Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Eva And Rudi Revisted: Bonus Material From Dr. Roman Seeliger

After sharing my latest blog on Eva Pawlik and Rudi Seeliger, I was fortunate enough to connect with their son, Dr. Roman Seeliger, who kindly shared with with me a wealth of additional material about his parents which he has graciously given me permission to share! Below, you'll find part of the e-mail from Dr. Seelinger which expands on some of the aspects of Eva and Rudi's story as well as clarifies one point in the blog. He also provided a treasure trove of additional information about his parents that I included separately! Grab yourself a cup of tea and get ready to learn even more about these incredible figure skating champions:

LETTER FROM DR. ROMAN SEELIGER

"I am always happy about the efforts of figure skating experts and journalists to keep history alive. So you can certainly share my information with readers.

Your article is wonderful. Thank you so much. Perhaps one could add that famous Austrian coach Edi Scholdan was one of my mother's coaches. After having won the Olympic silver medal, she starred in Scholdan's Broadmoor Ice Revue in Colorado Springs (in the summer of 1948). In addition to that it might be remarkable that Pawlik was the best European skater not only in 1949 when she won the European title but also at the 1948 Europeans. The European gold medal, however, was awarded to non-European Barbara Ann Scott from Canada.

Edi Scholdan and Eva Pawlik

One sentence in your article could be misunderstood: "Although Pawlik and Seeliger were reunited in 1949, Eva continued to focus on her singles career at the time with a World title not an unreachable goal by any stretch of the imagination." One could believe that Eva focussed on her single skating although she was already reunited with my father. That is not true. When turning pro in the summer of 1949 Eva Pawlik thought Rudi Seeliger had died. When Rudi came back in December 1949, she was already starring in the Vienna Ice Revue. So it was too late for an international pairs skating career for my parents in the then amateur rinks. My father won the 1950 Austrian pairs skating title with another girl, Susi Giebisch, beating the last year's European bronze medalists Ratzenhofer and Ratzenhofer after training only two weeks, and then turned pro. So my parents were reunited a number of months AFTER my mother had turned professional.

Why my grandparents (my mother's parents) needed financial support? That has to do with Austria's bad economic situation after WW2. There were enormous shortages. People did not have enough food.

As an amateur, my mother appeared in a small ice show in Vienna without getting money for it. Otherwise she would have lost her amateur status which would have prevented her from participating in the Olympics. But she got a box of lump sugar for her appearances. One of the officials said she had to give it back so as not to endanger her amateur status. She did so.

To compare the circumstances: The later Olympic Champion Barbara Ann Scott got a convertible from the City of Ottawa. Avery Brundage from the International Olympic Committee told her to give it back so as not to endanger her amateur status. She did so, won the European Gold Medal, the Olympic Crown and the Gold Medal at the Worlds and then got the car back again.

Here is a link to Eva Pawlik's free program from the movie "Traumrevue" (1959). The film was privately taken during the rehearsal by my father so I can publish it without infringing any property rights. The original music was Marchetti´s tune "Fascination". I added a piano piece that I have composed and played on the piano.


And this was my birthday video message to 1949 and 1950 World Champion Alena Vrzanova some years ago (Vrzanova was runner-up to my mother at the 1949 Europeans):


Best wishes,
Roman Seeliger"

ADDITIONAL WRITTEN MATERIAL BY DR. SEELIGER REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION

"My mother was a very lively child. When going for a walk with my grandparents she seized my grandpa's hand on the left and my grandma's hand on the right to make a backwards somersault. That was in the summer of 1931 before her 4th birthday. The doctor said she should go in for sports. As the ice rink was not far (in the city of Vienna) my grandparents let her go to the Vienna ice rink. There a skating teacher took one boy or girl after the other to conduct him or her one round and then to take the next child while the first had the opportunity to have a rest. When the teacher came back to pick up Eva again she was not there. 'She must be somewhere in the crowd,' my grandma informed the teacher, who found her already able to skate alone without falling down. As she was watching the Viennese world-class figure skaters doing their training for the following championships she tried to imitate whatever they were doing. Eva was fascinated by all of them and only had one wish: she also wanted to become one of the great figure skaters. Within a few months, she was able to jump a single axel and do fast spins. That was in the early spring of 1932. Eva's coaches were Angela Hanka (silver medallist at the 1914 World Championships) in the free programme and Rudolf Kutzer in the compulsory figures. When she went to school, she got up early in the morning (at 4 o´clock) to rush to the Vienna Ice Rink to develop her skills on the ice before the beginning of school at 8.

My father was already a schoolboy at age 7 or 8 when he began to skate. Some companions such as Karl Jungbauer, a very talented single skater who was destined to die in World War II, suggested that my father, too, should try to skate. That was approximately at the same time when my mother began to skate. My father was also originally trained as a singles skater.

My parents met on the skating rink of the Wiener Eislaufverein (Vienna Skating Association) when they were children (before World War II). Originally, they were both single skaters. In 1936, Pawlik and Seeliger (my mother was 8 years old, my father was 12) imitated the 1936 Olympic Champions, Maxi and Ernst Baier. Pawlik and Seeliger had a great deal of success with this improvised parody and then decided also to become pair skaters. Within only a few months they were already considered the couple that could become the successors of the 1936 Olympic runner-ups Ilse and Erik Pausin.

However, the inhuman Nazi regime and World War II destroyed the lives of generations, including the careers of many sportsmen and sportswomen. Unfortunately, Austria ceased to exist in 1938 because it was integrated into Germany in the so-called Anschluss. There were German championships on the one hand and 'Ostmark' championships instead of Austrian championships on the other. ('Ostmark' was the name the area of Austria had after the Anschluss). Eva Pawlik and Rudi Seeliger became German Youth Champions, both individually and as a couple. In 1942, they became 'Ostmark' Champions as a couple.

Rudi Seeliger, however, could not continue his training as a skater, as he had to serve in the German Army. If he had refused, he would have been killed immediately. My mother unsuccessfully tried to get an exemption from the compulsory military service for him. Some sportsmen got such an exemption. But the young girl Eva Pawlik did not have connections to the people who had the Nazi regime's authority to give such an exemption. So my father had no chance to escape the war.

In 1943 Rudi Seeliger was captured by the Soviets at the Eastern front and had to work as a coal miner in the Donetsk Basin in the Ukraine. He had a terrible time there but did not give up hope. In his dreams, he was thinking about skating with Eva. Finally, the Soviets let him go in December 1949. He belonged to the group of soldiers known as the 'late homecomers'. (He was 26 years of age at that time.) It was by no means easy for him to accept that his youth and his amateur career as a figure skater had been destroyed by World War II and by the inhuman Nazi regime. On the other hand, he confessed that there had been moments in which he could no longer believe that he would survive and that he was thankful that he finally did.

Meanwhile Eva Pawlik could only compete as a single skater. She did not give up. Despite the fact that Austria no longer existed and was part of Nazi Germany, she always chose Viennese music (especially Viennese waltzes) for her free programmes. That was a young woman's careful signal of believing in Austria's resurrection. When Vienna was bombed in 1945, the figure skating training on the ice rink had to be interrupted for some hours to give everyone the chance to run into a bunker. The skaters returned to find bomb shrapnel on the ice, which they cleared away before returning to their compulsory figures training.

In 1947, when the first European and World Championships after World War II were held, Austrians in general were not admitted, for political reasons. Eva Pawlik was allowed to watch the Championships - from the stands, but not as a competitor. It was one of the most difficult moments in her life as an amateur skater to know that she was probably the best European skater with good chances of winning a medal at the World´s but to be barred from participating.

In 1948, Austrians were admitted again to international skating competitions. Eva Pawlik proved to be Europe's best skater at the European, Olympics and World Championships. Again it was hard for her to accept that the European crown was not awarded to her, but to a non-European skater. It goes without saying that Barbara Ann Scott from Canada was a wonderful and glamorous skater. But that did not change the fact that Eva Pawlik was the best-ranked European lady figure skater at the 1948 European Championship but was awarded only the silver medal.

One also has to take into account the circumstances under which Eva Pawlik had to develop her skating. There were hardly any indoor skating halls in Austria. So the training was mainly restricted to the time from October to March. The competitors from the United States and from Canada had the chance to do their training during the whole year.

In the summer of 1948, when Barbara Ann Scott had turned professional, my mother was celebrated as the world´s highest ranking amateur skating queen in the United States. She did some training in Colorado Springs with Edi Scholdan, who was destined to die in 1961 (in an air crash involving the US figure skating team). In the Broadmoor Ice Revue produced by Scholdan, she appeared together with famous US Champion Gretchen Merrill. Pawlik's 21st birthday was celebrated in Hollywood, where a figure skating exhibition took place. MGM offered Eva Pawlik the opportunity to star in a Hollywood movie. Gene Kelly´s dancing should be combined with Eva Pawlik's skating. Billy Wilder should be the director, Helen Rose should design the costumes. Although this offer was a chance to become a Hollywood star, Eva Pawlik declined in order to keep her amateur status for the next year. She was said to have the best chance of winning the 1949 European and World titles.

At the 1949 European Championships in Milan, Eva Pawlik suffered from acute appendicitis. Nevertheless she beat her first competitor, Alena Vrzanová, both in compulsory figures and in the free programme. After her free programme, she had to go to hospital immediately. Nevertheless, it was perhaps the most wonderful day of her amateur career. To be first despite the illness proved her to be Europe´s best figure skater by far. As there was no dangerous competitor for Pawlik from outside Europe, that meant she was also the world´s best figure skater by far in 1949.

In the World Championships, Eva Pawlik ranked only second after school figures. But the difference in points between Pawlik and Vrzanová was narrow, so Pawlik was still the favourite. Her strength had always lain in the free programme. At the 1948 Olympics, for instance, she had been 3rd after the school figures. It was the free programme that earned her the Olympic silver medal.

When Eva Pawlik and her competitors were warming up at the 1949 Worlds, one of her heels broke. The judges did not allow her to try the shoes of a companion to get familiar with a new feeling of skating. Sabotage was supposed but not proved. As a result of the shortages in Austria, Pawlik unfortunately had no second pair of skates, so she could not compete in the free programme. That was the greatest disappointment in Eva Pawlik's career. Vrzanová went on to win.

It is true that Karl Schäfer implored her not to turn professional but to take part in the 1950 European and World Championships. In the 1990's, the ISU Historian, Mr. Benjamin T. Wright, wrote in a retrospective letter to me that Pawlik was for sure a better skater than Vrzanová.

If Eva Pawlik had known that Rudi Seeliger would come back at the end of 1949, she would have heeded Schäfer's advice. She had known that she would keep her chances alive not only as a single skater but also as a pairs skater. The chances in pair skating were as good as in single skating because the international standard in pair skating was not extremely high at that time. Besides, there were no school figures in the pairs´ competitions, which would have made things easier for Eva.

As a matter of fact: Eva did not know that Rudi was still alive. She wanted to give financial support to her parents, whom she loved very intensely. That was the psychological reason for her decision to turn pro in the summer of 1949.

When Rudi Seeliger came back to Vienna in December 1949, he went to the skating rink immediately to find out if he was still able to skate. Some steps on the ice - and he knew that he could still do it. One of the first things Rudi wanted to tell Eva was that he had not forgotten skating. As Eva was already a professional skater, it was too late for her and Rudi to compete together. So Rudi competed at the 1950 Austrian Championships with another partner (Susi Giebisch). After only a fortnight´s training, Seeliger and Giebisch won the gold medal, ranking ahead of Staerk/Gareis and Ratzenhofer/Ratzenhofer. It is worth mentioning that Ratzenhofer/Ratzenhofer had already been internationally successful, having been the 1949 European bronze medallists.

After this success, Rudi turned pro and joined the Vienna Ice Revue. First he was skating together with Emmy Puzinger (at that time Eva Pawlik was skating with Hellmut May, who had finished 8th at the 1948 Olympics). Within a year, it was clear also to the management of the ice revue that Eva and Rudi artistically belonged together. Their first vaudeville number was 'a little flirt' (music: "Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps").

My parents married on February 12th, 1957. They had fallen in love during the time they were starring in the Vienna Ice Revue. In 1957, however, they were starring in the German Scala Eisrevue (as the successors of Ilse and Erik Pausin and as the predecessors of Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt). Having evolved into one of the world´s best professional couples on the ice, they returned to the Vienna Ice Revue in 1958.

I realized that my parents were famous when I was rather young (6 or 7 years). As my parents had retired from professional skating shortly before my birth (I was born on August 9th, 1962), my impression that my mother was a famous woman did not have to do so much with her skating but with the fact that my mother was the first female sportscaster in German-speaking countries.

My father had become the manager of an advertising enterprise; my mother looked after me year round. The Vienna Ice Revue offered her an enormous fee for a comeback. She said no because she did not want to leave me alone. This is worth mentioning, I think, because it does not go without saying that a show star abstains from a great deal of money and from continued success in an Ice Revue in order to take care of a child.

Only for some weeks (the time of the European and World Championships and every four years when the Olympics were taking place) I lived with my grandmother (my father worked during the day). I was allowed to watch TV by my grandma and my father to hear my mother´s voice before going to bed.

As a sportscaster, my mother remained popular in Austria for one more decade (from 1963 to 1972). People in Austria were still interested in figure skating at that time as there were many Austrian skaters winning medals in international competetions (European Champion and Olympic runner-up Regine Heitzer, World Champion Emmerich Danzer, Olympic Champion Wolfgang Schwarz, Olympic Champion Trixi Schuba). The figure skating competitions with my mother´s commentary were often broadcast at prime time.

Pawlik's commentary on TV was by no means euphemistic. She articulated her opinion and sometimes criticized the judges. At the 1968 Olympics, for example, she pointed out that Emmerich Danzer - who had been far behind after the school figures and who finished 4th despite an extraordinary free programme - should at any rate have won the Olympic bronze medal. Pawlik also expressed her opinion clearly when she was in favour of a non-Austrian skater. When Trixi Schuba of Austria won the 1971 and 1972 World Championships and the 1972 Olympics, Pawlik appreciated Trixi Schuba's enormous abilities in the compulsory figures on the one hand, but pointed out Janet Lynn's superiority in free skating again and again on the other. You can certainly imagine that some people in Austria were not happy with Pawlik's proposition to push back (though not to eliminate) the value of the figures to avoid the disproportion between the final ranking and the ranking in the free programme in the future.

As Paul Sibley from California (who was starring in the Vienna Ice Revue in the 1960's together with Regine Heitzer) put it in a letter to me, my mother was a "superstar before the word was invented". She was, however, a star without any airs and graces. A stage hand of the Vienna Ice Revue whom I met in the museum where the exhibit about the Vienna Ice Revue took place said to me: "It is true that your mother was Europe´s top professional star on the ice for years, besides being the only female one who had earned a doctorate. But when talking to others she never gave the impression to anyone that he or she was speaking with a 'star'."

As far as her programmes as a professional skater are concerned, there are three vaudeville numbers that I like best. The first is to be seen in the movie  'Frühling auf dem Eis' (Spring On The Ice, 1950): Eva Pawlik is a sultan's slave. This programme not only shows her abilities as a skater (axel performed with a landing on the outside edge and on the inside edge, and very good edging) but also as far as her pantomime as a slave is concerned. The second is to be seen in the movie 'Traumrevue' ('Revue Of Dreams', 1959) (in a blond wig to the instrumental version of the song 'Fascination' by Marchetti). The third is in my private archive showing Pawlik's last vaudeville number in 1961. As far as the vaudeville numbers of my parents are concerned, I love their interpretation of the Viennese Waltz best. Their acrobatics, however, are more spectacular.

My parents died in the same year. My father died of a sudden heart attack; my mother became severely ill in 1979. It took the doctors a long time to find out the real diagnosis: she suffered from collagenosis, an infrequent and (at least in 1983) incurable auto-immune disease. From 1973 until 1982, my mother was a teacher in German and English in a secondary school (pupils from 10 to 18)."

I can only offer my sincerest thanks to Dr. Seeliger for his permission to share this wonderful material giving us even more of an insight into the trials and tribulations of Eva Pawlik and Rudi Seeliger! In my opinion, their story just speaks volumes about not only the passion to skate but the passion to persevere.

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