisz Rowing Club pictured in 1934. I have previously written about Kalisz’s two rowing clubs, one for Jewish people (Klub Wioślarskic 30, KW30, founded 1930) and this one (Kaliskie Towarzystwo Wioślarskie, KTW, founded 1894) for Gentiles. KTW was the fifth rowing club to be established in Poland. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
A visit by Józef Piłsudski to the Kalisz Rowing Club in 1927. Piłsudski is viewed as the father of the Second Polish Republic that was re-established in 1918. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

Vilnius – Poland and Lithuania both claimed Vilnius after the 1914 – 1918 War, but Polish forces occupied Vilnius in 1920 and it remained part of northeastern Poland until 1939.

The opening of the 1937 rowing season in Vilnius. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The opening of the 1932 rowing season at the boathouse of the 3rd Engineer Battalion in Vilnius. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

Bydgoszcz – a city in northern Poland at the meeting of the rivers Vistula and Brda. 

The rowing section of the Police Sports Club, Bydgoszcz, in 1935. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The Bydgoszcz Rowing Society, 1935. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The “Gryf” Rowing Club in Bydgoszcz (Klub Wioślarski Gryf Bydgoszcz, KWGB) in 1928. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

Płock – a city in central Poland, on the Vistula River.

The Płock Rowing Society (Płockiego Towarzystwa Wioślarskie) was established in 1882. This shows the consecration of the club banner in 1928. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

Brześć – now Brest, a town in southwest Belarus on the Polish border. It was part of the Russian Empire until it became part of the Second Polish republic in 1919. Today, Brest houses an international standard rowing course.

Opening of the 1934 rowing season in Brześć. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

Toruń – a city on the Vistula River in north-central Poland. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

Opening of the 1925 rowing season in Toruń. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

Competitions

The 1935 European Rowing Championships. Roger Verey of Poland, winner of the single sculls. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The 1938 Polish Rowing Championship in Poznań. Women’s single sculls: Ałła Dowgird (2nd) Maria Kepel (1st) and I Szusterowa (3rd). Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The International Rowing Regatta on Lake Trakai, 1928. Today, Trakai city and lake resort are in Lithuania but were part of Poland, 1919 – 1939. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The judges’ committee during the 1934 Poznan Regatta. Pictured are representatives from Rowing Club 04, Polonja Rowing Society, Triton Rowing Society, Warsaw Rowing Society, Kalisz Rowing Society and The Polish Rowing Club. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

If these were not enough, there is a Wikimedia page, Rowing in the Second Polish Republic, which houses 164 pictures, some from the NAC but some from other sources.

These photographs from the Second Polish Republic show a thriving rowing community in a vibrant European country. However, during the 1939 – 1945 War, about 17% of the Polish population were killed. It is difficult to view these pictures without thinking about what was to come…

One comment

  1. Your final comment, the thought of what happened to some of the people in those pictures, was constantly in my mind as I viewed the photos and read the captions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.