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Last Updated: Monday, 29 October 2007, 19:01 GMT
Ring road hermit 'was in the SS'
Josef Stawinoga
Josef Stawinoga was a member of the SS, a friend claims
A hermit who became a local celebrity was a member of the Nazi SS, a friend of his claims.

Josef Stawinoga lived in a tent in the middle of a ring road in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, for more than 35 years.

Now his friend Julius Leonowicz said he always knew Mr Stawinoga, known as Fred, had a secret but did not want to reveal it until he died.

He said he heard the tale from a friend of the prisoner of war and that Mr Stawinoga had confirmed it to him.

German Eighth Army

Talking to BBC News Mr Leonowicz said: "He did serve in the German army, he was in the SS and he was not one of the nicest chaps in the SS.

"I know he was in the SS because I spoke to a friend of his and apparently he was very proud he was in the SS."

Mr Leonowicz, 15 when the war ended, could not say whether Mr Stawinoga had been involved in atrocities or where he served although he thought it was likely to be Italy as that was where he gave himself up.

He said Mr Stawinoga had been serving in a Polish unit attached to the German Eighth Army in Italy when he gave himself up to British troops. Because he was a Pole, he was sent to a British camp, in Wolverhampton, with other Polish people.

He added the reason he came to be known as Fred was because he did not want to be reminded of his former life.

Josef Stawinoga's new tent in Wolverhampton
It was feared the old tent posed a health risk

As news of his death came out the city council paid tribute to him.

"He was a true character and Wolverhampton won't be quite the same without him," a spokesman said.

He added that if no next of kin or friends came forward to organise the funeral, the council would make the necessary arrangements.

Tributes were also being paid on a social networking internet site dedicated to Mr Stawinoga.

One Facebook site member wrote: "What sad news, but great to see how many people cared about him. Wolverhampton won't be the same without him. God bless."

A few years ago, the council and police moved in to replace Mr Stawinoga's tent over fears it, and the rubbish he had collected, were becoming a health hazard.

The council tolerated Mr Stawinoga as he had a phobia of confined spaces.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Josef Stawinoga used to be part of Germany's SS in WWII



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08 Apr 03 |  West Midlands

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