Józef Stawinoga

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Józef Stawinoga
Born (1920-12-15)15 December 1920
Krążkowy, near Kępno, Poland
Died 28 October 2007(2007-10-28) (aged 86)
Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England
Other names Fred, Trampee, Shakespeare[1]
Occupation Hermit
Known for Lived in a public place for more than 40 years, gaining a local reputation as a hermit

Józef Stawinoga (15 December 1920 – 28 October 2007), also known as Fred and incorrectly reported as Josef, was a homeless Polish man who lived in a tent on the Wolverhampton Ring Road in the West Midlands, England for nearly 40 years.[2] Little is known about the recluse, but he is thought to have been involved in the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, before emigrating to the UK in the 1940s.

Wolverhampton[edit]

After the war Stawinoga lived in Wolverhampton, finding work and a place to live – and an Austrian wife who left him after a year, according to Juliusz Leonowicz, who identified himself as Stawinoga's friend.[3] Official records show that Stawinoga married Hermine Weiss in Wolverhampton in 1952.

It has been reported that he had worked for some time at the Stewarts & Lloyds steelworks in Bilston. One day, however, he did not turn up to work and the next his colleagues knew "... he was pushing a pram with all his possessions and had grown an ankle-length beard" [4]

It seems therefore that, at a date given by different sources as 1954[5] and 1967,[6] he opted out of society for unknown reasons, left his job, and became homeless. He was evicted from several lodging houses,[6] and by the 1970s he had moved into a tent on the central grass reservation of the town's inner ring road. The council tolerated his presence, as he was claustrophobic, and he became something of a local character. A series of replacement tents was erected by the authorities over his original plastic sheeting;[7] in April 2003 this involved "an operation involving the army, the police, social services and environmental health".[8]

Fred was respected as a holy man by the Hindu community, with many people believing he lived a truly enlightened life.[5] A group devoted to him on the social networking site Facebook had over 6,500 members and he was awarded an honorary degree by Wolverhampton Polytechnic.[1] Over the years Stawinoga was often seen by drivers on the busy dual-carriageway, sweeping up leaves for council workmen to collect.[9]

Death[edit]

Józef Stawinoga died on 28 October 2007, aged 86. Wolverhampton City Council announced that it would cover the cost of his funeral if none of his family came forward, and the possibility of a memorial to him has been discussed. His tent was removed by the council at the request of West Midlands Police, who were concerned that the area would become a tourist attraction.[2] His funeral was held at the West Chapel of Bushbury Crematorium in Wolverhampton on the afternoon of 15 November 2007. Just over 20 people attended the service, which was conducted in Polish, by a Roman Catholic priest.[9]

After Stawinoga's death his friend Leonowicz said that he had been told that the hermit had been a member of the SS during World War II.[10] Such rumours were later dispelled, however, by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the international Jewish human rights organisation. A spokesman from the Israeli office of the organisation, Dr Efraim Zuroff, said there was “no evidence of his service with the Germans” adding “Poles were not allowed to serve in the SS. It is simply not true.”[11] This was further confirmed by Major Antony Rudzki, a member of the Polish community in Wolverhampton, who demobilized Stawinoga in Wrottesley Park after the war.[citation needed]

On 6 March 2008 it was reported that Stawinoga had left thousands of pounds-worth of pension money that had been untouched.[12] Wolverhampton Council traced the rightful heirs to Stawinoga's estate, two women and one man from Vienna, Austria, but their identities were not released. A BBC 1 programme Heir Hunters, broadcast on 21 July 2008, showed a search for heirs to his estate which had been listed on Bona Vacantia. The programme located the family in Germany but they were already making a claim themselves.

In 2009 it was announced that a bronze statue of Stawinoga was being designed by local artist and fellow Pole, Greg Rudevics from Oxley, Wolverhampton, who wanted a permanent memorial to Stawinoga erected in the city.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Josef Stawinoga" at telegraph.co.uk
  2. ^ a b Wainwright, Daniel (29 October 2007). "Tramp Fred dies in tent on ring road". Express & Star. pp. Front page. 
  3. ^ Bawolek, Dorota. "The ring road hermit". BBC Black Country. BBC. 
  4. ^ Ring Road tramp Fred dies in Express and Star
  5. ^ a b Wainwright, Daniel (30 October 2007). "Fred takes mystery to the grave". Express & Star. 
  6. ^ a b Fryer, Jane (4 October 2007). "The ring-road tramp who's become a cult hero thanks to Facebook". Daily Mail. 
  7. ^ Chrisafis, Angelique (16 April 2003). "Territorial Army provides home improvements for Wolverhampton's ring road hermit". The Guardian. 
  8. ^ "Hermit receives new home". BBC News. 8 April 2003. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  9. ^ a b "Funeral of Wolverhampton ring road tramp". Birmingham Mail. 16 November 2007. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  10. ^ "Ring road hermit 'was in the SS'". BBC News. 29 October 2007. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  11. ^ "Wolverhampton tramp had no Nazi past" in The Birmingham Mail
  12. ^ Search For 'Wealthy' Tramp's Family Sky News, 6 March 2008. Retrieved on 6 March 2008.
  13. ^ "Fred the tramp may get ring road statue" at expressandstar.com

External links[edit]