Holocaust Remembrance Day vigil held at Elmhurst’s Janta House

Walentyna Janta-Polczynska was commemorated on Holocaust Remembrance Day in Elmhurst at the house she lived in until the age of 107. (Photos courtesy of Alfonso Quiroz)

Holocaust Remembrance Day was commemorated with a candlelight vigil at the Janta House in Elmhurst on the evening of Thursday, April 8.

Dozens gathered across from Veterans Grove Playground on 43rd Avenue at the home of the late Walentyna Janta-Polczynska, who helped expose the Nazi atrocities at the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II while working for the Polish government-in-exile in London.

Janta-Polczynski translated documents into English for the Allies, from the Polish Underground, that identified concentration camps operating in occupied Poland.

Following the war, Janta-Polczynski married her journalist husband Aleksander and they moved into a house at 88-23 43rd Ave., which became known as a gathering spot for Polish artists, writers and expatriates who had fled the Communist dictatorship that had taken power. She remained at the home until her death last year at the age of 107.

“It was a great inspiration to see local residents and preservation organizations coming together on Holocaust Remembrance Day on the anniversary of the Warsaw uprising and commemorating the legacy of Mr. and Mrs. Janta, who are the very definition of heroes,” Rego-Forest Preservation Council Chairman Michael Perlman said. “It is always timely to say ‘Never again’ and ‘We must never forget’ in response to the Holocaust, one of the world’s most significant tragedies, and keep the souls of countless victims alive forever while taking a stance against anti-Semitism and hateful acts in general. Largely between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany killed 6 million Jewish people across German-occupied Europe. In reality, we are all victims of the Holocaust whether we experienced it or not.”

Perlman is among a number of preservationists who are trying to get the city to landmark the Janta House before it can be demolished by a developer to make way for an apartment building. Community leader Alfonso Quiroz, a candidate for City Council in District 25, has organized Elmhurst residents and preservation organizations to push for the landmarking status.

“Elmhurst is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City, with a history dating back to before the Revolutionary War, and it is being swallowed up by unscrupulous developers,” Quiroz said. “The clock is ticking and time is of the essence. We can no longer sit back and watch these cultural gems disappear from our landscape.”

The Elmhurst History & Cemeteries Preservation Society, Inside Elmhurst and Historic Districts Council and Perlman’s group are among the organizations advocating for landmark status of the Janta House.

“The Janta House, a largely intact historic gambrel home from 1911, is a significant cultural and architectural landmark in my eyes, as well as our communities, but it needs to be officially designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in the immediate future,” Perlman said. “A majority of landmarking requests in Queens and especially in communities such as Elmhurst, Rego Park and Forest Hills are rejected as an opportunity for a public hearing despite what we feel clearly measures up to the Landmarks Law and their mission statement. By viewing the largely intact Janta House, we have a chance to interact with a physical reminder of our history, educate ourselves, as well as appreciate its character, but demolishing it for another generic oversized development would be an insult to our culture, architectural history, a site with ties to the Holocaust, as well as the heroes who added chapters to our lives.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has evaluated the Janta House and will conduct further study, according to a spokesperson.

“An Anytown USA condo can be built on an empty lot and not in sacrifice of a site which is dear to our hearts,” Perlman added. “I would love to see the Janta House landmarked and adapted as a house museum and a site that continues to place the historic community of Elmhurst on the map.”

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