Jersey City to relocate statue marking massacre of Poles
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JERSEY CITY, N.J. — An accord between the city and Polish Americans announced Monday is likely to settle a trans-Atlantic dispute over plans to uproot a memorial that some call heroic and tragic but others complain is too gruesome for a family setting.
The bronze statue depicting a Polish soldier gagged, bound and impaled in the back with a bayonet in the 1940 Soviet massacre will be moved to a new location on the Hudson River, sparing it from storage and an uncertain fate.
Nevertheless, the development angered some members of the local Polish community who said it will desecrate the remains of the soldiers it is meant to honor.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Polish consul general Maciej Golubiewski and members of a committee that curates the Katyn Memorial announced the agreement to catcalls and shouted epithets from a group of about three dozen protesters at City Hall.
The statue sits in a plaza at Exchange Place, next to a commuter rail stop and directly across the river from lower Manhattan. The new site is about a block south, where the statue would line up more directly with the 1 World Trade Center building.
Fulop had initially indicated he was considering putting the statue in storage while the Exchange Place plaza was being redeveloped and then making a decision to return it there or move it elsewhere. Under the agreement announced Monday, the Polish consul would be given the property for the new site for free under a 99-year lease.
“Our intentions were never to be disrespectful to the Polish community,” Fulop said. “Most people have probably walked by the monument for the last several years and probably didn’t appreciate the significance of what it meant. Certainly in the last two weeks, through the advocacy of the Polish community, that has changed. The goal of this is to give it the proper respect it is due, and at the same energize the waterfront.”
Opponents have accused Fulop of pandering to developers and of not soliciting opinions from the Polish community. Slawek Platta, a New York-based lawyer leading the protest against the move, said the monument contains remains and ashes of some of those who died in the massacre.
“Those souls of people buried there are a curse to the mayor for his actions,” Platta said. “We cannot let political games take over history.”
Fulop said it would cost roughly $250,000 to relocate the statue, and that the city would work with the Polish chamber of commerce in the U.S. to raise the money. The city council still has to sign off on the plan.
The memorial commemorates the 1940 Soviet massacre of tens of thousands of Polish officers with shots to the back of the head. It stands on a granite base containing soil from the Katyn Forest, where many victims were buried on the western edge of Russia.
Created by Polish-American monument sculptor Andrzej Pitynski, the statue has been a fixture since 1991.
The plans to remove the statue have also been a top news story in Poland, where many feel that it is revenge for the passage this year of a Polish law that makes it a crime to blame Poland for any of the Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany.
After Polish Senate Speaker Stanislaw Karczewski criticized the plan to move the statue, Fulop had tweeted that Karczewski is a Holocaust denier and “a known anti-Semite.” Karczewski called the comments “offensive” and “entirely untrue.”
Fulop’s maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. His grandmother was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, where more than 1 million people were murdered, mostly Jews. His grandfather spent time in a labor camp.
Karczewski said Monday he was pleased to hear the matter has been resolved. He also addressed reports that Fulop plans to visit Poland with his wife in the last week of June, a trip that would include a stop at Auschwitz.
“I am glad to hear that the person who has made unfounded and unfair statements about the Speaker of the Polish Senate and about all Poles has shown a change in the direction of the course of thinking, although without making an apology,” Karczewski told reporters. “I am pleased with that change and with the plans for visiting Poland and the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz.”
Associated Press writers Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, New Jersey, and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.