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Wanda Stachiewicz championed Polish cause through hardships of World War II

As the daughter of an acclaimed Polish historian and professor, Wanda Stachiewicz's work in social services earned her the country's highest civilian honor and brought her into contact with a man named Adolf Hitler.

"She didn't want to shake his hand," said Mathilde Stark of Los Altos, Mrs. Stachiewicz's daughter-in-law. So Mrs. Stachiewicz avoided the formality by mingling with diplomats across the room from the German dictator.

Mrs. Stachiewicz, whose work in the Polish community earned numerous accolades over seven decades, died July 8 in Montreal, Canada. She was 99. Mrs. Stachiewicz had spent every winter since 1974 in Los Altos with son, Bob, and Mathilde Stack.

Born in Lwow, Poland, Mrs. Stachiewicz earned a master's degree in the history of civilization from the University of Lwow and continued studies toward a doctorate at Sorbonne University in Paris. Her father was the internationally famous historian Dr. Ladislas Abraham, who also was chancellor of the University of Lwow.

In 1921, Mrs. Stachiewicz married Col. Waclaw Stachiewicz who later became chief of staff for the Polish Army. After World War I, she devoted much of her time to the "White Cross," a social services organization established to combat illiteracy and teach Polish history and citizenship to draftees of the Polish Armed Forces prior to their discharge. In 1937, Mrs. Stachiewicz received the Gold Cross of Merit from the Polish government, the highest Polish civilian decoration.

Besides Hitler, Mrs. Stachiewicz's travels also brought her into contact with Pope John Paul II, whom she met when he was a cardinal.

Mrs. Stachiewicz served with the Women's Auxiliary Services as a liaison officer attached to the General Staff during the 1939 invasion of Poland. Separated from her husband, she escaped with her children to France, and then to England after the fall of France. When a German invasion of England became a distinct possibility, Mrs. Stachiewicz, her three children in tow, relocated in Montreal in 1940. She found employment with the International Labor Office and became deeply involved in welfare work and in helping refugees from Western Europe. Her work with McGill University, including lectures on the life and culture of Poland, resulted in the establishment of a Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in Montreal in 1943.

In 1946, she founded the Polish Library at McGill, which she headed for more than 40 years until her retirement in the 1980s. In 1984, in recognition of her service, institute officials decided to name the library, "The Wanda Stachiewicz Polish Library" in her honor.

In addition to the Golden Cross of Merit, Mrs. Stachiewicz also received the Gold medal of the Canadian-Polish Congress for "outstanding cultural, patriotic and philantropic work."

Mrs. Stachiewicz published her memoirs, "Journey Through History," in 1988, and exerpts from the book were featured in a March 1988 Town Crier. Mrs. Stachiewicz included accounts of narrow escapes from the Nazis, fleeing from her homeland on foot and hiding her children in the French countryside. She was separated from her husband for nine years, from 1939 to 1948, because of the war. "Because he was second in command in Poland, he was very much wanted," she recalled. "He probably would have been executed if he had stayed in Europe."

Mrs. Stachiewicz is survived by one son, Bob Stack, a resident of Los Altos since 1959, six grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Services were held July 15 in Montreal.

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