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Published: Monday, 8/24/2009

Labor camp survivor stressed family ties

Franciszka "Frances" Stocki, 88, a native of Poland who survived for two years in a Russian labor camp during World War II, died Sunday in Toledo Hospital.

Mrs. Stocki died of a stroke, her daughter, Mary McKinstray, said.

Mrs. Stocki was a 19-year-old newlywed in February, 1940, when she was awakened at 3 a.m. by men with guns and ordered on a cattle train that shipped her and her husband, Ted Stocki, to Siberia.

During their two years in the labor camp, Mrs. Stocki would cut down trees and Mr. Stocki, who died in 2004, would load the wood onto railcars.

In below-zero temperatures, the Stockis and others would work all day on little or no food.

In a 1989 article in The Blade, Mrs. Stocki recalled working when temperatures dipped to 50-degrees below zero.

"We couldn't even breathe," she said. "Our eyelashes were frozen. Our mouths were frozen."

Mrs. Stocki shared their story, but Mr. Stocki never spoke about the camp.

"The only reason my mom shared these stories was so we had a respect for what people go through to survive and what it's like to do without," Ms. McKinstray said.

After Joseph Stalin declared amnesty for the Polish detainees in 1942, Mrs. Stocki went to Iran and then Africa, where she nursed displaced Poles at a British-run refugee camp. Her husband had re-enlisted in the Polish Army.

They didn't see each other for six years.

"It really was a beautiful love story," Ms. McKinstray said, recalling how her father bartered his watch and wedding ring to get bread for her mother when she was expecting their first child. The baby, named Ted, died in Sibera at six months of age.

After they were reunited in 1948, the Stockis immigrated to New York in 1951 and shortly after moved to Toledo for work.

When Mrs. Stocki shared her story with The Blade in 1989, she said with heavy irony that she and her husband spent their honeymoon in Siberia.

"We never thought we would survive," she said.

Family always came first for Mrs. Stocki, who went on to have three more children and to become a great-grandmother.

"Because she was separated from her family at 19 and never saw them again, her family was the most important thing in her life, and she stressed that," Ms. McKinstray said.

Mrs. Stocki was an excellent seamstress, making all her children's clothing, her daughter said.

She enjoyed gardening, cooking, baking, reading, and embroidery. Her flower garden was well known at the Sunset Village Retirement Community, where she lived and enlisted the help of others to take care of her flowers, Ms. McKinstray said.

Surviving are her daughter, Mary McKinstray; sons, John and Chet Stocki; six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

The body will be in Sujkowski Funeral Home, Northpointe, after 2 p.m. tomorrow, where the funeral will begin at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday. The Mass of Christian burial will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Adalbert Catholic Church.

The family suggests tributes to St. Adalbert or the Sunset Village Employee Appreciation Fund.



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