Vigil remembers the tragedies of the Holocaust
by Michael Perlman
Apr 14, 2021 | 2300 views | 0 0 comments | 192 192 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Leon Sherman shows the mark he received on his arm in the concentration camps.
Leon Sherman shows the mark he received on his arm in the concentration camps.
Walentyna Janta
Walentyna Janta
Elmhurst History & Cemeteries Preservation Society (EHCPS), Inside Elmhurst, Historic Districts Council, and local residents held a candlelight vigil in front of the Walentyna Janta House in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The event outside the home at 88-28 43rd Avenue attracted over 30 attendees on what is also the anniversary of the Warsaw uprising, a major WWII operation in 1944.

Guest speakers included Rabbi Eli Blokh of Chabad of Rego Park, event organizer Alfonso Quiroz of Inside Elmhurst, and Leon Sherman, a 102-year-old Queens resident who survived five concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

Rabbi Blokh called Sherman “a living testament to the fact that resistance is not only with guns, but is with the spirit and the soul and with love and hope.” “Leon is a survivor and a fighter in all those senses, and his faith keeps him alive,” he said. “People like Leon and Mrs. Janta show by example that heroes are those who make the right choices, even when everyone else around them is making the wrong choices.” Sherman showed the “B2593” mark that was imprinted on his arm by the Nazis. “They told us you have a number, no name,” he said. “Whenever they call this number, you have to answer. They told us the only way out is through the chimney. I saw the chimney burning day and night.”

In May 1944 Sherman arrived in Auschwitz, and recalled being unloaded like cattle and whipped, as well as the screams and smell of burning flesh. He said people have a hard time believing he still remembers his experiences so vividly. “I tell them in my head it’s like a film,” he said, before emphasizing the importance of remembering the Holocaust so that history does not repeat itself, paying particular attention to the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes occurring across the city.

“He is the human embodiment of courage and hope for humanity,” said Jennifer Ochoa of EHCPS. “If he could survive such atrocities and be able to forgive humanity and dedicate his elder age to educate us, then there is hope for us. “Adults knew what Mr. Sherman said was the truth, but children were heartbroken after learning what he experienced,” she added. “We cannot live isolated in cultural or communal niches, but we must find our commonality, appreciate differences, and work together towards unity and progress.”

For Pamela Goonan, Rabbi Blokh and Sherman’s speeches elicited childhood memories of Holocaust survivors Hershel and Margot Rosen, tailors who once lived on 79th Street in Middle Village. “They would tell me stories of the numbers on their arms and what they represented, how they were treated, and how they escaped,” she said. “They could weave fabric to perfection, and that was the only reason they were alive.” Walentyna Janta served as secretary to the prime minister in Poland’s WWII government in exile. She passed away at the age of 107 in 2020.

She transcribed and translated the Jan Karski reports into English, which exposed Nazi atrocities in camps in Poland. After WWII, she and her husband, writer and journalist Aleksander Janta-Polczynski, bought the Elmhurst home, which became a cultural, artistic, and political hub, especially for Polish Americans. “Mrs. Janta made an effort and saved lives, and her memory deserves to be given great respect for what she did before and after WWII,” said Leah Salmorin. “They are a good example of people caring for neighbors regardless of their background, since everybody is equal.”

A developer is currently planing to demolish the Janta house, which was built in 1911, but preservationists are pushing for landmark designation. For Emily Kahn, the Janta House represents resistance. “It symbolizes not only how Mrs. Janta exposed Nazi atrocities, but also how Elmhurst residents are defiantly resisting this property’s demolition,” she said. “Allowing the Janta House to be demolished would symbolize that New York City neither acknowledges nor respects the impact of Holocaust emigres, refugees, and survivors. “Mrs. Janta’s story embodies how emigres rebuilt and maintained their culture, values, and communities upon emigrating to the U.S.,” Kahn added, “and these stories are as important to commemorate as the deaths of Holocaust victims.”
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