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Stanislaw Edward Mostwin, Polish freedom fighter, dies

Stanislaw Edward Bask Mostwin, a highly decorated World War II Polish freedom fighter whose exploits were worthy of a Hollywood film, died Monday of arrhythmia at his Ruxton home.

He was 94.

Recalling his years in the underground during World War II, Mr. Mostwin described the experience for the old Sunday Sun Magazine in 1986 as "fantastic, a James Bond life for a young man."

He added, "You are defending your home. There is no hesitation, you just have to go and do it. The alternative is not to be yourself."

Mr. Mostwin courted capture and probable death when he parachuted into Nazi-occupied Poland on a mission in 1944 to bring relief and assistance to the underground.

"Stanislaw Mostwin was a freedom fighter, a humanitarian and a true patriot for America and Poland. He was also a true friend," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said in a statement released Thursday evening.

"I admired and respected Stanislaw Mostwin, and I mourn the loss of this dedicated Polish patriot. But his legacy and fighting spirit will live on in Baltimore and Poland," said Senator Mikulski.

The son of an industrialist and diplomat father and a homemaker mother, he was born Stanislaw Edward Niedbal in Poznan, in western Poland.

He graduated in 1935 from the Gymnasium of Adam Mickiewicz in Poznan, and for the next year, completed cavalry officers school in Grudziadz.

Mr. Mostwin had completed a Master of Law degree and was scheduled to study at Cambridge University in England when German forces invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.

Mr. Mostwin served on the Western Front with Polish forces during the invasion, and when his homeland surrendered he was sent to a military prison camp.

Escaping, he made his way through the Balkans to the Middle East, where he joined the Carpathian Uhlan (cavalry) Divisions in Palestine, then under British command. Wounded during the Battle of Tobruk in North Africa, he recovered and volunteered to become a courier for the Polish government in exile in London.

While being trained by British Intelligence for secret missions as a member of an elite group of military and diplomatic couriers who were known as Cichociemni, or "Silent Shadows" — whose motto was "Loyal to the Vow" — he changed his name to Mostwin, Polish for "bridge."

"Of the corps of Cichociemni couriers, there were only 29 diplomatic couriers sent back into Poland during the years 1939 to 1945," said his son, Dr. Jacek Mostwin, a urologist who lives in Ruxton.

"Eighteen diplomatic couriers of the 29 survived. Most were sent with specific intelligence information for delegates of the Polish government in exile and the partisan Home Army, and material relief in the form of paper money and gold," said Dr. Mostwin.

Four weeks before D-Day, Mr. Mostwin parachuted into Nazi-occupied Poland on May 11, 1944, with important diplomatic information and carrying 200,000 U.S. dollars of relief money for Polish and Dutch Jews imprisoned there.

The night parachute drop landed Mr. Mostwin on the outskirts of Warsaw, where he was hidden in the home of his future wife, Danuta Pietruszewski, who was active in the resistance, and her mother, Irena Pietruszewski, who was an officer in the underground Home Army.

Their home was a shelter and meeting point for the Polish couriers. The couple, who fell in love, were married in 1944.

Recalling his mission to Poland in his wife's 2000 book, "The Third Value," Mr. Mostwin described the morning he was preparing to depart from London when a delegation of Jewish members of the Polish National Council came to wish him Godspeed.

"In a moment the delegates entered the room. Their faces filled with emotion and radiant with hope, they placed their trembling hands upon my arms. Their lips, moving in silent prayer, revealed the enormity of their feelings," he wrote. "I will never forget this image, their lowered tearful eyes, as they prayed for me and for the successful accomplishment of my mission."

Mr. Mostwin said the sun suddenly filled the room with early-morning spring light.

"The oldest of the delegates, his face wet with tears, gently touched my hand. He whispered, 'This is a sign of good fortune, Sir, a sign of good fortune. May the light of this sun protect and guide you safely,'" he wrote. '"May it be a sign of life and love. May it lead you along this perilous journey and protect you from danger.'"

The couple remained in Warsaw during the infamous Warsaw Ghetto uprising, when the Germans deported to concentration camps or murdered more than 300,000 Jews between July 22 and Sept. 12, 1944.

With the Russian occupation of Poland at the end of the war, Mr. Mostwin realized he would be arrested by the Communists for having been an officer and a courier of the Polish government in exile, a political organization that had been denied any role in the establishment of a postwar Poland and whose members were being purged.

With Mr. Mostwin, his wife and his mother-in-law facing arrest by the secret police, they escaped through Prague to Nuremburg, Germany. They eventually made their way to England, where they lived in London until 1951, when they immigrated to New York City, and then to Baltimore.

Mr. Mostwin found work in the garment industry as a designer of women's sportswear at Glenhaven in Baltimore and Jonathan Logan in New York City, and finally retiring in 1982 as design manager for Londontown Corp.

While studying law at Georgetown University, he continued his work on behalf of his homeland.

He helped "establish the Polish American Society to help see Poland through its darkest days under martial law," said Senator Mikulski. "Stan and his family dedicated their lives to supporting Solidarity — and I celebrated with them on the historic day when Poland took its place as a member of NATO."

"He championed the cause of Polish freedom and its role in the free world as well as the role of the Polish diaspora throughout the world," his son said.

"He worked for dialogue between Polish, Jewish and German groups to improve human relations and reduce the tensions he had seen bring so much devastation to his own world during the Second World War," his son said.

From 1952 to 1956, he had been an active member of the Polish National Democratic Committee in Washington, and later was a co-founder and chairman of the Soldiers Circle of World War II in Baltimore and the Slavic Conference in Maryland.

He was a co-founder in 1975 of the Polish Heritage Association of Maryland and the next year was a co-founder and later vice president of STUDIUM: North American Study Center for Polish Affairs, an academic think tank that examined Polish political and economic affairs from the U.S. perspective.

From 1976 until 1996, he was a national director of the Polish American Congress, and was vice chairman of the organization's Committee on Polish Minorities in Soviet Russia.

As chairman of the Studium Committee on Polish-Jewish Dialogue, Mr. Mostwin traveled to Rome in 1979, where he received a papal blessing from Pope John Paul II for the establishment of the Janusz Korczak Literary Award for children's literature.

Janusz Korczak was the pen name of children's author Henryk Goldszmyt, a Polish Jew and pediatrician who refused to abandon the children of his orphanage and accompanied them to a Nazi death camp, where they all perished.

In 1994, Mr. Mostwin organized the first conference between representatives of Polish-American and German-American groups in America that was held at Catholic University of America in Washington.

Until the fall of communism in Poland, Mr. Mostwin wasn't allowed to visit his homeland.

"He had paid a high price" for his activism, his son said.

That changed in 1987, when he was presented the Silver Cross of Virtuti by a special military delegation that traveled from the Polish Embassy to his Ruxton home.

The Virtuti Militari was established in 1792 and is equivalent to the Medal of Honor or the British Victoria Cross.

In 1997, Mr. Mostwin was again decorated with the Officer's Cross for Service to the Polish Republic in a ceremony at the Polish Embassy in Washington.

His wife, Dr. Danuta Mostwin, an author, psychologist and sociologist, died last year.

He was an avid gardener and enjoyed caring for the fruit trees he planted at his Ruxton home.

He was a communicant of Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church, 400 S. Chester St., Highlandtown, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his son, Mr. Mostwin is survived by a grandson.

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