The good life: Polish Army Swim team travels Europe

Now I was living the good life. We began to travel to other countries with our teams. In 1949 I took my first trip to Budapest for two weeks of swimming on the MargitSziget Island. It is an island in the middle of the Danube in the middle of Budapest (Hungary.)

Budapest is a beautiful city – it’s actually two cities split by the Danube River: Buda and Pest. The island was famous for its hot water springs. All winter you can swim in warm water with snow on your head. They built a little pool, diving pool, children’s pool, all for swimming in the warm water. All winter you can swim outside in warm water and they pay nothing to heat the water. It comes in at 110 degrees, so it stay about 87 degrees. 

We convinced the Army we needed to go to Budapest for training.  So every year we went to Budapest for a month. It couldn’t be sweeter. A month in Budapest with lodging and food, just to play water polo. And then I have everything in the album – it was a beautiful town. 
I also convinced the army that it would be very good training for my boys to go skiing for athletic conditioning.  (Henry smiles big.)  So every year the army sent us to Zakopane in the high Tatra mountains to ski. There were plenty of army barracks there that we could stay in. 
In 1951 we took the water polo team to Prague, Czechoslovakia. Then we went to Prague every year and played the National Czech team.  And in 1952 I took my guys to see the summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. We lost right away. We were playing against the Russian and Romanian teams, back when they were 25, 27 years old.  Hungary took the gold medal that year; we didn’t stand a chance.  

Every time we traveled there were three communist officials who traveled with us. There was a guard, a member of the secret police, and a youth worker.  Any time you went any place you have to tell them where you are going, what you are doing and so forth. They were always watching to see who was working against communism. – Henry Zguda

Note – Margitsziget, or Margaret Island, is all over the Internet from to tourist information for Hungary.  The Hajós Alfréd Swimming Pool on Margaret Island is touted as a top pool in Budapest.  From the aerial photo it does look like a large, modern swimming complex today.  

When Henry told me he ‘took my guys to the Helsinki Olympics, but they lost right away’ I needed to verify that.  I contacted the international Olympic committee to verify names of athletes and coaches for the 1952 Olympics. Henry’s name did not appear on any Olympic roster as a coach. But I’ll accept that he took his team to watch the Olympics and ‘we lost right away’ is a reference to the Polish Olympic team the watched compete. The names and ages of competitors bore out something Henry also emphasized; due to the war, almost all of Poland’s competitors in swimming and water polo were ages 18 and 19.  The young competitors didn’t stand a chance against the Hungarians and other international teams who had older, seasoned athletes. Poland had to rebuild all its teams and institutions after being decimated in the war. Henry just rolled his eyes when he talked about how strong the other nations were in swimming and water polo.
Photo downloaded with appreciation from budapestwatersummit (dot) com. 

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