Groups planning Holocaust Remembrance ceremony
by Michael Perlman
Apr 07, 2021 | 4882 views | 0 0 comments | 210 210 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Janta House in the 1940s.
The Janta House in the 1940s.
Walentyna Janta in an undated photo. (Credit: Alfonso Quiroz)
Walentyna Janta in an undated photo. (Credit: Alfonso Quiroz)
Elmhurst History and Cemeteries Preservation Society and Inside Elmhurst are hosting a Holocaust Remembrance Day Candlelight Vigil on April 8 at 7:30 p.m.

It will take place in front of the former home of Walentyna Janta at 88-28 43rd Avenue in Elmhurst, and will also commemorate the Warsaw uprising, a major operation during WWII spearheaded by Polish underground resistance to liberate Warsaw from German occupation.

“Walentyna Janta helped expose the Nazi atrocities at the Warsaw Ghetto, and we felt the Janta House was a fitting and appropriate place to remember the millions of people murdered by the Nazis during WWII,” said Alfonso Quiroz, founder of the social media platform Inside Elmhurst. “We would like people to know that there’s a physical reminder of an individual’s heroism to bring to light the horrors of the Holocaust.”

In April 2020, Janta passed away at the age of 107. She was raised Catholic and served as a secretary to the prime minister in Poland’s WWII government in exile.

She is remembered as a hero who transcribed and translated the Jan Karski reports into English, which exposed Nazi atrocities to the world. She is often called the “First Lady of Polish Americans.”

“Unfortunately, ignorance divides us and genocides, hate crimes, and racial and civil unrest continue,” said Jennifer Ochoa of Elmhurst History and Cemeteries Preservation Society. “These remembrances are necessary acts of education. The younger generation often feel it’s ancient history, and does not understand the relevance of what is occurring today relates to the past.”

Ochoa applauded the legacy of Janta and her husband.

“They did not see race, creeds, or nationalities,” she said. “They are the two individuals whose actions, along with those of many others who have gone unrecognized, helped change the world. Their service to humanity continued after the war, by assisting 40 women from concentration camps rebuild their lives in America.

“Their story is also a story of the immigrant in the U.S.,” Ochoa added. “They chose to rebuild their lives here, contributed to society, and never forgot their ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They, like all immigrants before and after, add to the diverse tapestry that makes us a unique country.”

Janta and her husband Aleksander Janta-Połczyński, a journalist and writer, bought the home after the war. Well-known Poles that fled the Communist regime passed through, as well as Charlie Chaplin and Vladimir Nabokov.

“This was the hub of writers, artists, visiting students, and professors, a hub of the artistic, cultural, literary Polish emigre world in New York,” said Janta-Połczyńska’s niece Karolina Rotafinski Merk.

Janta’s from home is a largely intact historic gambrel home from 1911. However, a new owner reportedly plans to demolish the house and build an apartment building. Both Ochoa and Quiroz argue the home should be landmarked to ensure its preservation.

“While WWII monuments throughout the city pay respect to the dead, the Janta House represents the life that they created here after surviving the war in Europe,” said Quiroz. “Landmarking their home would honor their sacrifice and service as veterans, immigrants, and heroes.”

Quiroz said other significant sites throughout Elmhurst were demolished after the city failed to landmark them.

“Elmhurst is one the oldest established neighborhoods citywide, with a history dating back to before the Revolutionary War,” he said “Yet it’s being swallowed up by unscrupulous developers. We can no longer sit back and watch these cultural gems disappear from our landscape. Time is of the essence to landmark this important cultural spot.”

“Our community has lost so many of its historical buildings,” Ochoa added. “Houses, places of worship, and cemeteries are tangible pieces of history that allow people to develop a connection with history and culture and understand and empathize with it.”
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