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Henry: A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  157 ratings  ·  62 reviews
This incredible true story is both a witness to the Holocaust through Polish eyes and the story of how Henry Zguda, a Polish (Catholic) competitive swimmer, survives Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps by his wits, humor, luck, and friends. At times humorous, always gut-honest, this account fills a huge gap in historical accounts of Poles during World War II. Katr ...more
Hardcover, 307 pages
Published November 1st 2017 by Koehler Books
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Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: net-galley
Check out all of my reviews at

HENRY: A POLISH SWIMMER’S TRUE STORY OF FRIENDSHIP FROM AUSCHWITZ TO AMERICA by Katrina Shawver is a memoir/biography that had me turning the pages and finishing this memorable read in just two sittings.

Katrina Shawver was trying to come up with a new story for her column in ‘The Arizona Republic’ when she heard about a former Polish swimming star who survived the death camps of WWII Germany. After her column ran, she knew she had to
James Martin
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
HENRY is an extraordinary addition to the body of WWII literature. It is the harrowing personal experiences of this Catholic Pole as a prisoner in the German concentration camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Dachau that yield information found nowhere else and keep the reader riveted to the page. Shawver has captured the essence of Henry as he weathered unbelievable hard times and yet retained his human dignity and hope in spite of everything. A life well-lived. A swimming star to cheer for!"

Jessica McCann
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book won the 2018 Arizona Nonfiction Book of the Year, and it was well-deserved. The author met Henry through her job as a newspaper columnist. She interviewed him for an article, and she knew after that first visit that his story belonged in a book.

In addition to Jews, Hitler wanted to eradicate the disabled, Jehovah’s Witnesses and many more groups of people he believed were less-than. Henry spent several years in German concentration camps during WWI as a political prisoner, because he w
Amy Shannon
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing


Getting to know Henry is absolutely inspiring. Henry spells out and reconstructions his life for the author, bringing his story of survival from one of the darkest and horrific times in history. It was created by the author's interviews with Henry Zguda, and it was remarkable. "Henry was a Catholic Pole who had been arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for three years in concentration camps for one reason only: he was Polish, and Germany had sworn to destroy all of Poland. He’d been a re
Donna Urbikas
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Author Katrina Shawver writes with the awe of a child listening to an enticing fairytale at the feet of a great story teller. But, Henry: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America (koehlerbooks, 2017) is not a fairytale. From her long interviews with the elder Henry, Shawver delivers the reality of Henry’s world during World War II as a journey of discovery. It is a history many people still don’t know well.
More than 70 years after the WWII, we learn Henry’s plight fr
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads
This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
Looking for something for her Arizona Republic column, Katrina Shawver found and interviewed Henry Zguda, a octogenarian, who'd been a competitive swimmer in Poland who'd spent three years in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The interview struck a chord with her and she soon returned to his home to propose they write a book about his experiences.

This book is the result of a series of interviews Shawver conducted with Henry, her own research (incl
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Krakow was one of the Polish cities that suffered severely from human casualties during the Second World War. When the cities such as Warsaw, Poznan, Bialystok, Gdansk or Elblag were virtually razed to the ground and suffered under the subsequent marches of hostile forces and the long-lasting Nazi occupation, Krakow being the largest and most important city in southern Poland, remained almost untouched. It is possible that this kind of situation resulted from the fact that the Germans wished to ...more
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Henry: A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America by Katrina Shawver is a fabulous read. I highly recommend it!
Karen Ingalls
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a most fascinating read about the life of Henry Zguda, who was a champion swimmer in Poland. The author tape recorded her many interviews of Henry, researched to verify facts, visited and saw places in Poland of which he spoke, and included photographs. The tumultuous history of Poland and its unique political position made it a target for such countries as Russia and Germany to invade. It was difficult to read about Henry's years in two concentration camps because the reality of those p ...more
Jack Mayer
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Elie Wiesel said “'When you listen to a witness, you become a witness.” Katrina Shawver’s luminous non-fiction, Henry:
A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America is a beautifully rendered act of witness and love about an extraordinary Pole, Henry Zguda, a Christian, a political prisoner in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Shawver’s compelling narrative illuminates Henry’s memories as well as his heart and his enduring humor. She has rescued Henry’s vital piece of Holocaust hi ...more
Nov 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I really wanted to give this book a higher rating. However, the organization and writing were a distraction. The author admits she had a hard time pulling the hours of interviews and her extensive research together. Unfortunately she didn’t get enough help to make this work as important as the material deserves. What has become of talented editors?

Henry’s remembrances of growing up in Poland, as a survivor of WWII concentration camps, the Nazi death March, post-war Russian rule and finally emig
Linda Brush
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The book Henry is well worth reading. Not only do you read about Henry's harrowing time in Auschwitz but his life afterward to age 92!! He told the author that she was not to dwell on the bad times but all the wonderful times afterward. Told in a conversational way, you feel as if Henry is talking to you! The author asks questions just as we would for clarification. He is so charming and has funny stories to illustrate his many adventures. Definitely worth the awards that are coming along!! It w ...more
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the fascinating story of an extraordinary Polish man, Henry Zguda, who experienced horrific cruelty and miraculous rescues while at Auschwitz and other concentration camps during WWII. After the war, he eventually made his way to the US and survived to find happiness for the remainder of his life. He claimed to have survived due to two things: luck and meeting people who were able to help him. I would add two more reasons: he was a serious athlete, a large man in top physical condition b ...more
Reader Views
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reviewed by Josh Cramer for Reader Views (1/18)

“Henry: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America” is incredible. Katrina Shawver tells a beautiful story of friendship and survival, while mixing in an unforgettable history lesson. This is a book that you will not soon forget. In fact, Jack Mayer (another author who writes about the Holocaust), said that “Everyone who reads Henry becomes a witness.” I have to agree with him—now that I’ve read “Henry,” I am a witness to
Mark Walker
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Henry tells his story as a champion swimmer and swimming coach, interrupted by three years of imprisonment in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a Polish political prisoner. He had an exceptional memory and an impressive cache of original documents and photos. I ran across this fascinating story when I met the author, Katrina, at an Arizona Authors Association event. She was a local journalist who’d written hundreds of newspaper columns for the Arizona Republic. She met eighty-five-year-old Henry Zguda ...more
Maria Ryan
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A Gift

I will admit that I am drawn to stories of the holocaust and the trials suffered in the Second World War. I have read a number of books both fiction and non-fiction regarding this topic. I have a great admiration and respect for anyone who has suffered through that time and I feel that their stories must continue to be heard as often and by as many of us as possible.

Shawver had the privilege of meeting Henry Zguda, a Polish survivor of Aushwitz and Buchenwald, via an article she was writin
Jill Elizabeth
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wow. People throw around words like "heroic" and "indomitable spirit" - and then you read a tale like Henry's and learn what they really mean... This is an incredibly moving tale (to say the least), and equally interesting and moving is the origin story behind the tale. It started almost as a bit of a throwaway - a local journalist stumbles onto a tidbit about a local human interest story (a Holocaust survivor). But it turned into something that clearly deeply affected both of them - and their f ...more
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommened
Recently I was reading a book about the three women from the UK who joined the forces during WWII (review here), the book really sparked my interest to find out more about the people who lived through that era. Henry was exactly the book I was looking for.

In general I much prefer an autobiography and tend to skip biographies as I don’t fully engage with them, but this is different. It is more of a hybrid between the two, Henry telling his story and Katrina undertaking her own journey of understa
Jena Henry
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Hope was the only incurable disease of Auschwitz.”—Henry Zaguda

Memoir and history weave together to tell Henry Zguda’s story- the tale of an ordinary man who lived through extraordinary times. The author conducted multiple first-person interviews with Mr. Zaguda in 2002- 2003, one year before he died at age 86.

Henry’s world changed at dawn on September 1, 1939 when some 1.8 million German troops, supported by 2,600 tanks, invaded Poland. Henry, a young man in Krakow, Poland was rounded up a fe
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Having read quite a bit of fiction set around WW2 times,I was not unfamiliar with some of the horrors of the war.
Nevertheless, this account of a survivor, a man who actually went through all that torture and lived to tell the tale, was truly chilling!
Henry's story brought out the fact that along with Jews, many Poles were also imprisoned in the concentration camps, something which I for one didn't know.
The horrible conditions of the camps, the backbreaking work given to the prisoners, severe lac
Billy Buttons
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was entered in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards. This is what our readers thought:
Title: Henry: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America
Author: Katrina Shawver

Star Rating: 5 Stars
Number of Readers:
Editing: 10/10
Writing Style: 10/10
Content: 10/10
Cover: 10/10
Of the 26 readers:
26 would read another book by this author.
26 thought the cover was good or excellent.
26 felt it was easy to follow.
26 would recommend this story to another reader to try.
15 felt the a
Michelle Kidwell
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Henry: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship From Auschwitz to America

by Katrina Shawver

Koehler Books

Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members’ Titles

Biographies & Memoirs , History

Pub Date 01 Nov 2017

I am reviewing a copy of Henry: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story Of Friendship From Auschwitz to America from Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and Netgalley:

This book only came to Fruition through multiple first person interviews that were recorded from November 2002-
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Henry – A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America by Katrina Shawver is a biography on a Polish national who survived the horrors of concentration camps and World War II. Ms. Shawver is a journalist and a public speaker who happened to live near Mr. Zguda.

This is one of those books I take pleasure in reading. The book combines personal experiences of the subject, the author, and a bit of history to create a fascinating narrative.

Mr. Zguda was considered a threat by th
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
My Rating: 4.5 stars

Thank you to Netgalley, and the publisher/author for an e-arc in exchange for my honest review.

I read this book over a few months because it is a heavy thing to deal with. The stories that Henry told of what happened to him and so many others in Auschwitz and the other camps are heartbreaking. This isn't a book for the faint of heart.

Henry's story touches on a very little talked about portion of the holocaust. The Polish people who were arrested as well as the political pris
Rose Garlasco
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Katrina was so fortunate to be able to write Henry's story. Her conversations with Henry brought to life his history and his ability to survive concentration camps in WWII. She detailed his account of the camps and the atrocities he endured to survive. More importantly she was able to capture the emotions that accompanied the stories. I am sure that was difficult for Henry to talk about but it was also difficult for Katrina to hear about it. Henry did not survive without scars, both physical and ...more
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition is per usual, i ALWAYS learn something i didn't know despite having read dozens if not a hundred holocaust memoirs. this one was viewpoint of a polish political prisoner who really had not known or was in contact w/ jews in auschwitz (and other camps). the author is wonderful...a mom with young kids who just by chance came upon Henry and his beloved wife. she was often surprised by what she learned of the holocaust which was refreshing. she wasn't a professional re: this event. it took her ...more
Marcia Fine
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
HENRY —A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America by Katrina Shawver
Katrina Shawver has written an accurate account of one man's journey through the Holocaust who wasn't Jewish. We cannot forget the others who stood up for us when few were willing to do so. Henry Zguda was a hero, one, who with his strong, tall body and handsome countenance, was liked by everyone he met.
That is, until he was picked up with his sports team by the Nazis. How does he survive their vicious
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Henry Zguda, a Catholic Pole, survived the concentration camps of World War II. He is the first one to say it was because he was lucky and had friends in good places. Through his conversations with Ms. Shawver, the reader gets an inside look at the daily events in the life of a prisoner. There really wasn't much about Mr. Zguda being a swimmer. I expected more of that. What I didn't expect was all the additional information provided about politics, geography, history, and religion provided by bo ...more
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Henry" by Katrina Shawver is a book about Henry a polish swimmers life and friendships from Auschwitz to America. What a powerful book, yes, books from Holocaust survivors are almost always powerful but this one was different. Why do I say different as the author writes what Henry reveals to her and he did not hold back anything he seen even pictures he had. Some of the things this man had seen and told about I had no idea about as I had not heard about them such as the women that were made to ...more
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Katrina is an experienced writer, speaker, and lifelong history geek. She holds a BA from the University of Arizona in English/Political Science and has excelled at the School of Trial and Error. In 2002, while writing for the Arizona Republic newspaper, she met Henry Zguda, a Polish Catholic survivor of German concentration camps, and soon offered to write his incredible story. She spent many yea ...more

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