Isidore R. Hankin, 79, POW during World War II and longtime IRS official

October 01, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Isidore R. Hankin, a longtime Internal Revenue Service official whose experience as a prisoner of war during World War II affected the rest of his life, died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma Saturday at his Silver Spring home. He was 79.

Mr. Hankin, a Baltimore native, was 20 when he was drafted into the Army in 1942. He spent nearly two years studying engineering in a select Army training program before being sent to Europe in 1944.

Early the next year, he was transferred to Company B of the 301st Infantry Regiment of Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army. Soon afterward, that company, en route to relieve other soldiers at the front, was captured in Or- scholz, Germany.

"It was apparently the coldest winter in 50 years, and the Germans marched them through the snow for days and days," said his son, Craig Hankin of Cockeysville.

Many of the American soldiers died after arriving at a POW camp at Fallingbostel, near Hanover, Germany, where little food and no medicine was available. Mr. Hankin survived his three months as a prisoner there but developed health problems -- including ulcerative colitis -- that remained with him for most of his life. He never complained about pain, his son said.

After he returned home, Mr Hankin earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from the Johns Hopkins University in 1949, went to work for the Internal Revenue Service the next year and continued to educate himself at night. He earned a law degree in 1954 from the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, and two years later became a certified public accountant after more study at Hopkins.

Advised by doctors against going into practice for himself as a lawyer or accountant, he remained with the IRS, retiring in 1980 after 30 years. He first worked in Baltimore, where he handled corporate audit cases, and later in Washington, where his duties included translating complicated bureaucratic jargon into plain English.

Mr. Hankin put his clear writing style to use in the last years of his life, when he hand-wrote a 116-page memoir for his family. That was the first time his children learned the details of his time as a prisoner of war.

His manuscript, which he forbade his family to publish as a book, included his recollection of a terrifying experience early on at the POW camp. He was called into an interrogation room lighted by a single candle. A German officer asked for his first name.

"When I answered `Isidore,' I knew I was in trouble," he wrote.

The officer correctly guessed that Mr. Hankin was Jewish and threatened to send him to a political prisoners' camp if he didn't reveal his company's name. Mr. Hankin refused. A tense moment passed. The officer backed down.

Mr. Hankin was awarded the Bronze Star, Victory Medal, POW Medal, Combat Infantry Badge and European Theater Medal with battle stars.

"He was a very modest and self-effacing person," said his son. "He was always much more interested in what other people were doing."

Mr. Hankin grew up in Baltimore and worked at his family's shoe store on North Gay Street. He graduated from City College in 1940.

He married Jeanette Bernstein, who survives him, in 1951.

The Hankins lived in Baltimore until 1966, when the family moved to Silver Spring. After his retirement, Mr. Hankin enjoyed working on cars, model airplanes and other mechanical things and following the stock market.

He was a member of B'nai Israel congregation in Rockville.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Judean Memorial Gardens, Batchellors Forest Road and Georgia Avenue in Olney.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Hankin is survived by a daughter, Joan Hankin of Bethesda; two sisters, Doris Cohen and Lillian Strauss, both of Pikesville; and four grandsons.

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