Read the original story in Polish at Nowy Dziennik
Translated and condensed by Aleksandra Slabisz
Polish Americans said goodbye to Walentyna Janta-Połczyńska, a former secretary of the legendary Polish statesman Gen. Władysław Sikorski. She passed away earlier this month at the age of 107 at Forest Hills hospital.
Nicknamed the First Lady of Polish Americans, Janta-Połczyńska was the last living member of Poland’s government-in-exile during World War II. Between 1940 and 1943, she served as a personal secretary to Sikorski, then prime minister and the commander-in-chief general, who entrusted her with transcribing and preparing manuscripts of reports filed by Jan Karski, an investigator working for the exiled Polish government reporting on the situation in German-occupied Poland.
During the war, she also worked for an underground radio station Świt (Dawn), headquartered near London and broadcasting on the territory of occupied-Poland.
When the war ended, Janta-Połczyńska immigrated to the United States, originally settling in the Buffalo area. In 1949 she married Aleksander Janta-Połczyński, a renowned writer, poet, journalist and activist. A couple of years later, they bought a house in a New York’s Elmhurst neighborhood, which they renovated themselves.
Their home quickly became a Polish cultural center of sorts, frequented by famous writers, Polish artists and other figures such as Czesław Miłosz, Nobel Prize winner in literature; Jerzy Giedroyc, a writer, political activist and editor of the highly influential Paris-based periodical, “Kultura”; Jan Karski as well as Mahatma Gandhi, Vladimir Nabokov, Charlie Chaplin and composer Karol Szymanowski.
While in New York, Janta-Połczyńska worked for the Iraqi Mission to the United Nations. With her husband she also ran an antique book store selling old maps of Poland, historical documents, manuscripts and antique books. After her husband died, the most valuable pieces from their collection were donated to the National Library of Poland in Warsaw.
“Her life is an example of patriotism, humanism and active engagement regardless of circumstances. She will shine as a role model for the young generations,” said one of the former consuls general of Poland at Janta-Połczyńska’s 100 birthday, celebrated in 2013 at her Elmhurst home.
In 2011, Janta-Połczyńska was presented by Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage with the Medal of Merit for the Polish Culture. Five years later she received the Jan Karski Eagle Award.
Janta-Połczyńska lived to be 107. Until her last days, she remained a cheerful and good-hearted person with a great sense of humor.