Plans to move a monument in Jersey City commemorating the victims of World War II’s Katyn Forest massacre sparked protests among people of Polish descent living in the United States, as well as Polish politicians and representatives of the Polish-Jewish community.
The monument commemorating the massacre created by Polish-American sculptor Andrzej Pitynski, has stood in Jersey City’s Exchange Place on the bank of the Hudson River since 1991, but is set to be removed due to work a waterfront redevelopment project.
In 1940, the Soviet secret police murdered over 20,000 captured Polish citizens, including soldiers and police officers, in the Katyn Forest in western Russia. Several hundred of the victims were Jewish. The execution was carried out with a gunshot to the back of the head. Mass graves were discovered by the Germans in 1943, and the Soviet Union initially did not admit to committing the crime, blaming the Nazis instead. It was not until 1990 that the Russian authorities recognized that it was “one of the grave crimes of Stalinism.”
The bronze and granite statue shows a tied-up Polish soldier who has been stabbed in the back with a rifle bayonet.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has asserted that the city is not removing the monument completely, rather putting it in storage until the park planned for the area on which it sits is completed. But some city officials say the monument may be moved to a new site, so that children visiting the park are not confronted with the brutal murder scene.
Polish senator Stanisław Karczewski in an interview with Polish Radio called the decision to relocate the monument “scandalous,” saying that it “speaks of Polish heroism, Polish heroes, and also speaks of tragic events.”
Fulop, tweeting in response, called Karczewski a “known anti-Semite, white nationalist and Holocaust denier.” He added: “I always wanted to tell him that.”
Here is truth to power outside of a monument. All I can say is this guy is a joke. The fact is that a known anti-Semite, white nationalist + holocaust denier like him has zero credibility. The only unpleasant thing is Senator Stanislaw. Period. I’ve always wanted to tell him that.
— Steven Fulop (@StevenFulop) May 3, 2018
In a letter sent to Fulop on Friday, Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek called on the mayor to apologize. “Your statements were false, hurtful, and unbefitting of international dialogue between office holders of two Allied countries,” he wrote in the letter. “Let us clear the air and refocus our attention to the task at hand: constructive dialogue to find a solution that does not involve the permanent location of the Katyn Memorial.”
Fulop said that does not intend to apologize. He emphasized in another tweet that he won’t meet with people “that try to rewrite history on their country’s role in a Holocaust.”
Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, President of Warsaw Jewish community Anna Chipczynska and President of the Union of Jewish Communities Leslaw Piszewski, said in a statement that they “don’t understand, and disagree with, the plans to remove the monument dedicated to Katyn victims” and as members of the Polish community they “consider it a moral obligation to commemorate all the victims of this crime in Poland and around the world, including Jersey City.”