US daily publishes life story of late Polish war heroine

According to NYT, Janta-Połczyńska served as a translator for the Americans stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. NYT

The New York Times (NYT) on Monday published a major article documenting the life of Walentyna Janta-Połczyńska, secretary and confidante to former WWII-era Polish Prime Minister in exile Władysław Sikorski, who passed away in New York in early April.

Janta-Połczyńska died on April 2 in Queens, New York, at the age of 107 and was one of the last surviving members of the Polish government-in-exile, formed after Nazi Germany invaded Poland.

When Poland was invaded in 1939, Janta-Połczyńska was studying English in London and was soon hired by the Polish embassy. Then, she was promoted to personal secretary to General Władysław Sikorski, the prime minister of the Polish government-in-exile and commander of the Free Polish Armed Forces, and became his confidante, NYT said.

The daily noted that Janta-Połczyńska, as the chief translator for the Polish cabinet, attended meetings with foreign leaders, including Winston Churchill.

She performed two intelligence roles for the Polish resistance movement. 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 prior to being deported to extermination camps.

Her second role was to assist in organising, and being one of the first announcers for, "Swit" (Eng. "Dawn"), a clandestine radio station that broadcast to Poland from an intelligence complex in England.

"Her last mission for General Sikorski was assisting in the organisation of his funeral arrangements; he was killed when his plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Gibraltar in July 1943," NYT wrote.

Walentyna Stocker (Walentyna Janta-Połczyńska) was born on February 1, 1913, in the city of Lviv, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now located in western Ukraine. Her father, Ludwik, worked in the mining industry and hailed from an English family that had initiated oil exploration in the region.

In 1939, she commenced studies in England and while there was briefly married to Wilhelm Pacewicz, a Polish navy officer.

"After the war, she was assigned to the Women’s Auxiliary Service and given the rank of second lieutenant in the Polish army," the daily wrote.

According to NYT, she served as a translator for the Americans stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. During this time she mostly debriefed Polish former prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates who had been victims of medical experiments.

In 1947, she emigrated to the United States with her mother (her father had died before the war). Two years later, she married the journalist and poet Aleksander Janta-Połczyński.

The couple lived in Buffalo, New York State, before opening their bookstore in New York City and transforming their home into a meeting place for the Polish émigré elite. Visitors included literary figures like Zbigniew Herbert, Jerzy Kosiński, Jan Kott and the Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz.

Janta-Połczyńska cooperated with numerous Polish organisations in the US, including the Józef Piłsudski Institute of America, a scientific research organisation and archive in Brooklyn, the Kościuszko Foundation and the American Center of Polish Culture in Manhattan.

After her husband died, she donated much of their collection of maps, documents, prints and manuscripts to the National Library in Warsaw, the daily wrote.

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.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, her funeral was held in private but was also streamed online. Her ashes are to be interred alongside her husband’s in Warsaw's Powązki cemetery, NYT said.

Welcome to The First News weekly newsletter

Every Friday catch up on our editor’s top pick of news about Poland, including politics, business, life and culture. To receive your free email subscription, sign up today.