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Walentyna Janta-Polczynska, Polish War Heroine, Dies at 107

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Walentyna Janta-Polczynska, among the last surviving members of the Polish government in exile, which was formed after Nazi Germany invaded Poland, died on April 2 in Queens. She was 107.

Her death, at a hospital, was confirmed by her niece and closest survivor, Karolina Rostafinski Merk.

Ms. Janta-Polczynska — known then as Walentyna Stocker — emigrated to New York after the war and married Aleksander Janta-Polczynski, a journalist and poet. They opened an antiquarian bookstore in New York, and their home in Elmhurst, Queens, became a gathering spot for Polish artists, writers and expatriates who had fled the Communist dictatorship that had taken power after the war. She became known as “the first lady of American Polonia.”

When Poland was invaded in 1939, Ms. Janta-Polczynska was studying English in London and was soon hired by the Polish embassy. She was promoted to personal secretary to General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the prime minister of the Polish government in exile and commander of the Free Polish Armed Forces, and became his confidante.

As the chief translator for the Polish cabinet, she attended meetings with foreign leaders, including Winston Churchill.

She also performed two intelligence roles for the Polish Resistance. In one, she translated and prepared reports by Jan Karski, the underground courier who was among the first to deliver eyewitness accounts of atrocities against Jews in the Warsaw ghetto before they were deported to extermination camps.

In her other intelligence role, she helped organize Dawn, a clandestine radio station that broadcast to Poland from an intelligence complex in England. She was one of its first announcers.

In his biography of Mr. Karski, “Inferno,” Waldemar Piasecki wrote that “with her language and professional qualifications, she was an invaluable acquisition.”

Her last mission for General Sikorski was assisting in his funeral arrangements; he died when his plane crashed after takeoff from Gibraltar in July 1943.

Walentyna Stocker was born on Feb. 1, 1913, in Lemberg, which was then part of Austria-Hungary and is now known as the city of Lviv in western Ukraine. Her father, Ludwik, worked in the mining industry and hailed from an English family that had initiated oil exploration in eastern Poland. Her mother was Karolina Kochanowska.

She left to study in England in 1938 and there was briefly married to Wilhelm Pacewicz, a Polish navy officer. In England she was known as Valentina.

After the war, she was assigned to the Women’s Auxiliary Service and given the rank of second lieutenant in the Polish army. She served as a translator under American auspices stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, where she mostly debriefed Polish former prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates who had been victims of medical experiments.

She went to the United States in 1947 with her mother (her father had died before the war) and married Mr. Janta-Polczynski in 1949. They had met in London after he had escaped German captivity.

The couple lived in Buffalo, N.Y., before opening their bookstore in New York City and transforming their home into a sanctuary for the Polish émigré elite, including literary figures like Zbigniew Herbert, Jerzy Kosinski, Jan Kott and the Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz.

Ms. Janta-Polczynska was active with the Jozef Pilsudksi Institute of America, a scientific research organization and archive in Brooklyn, and the Kosciuszko Foundation — the American Center of Polish Culture, in Manhattan. She also worked for the Iraqi Mission to the United Nations.

After her husband died, she donated many of their bookstore’s maps, documents, prints and manuscripts to the National Library in Warsaw. In 2011, she was awarded the Medal of Merit for Polish Culture by Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and in 2016 she received the Jan Karski Eagle Award.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, her funeral was private, but was streamed online. Her ashes are to be placed next to her husband’s in a Warsaw cemetery.

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Anthony Dirisu
Reporter, PapercodePost
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