Maria and her step-sisters were forced to leave the country due to war in Belgium.

107-year-old resident recalls wartime years

This past January, one of Chartwell Wynfield’s most inspiring residents, Mariette “Maria” Barszczewicz, celebrated her 107th birthday. She got to spend time with her family and was surprised by friends and staff with a joyful birthday get-together. As she celebrated, she looked back on her life and the events that made her the woman she is today—including the war that would change everything.

With a lifetime of incredible, vivid memories, Maria recalls it all starting when she met Jan, her husband-to-be.

Meeting a handsome man
Before marrying her late husband, Maria remembers how persistent he was in trying to get to know her when they first met. He first approached her for a dance, but she declined. Then, he asked if she would go to the movies with him, in which she replied no again, telling him to go with his friends instead.

“Back then, all the boys wanted was to get a kiss!” Maria laughs.

On a different occasion, she decided to give Jan the benefit of the doubt and go on a date with him. To her surprise, he was an honest, true gentlemen and she couldn’t get enough of him. They married on June 16, 1932, in her hometown of Belgium, and they later moved to the capital of Poland.

Friends, family and staff of Chartwell Wynfield gathered together for Maria's 107th birthday celebration.
Friends, family and staff of Chartwell Wynfield gathered together for Maria’s 107th birthday celebration.

The day her life changed forever
In 1939, Maria’s life was turned upside down when she and her husband awoke to the sound of bombs dropping. The Second World War had begun, and her husband had to leave on duty. Amongst the chaos, Maria fled to the Belgium Consulate, where she took refuge, though she recalls having to sleep on the floor because of the number of people there.

In Belgium, she worked for a charitable organization that helped reunite families who had become displaced by the war. She realized the war had followed her to Belgium in May 1940, however, when the bombing started. Forced to flee again, she and her two step-sisters grabbed their backpacks and headed for France.

After travelling countless kilometers on foot, as well as numerous trips on trains and military vehicles, the girls finally made it to Paris.

Although Maria wishes the war had never happened, she wouldn’t change any of her past. “My history is the reason I am the woman who I am today,” she says resolutely.

“Barszczewicz is an inspiration to everyone who knows her.”

An inspiration to all
Michelle Manson, General Manager of Chartwell Wynfield, explains that Maria is an integral figure at the residence, and a pleasure to know.

“Not only is she an inspiration, but her memory is sharp, and her words are thoughtful and eloquent,” she says. “She always remembers your name and something specific about you. She is funny, loving and welcoming.”

Maria is also very involved at the home, according to Manson.

“She never misses exercise and is always the first one there, ready to go,” she says. “She spends every afternoon sitting in the lobby, chatting with anyone who walks by, and welcomes anyone who comes through the front door.”

Despite all of the trials she’s gone through, Maria wears a bright smile when she wakes up each morning, determined to live every day to its fullest.