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Willimowski (on front, with ball) in the 1937 match against Warta Poznań.

Ernst Willimowski (born Ernst Otto Pradella, nicknamed "Ezi", in 1938 WC spelled Ernest WILIMOWSKI[1]) (June 23, 1916 – August 30, 1997) was a German-born football player who played for both the Polish and German national teams.

Born in Kattowitz (Katowice), Prussian Silesia, German Empire, he was raised in a Silesian family, typical of the Upper Silesian Polish-German borderland. In 1922 eastern Upper Silesia became part of Poland and Ernst became a citizen of the Second Polish Republic.

His father Ernst-Roman had died as soldier of the German Empire on the Western Front in the First World War, and his mother Paulina re-married. At the age of 13 he was legally adopted by his stepfather and took on the surname Willimowski. At home, he spoke German for the most part, while at school and in public he spoke a Silesian dialect of the Polish language. Officially a citizen of Poland, he referred to himself as a Silesian ("Górnoślązak" - Oberschlesier).

He was one of the best goalscorers in the history of both the Polish national team and in Polish club soccer before he decided to re-take German citizenship and play for Germany. He is well remembered as the first player to score four goals in a single FIFA World Cup game. Willimowski also occasionally played ice hockey for the team Pogoń Katowice.


Early years


Ruch Chorzów

Willimowski, who had six toes on his right foot, played on the left side as a forward and showed himself to be a very skilled dribbler as well as a natural goalscorer. He began his career with the ethnically German club 1. FC Kattowitz, then in 1933 at the age of 17, moved to Polish side Ruch Wielkie Hajduki, today known as Ruch Chorzów. "Ezi" quickly established himself as the team's best player: in his first season he scored 33 goals to lead the league. His first Ekstraklasa game took place on April 8, 1934, a few weeks later, he capped for Polish national team. With a number of excellent footballers besides Willimowski (for example Teodor Peterek and Gerard Wodarz), Ruch dominated the Polish soccer and was the league champion in 1933-1936 and 1938.

Willimowski played 86 games for Ruch, scoring 112 goals, and was the league's top scorer in 1934 and 1936. He also led the league in scoring in 1939 until the German invasion of Poland. On May 21, 1939, he scored 10 goals in a single match against Union Touring Łódź as his club won 12-1. That performance still stands as a league record.

Polish national team

Soon after beginning his club football career, "Ezi" earned his first cap for Poland when he debuted against Denmark in København on May 21, 1934 in a 2:4 loss: he was just 17 years and 332 days old. In a total of 22 appearances for Poland Willimowski netted 21 goals, nearly a goal per game. However, his off field conduct was less than ideal and in 1936 the young man's penchant for drinking and partying led to a one year suspension imposed by the Polish football association just before the Olympic Games in Berlin. Without his goal scoring touch the Poles managed only a fourth place finish in the Olympic tournament. Many felt that his presence could have brought the team a gold medal.

Willimowski's appearances for Poland include two performances that were both historic and memorable.

In a match against Brazil played in Strasbourg, France during the 1938 FIFA World Cup, "Ezi" put on a stunning display by becoming the first player ever to score four goals in a single World Cup match. His continued attacks on the opposition net also drew a penalty as he was fouled to the ground by Brazilian keeper Batatais, which led to Poland's fifth goal scored from the spot by German-born Fritz Scherfke, from Poznań. Unfortunately, it was not enough - Poland lost the match 5-6 and was eliminated from the tournament. Willimowski's record was later equalled by other players, but was bettered only 56 years later, when Oleg Salenko scored five goals against Cameroon during the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

Willimowski put on another memorable display on August 27, 1939 in Warsaw in an international friendly against what was then one of the best teams in the world - Hungary, the 1938 World Cup runner-up. After 33 minutes of play the Hungarians were ahead 2:0. Willimowski scored three goals and again drew a penalty through his attacking play which was converted by teammate Leonard Piątek, giving Poland a 4:2 win. The match was the last game played before the start of World War II just four days later.

War years

After the division of Poland, Willimowski as Volksdeutscher re-took German citizenship and served as a police officer, which helped him avoid military service. It also allowed him to continue his football career as Poles were not permitted to participate in sports under the Nazi occupation. In the early days of the war Willimowski had to hide from the Nazis because of the enmity of a local kreisleiter (ward leader) of the NSDAP named Georg Joschke who held against Willimowski the 1933 transfer from the ethnically-German club 1. FC Kattowitz to the Polish Ruch Chorzów.[2] Allegedly, Joschke threatened that Willimowski would have to wear the letter "P" (for Pole) on his clothes. This never happened, as Willimowski was too good a player and well appreciated by other German football officials. However, his mother Paulina, was placed in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, which she survived. Wilimowski's mother was incarcerated because she got engaged in an intimate relationship with a Russian Jew, which was regarded as Rassenschande in Nazi Germany. Ernst, who in later stages of the war became friends with legendary pilot Hermann Graf, managed to save her, with Graf's help.[2]

For propaganda purposes Nazi sports officials made 1. FC Kattowitz a model side representative of the German Upper Silesia. The region's best players were assigned to the team and besides Willimowski included Erwin Nyc, Ewald Dytko and Paweł Cyganek. "Ezi" played there until February 1940, before moving on to Chemnitz, where he took up a job as a policeman while playing for the local team Polizei-Sportverein Chemnitz (1940-1942).

Through the course of the war he also played for TSV 1860 München (1942-1944), where he was a member of the Tschammerpokal (German Cup) winning side of 1942. In the final game of the 1942 German Cup, at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, the Munich side won 2-0, with the first goal scored by Wilimowski. In final years of the war, Wilimowski was associated with a Luftwaffe team called Rote Jäger, which was managed by Hermann Graf.[2]

German national team

Like other officials, Sepp Herberger, manager of the German national team, developed an immediate appreciation for Wilimowski's talent. He debuted for Germany against Romania on June 1, 1941, in Bucharest scoring twice in a 4:1 victory. He followed that performance with three goals against Finland in Helsinki on October 5, 1941 as the Germans scored an easy 6:0 win.

The only international match Wilimowski ever played in his native Upper Silesia (in Beuthen now Bytom, Poland), whether wearing a Polish or German jersey, was on August 16, 1942 versus the Romanian side. He contributed one goal in a 7:0 win (another German star, Fritz Walter, netted three goals in the contest). The match was the biggest sporting event staged there during the war as 55,000 fans came to cheer on their native son.

Willimowski's most memorable performance for the German national side came on October 18, 1942 in Bern, Switzerland as the Germans defeated a well-respected Swiss national team by a score of 5:3. "Ezi" scored four[3] of five goals with the other being netted by Fritz Walter.

Wilimowski was capped a total of eight times for Germany, scoring 13 goals (1.63 per match). His last appearance for Germany was in a 5:2 victory over Slovakia in Bratislava on November 22, 1942. After this match Germany no longer played international friendlies because of the war.

Postwar career

After the war, Willimowski, who was regarded by the Polish government as a traitor, was not allowed to visit his Silesian homeland during Communism. He settled in Karlsruhe, opening a restaurant there. Even though he was already in his 30s when organized playing resumed, he continued career that lasted until 1959 and age 43. During this period he played for several German club teams including TSV Detmold, BC Augsburg, FV Offenburg, and VfR Kaiserslautern (including 70 goals in 89 Oberliga Südwest appearances for the latter, all scored when he was over 35 years old). After retiring, together with wife, Wilimowski for a while ran a restaurant, then worked in a Pfaff factory, to retire in 1978.[2]

In the FIFA World Cup 1974 in Germany, Willimowski allegedly wanted to pay a visit to the Polish national team that stayed in Murrhardt near Stuttgart, but was refused permission by PZPN officials. In 1995 he was invited by Ruch Chorzów to come to Upper Silesia and celebrate club's 75th anniversary. Willimowski, according to his oldest daughter, Sylvia Haarke, wanted to come to Poland, saying that had it not been for the war, he would never have left Katowice. However, his wife Klara (née Mehne) was sick then and he had to stay with her. Willimowski died in Karlsruhe, Germany, leaving behind four children - three daughters (Sylvia, Sigrid and Ulle) and a son, Rainer. Together with his wife, Wilimowski for a while ran a restaurant, then he worked in a Pfaff factory, to retire in 1978.[2]

Sylvia Haarke who lives in Hamburg, and in May 2007 visited Tarnowskie Góry with her husband Karl-Heinz Haarke (author of Wilimowski's biography), presented some interesting facts about her father. She said that Willimowski was a devout Roman-Catholic, always emphasizing the role of religion in his life. On many occasions he would tell his kids about his alleged encounter with Karol Wojtyla, which happened in the late 1930s in the Tatra Mountains. Also, after the famous Poland v Brazil (1938) game, Brazilian officials wanted to acquire his services. Willimowski had signed a preliminary contract, but it did not work out. According to Haarke, one of her father's biggest disappointments was not having been a member of the German team which won the 1954 FIFA World Cup.

Legendary coach of the Polish national team, Kazimierz Gorski, met Wilimowski at a hotel in West Germany in the 1970s. Gorski immediately recognized Ezi, because in the interbellum period, Wilimowski was one of his idols. Whenever Ruch Chorzow came to play in Lwow, Gorski always attended the games, watching Wilimowski. However, in the 1970s, the Polish coach greeted his idol very coldly: Mr Wilimowski, if you had not done anything wrong, perhaps you should have come back to Poland, and explain your behavior, cleanse yourself of all charges - said Gorski. I was afraid - answered Wilimowski.[2]


  • Karl-Heinz Harke, Georg Kachel; Fußball – Sport ohne Grenzen. Die Lebensgeschichte des Fußball-Altnationalspielers Ernst Willimowski., Dülmen, Laumann-Verlag 1996, ISBN 3-87466-259-4


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