Witold `Victor' Stankiewicz

[ Age 101 ] Barber immigrated to the U.S. after captivity in Siberian labor camps.

April 19, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Witold "Victor" Stankiewicz, a decorated World War II Polish Army veteran who after surviving imprisonment in Siberian labor camps immigrated to Baltimore, where he worked as a barber, died of an aortic aneurysm Monday at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin. He was 101.

Mr. Stankiewicz was born in Wilna, Poland. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, Germany and Russia occupied the country by treaty, with the Russians occupying the eastern sector and the Germans in the west.

Communist leader Josef Stalin ordered that Poles living in the eastern sector be deported to Siberian gulags.

"He was taken prisoner by the Russians and sent to a slave labor camp in Siberia," said his goddaughter, Katherine Kolarik of Berlin.

"Witold occupied his mind and time by making chess pieces out of stale bread. To signify the chess board, he cut his fingers and used his blood to mark out the areas," Mrs. Kolarik said. "He then challenged others to games, winning books or food as his prize."

When Germany attacked Russia in 1941, the Polish government persuaded Stalin to release about 75,000 of the Polish prisoners.

As a member of the 2nd Polish Corps, Mr. Stankiewicz fought in the Italian campaign and at the Battle of Monte Cassino.

His decorations included the Polish Cross for his participation in the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Italian Star and the Polish Bronze Star, his goddaughter said.

After the war, Mr. Stankiewicz was sent to Podington displaced persons camp in Bedfordshire, England, where he learned barbering.

While at Podington, he befriended Jan and Katarzyna Zdunek, also Polish refugees.

In 1950, they embarked by ship for New York, and, after arriving at Ellis Island, the three friends made their way first to Michigan, where they lived briefly. They then moved to Baltimore, settling first in Canton, and then in a Linwood Avenue rowhouse in 1955.

Mr. Stankiewicz lived with the Zduneks. After their deaths he went to live with Mrs. Kolarik, 56, their daughter.

After becoming a master barber and earning his license, Mr. Stankiewicz cut hair in a Baltimore Street barbershop before opening his own shop on the 16th floor of the Maryland National Bank building at 10 Light St.

"He called the shop `The 16th Floor,'" the goddaughter said.

He retired in the mid-1970s.

Mr. Stankiewicz enjoyed reading and attending the theater.

Proud of his Polish heritage, Mr. Stankiewicz was a member of the Polish Veterans in Exile Association and had been secretary of the Polish National Alliance. He also had been a supporter of the National Katyn Memorial at Aliceanna and President streets.

Since 1997, the former Highlandtown resident had lived on the Eastern Shore in Berlin with his goddaughter and her family.

When Mr. Stankiewicz attended the annual Maryland Centenarians Luncheon, he offered a bit of advice on longevity:

"He said, `Love your family, love your country and dance the tango often,'" his goddaughter said.

"He ate the worst stuff. For breakfast, he'd melt half a stick of butter in a pan, fry some eggs, and then sop up the butter with two pieces of bread. Then he'd follow this with a chocolate doughnut, a half of a tomato and a cup of coffee," she said. "He also liked eating cranberry sauce and spaghetti. Who the heck does that?"

Mr. Stankiewicz also loved soups and potato pancakes. He confined his intake of alcohol to a half a can of beer or a quick shot of whiskey, his goddaughter said.

"Because he never drove a car and walked everywhere, I think that's probably what saved him. He loved walking to the Broadway Market and to Mass at Holy Rosary," she said.

Mr. Stankiewicz had a playful side that earned him the nickname of "Tricky Vicky," his goddaughter said.

"While being attended by the emergency room staff at Atlantic General, he said to the nurse checking his vitals if she knew he was 101. When she replied that she did, he said, `What do you think - want to get married?'" Mrs. Kolarik said.

The diehard Orioles fan was getting a little impatient while the medical staff continued their examination. "He asked, `How long do we have stay here? The Orioles are playing at 7 p.m.,'" Mrs. Kolarik said. "He was a character and a joker until the end."

Plans for services were incomplete yesterday.

In addition to his goddaughter, Mr. Stankiewicz, who never married, is survived by other members of his adopted family, Paul Zdunek of Shepherdstown, W.Va., Ronald A. Kolarik of Berlin, Gregory M. Kolarik of Tall Timbers in St. Mary's County, and Jason J. Kolarik of Chicago.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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