Relief in Jersey City for Polish Americans Over Katyn Memorial

The Katyn Memorial defenders with banners and the Polish flag in front of the monument. (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

In a December meeting Jersey City Council members voted 8-0 to not move the Katyn Memorial from Exchange Place, where it has stood for nearly 30 years commemorating 22,000 Poles massacred by Soviet troops in 1940, and – since 2001 – also the victims of 9/11.

“Congratulations to the Polish-American community,” said Councilman Michael Yun after the vote.

“I apologize for my voting earlier to relocate the monument. That plan was not acceptable for Jersey City in many ways,” said Rolando Lavarro, speaker of the City Council.

The unanimous decision of the City Council generated enthusiasm among the group of Polish Americans who had spent eight months fighting to keep the Katyn Memorial at Exchange Place. “Thank you, thank you,” could be heard around the chamber right after the vote.

“I am happy that everything turned around 180 degrees, and that the monument will stay in its original place, where it belongs,“ said sculptor Andrzej Pitynski, the creator of the bronze and granite statue that depicts a a soldier blindfolded and stabbed in the back with a rifle bayonet. He thanked the group of Polish Americans who devoted their time and energy to defend the statue.

“We have finally lived to the day when our battle to protect the Katyn Memorial is over. We have succeeded thanks to our determination, patience and perseverance. This decision is the City Council’s Christmas gift for us,” said Boguslawa Huang, principal of the Jozef Pilsudski Polish Saturday School in Jersey City, who has since the beginning been among the group of devoted defenders of the monument. The Katyn Memorial is where the students of her school have for many years performed at patriotic events.

“I am extremely happy and positively surprised that this time the Council unanimously voted to leave the statue in its place. I am happy to see that the City Council is on our side. This is just the beginning of the next chapter,” said Slawomir Platta, Esq., who initiated the battle to save the Katyn Monument from being relocated to a different spot.

“We need to think how to take care of it in the years to come,” added Janusze Sporek, chair of the Committee to Protect the Katyn Monument and Other Historical Objects. Platta added that he plans to engage major Polish-American organizations in the process of taking care of and maintaining the monument. “We will design a plan commissioning a group of Polish organizations to be patrons of the statue. We want to do it also in order to unify the Polonia and prevent further divisions over this issue. I want to show everyone that we can cooperate and work together,” said Mr. Platta.

The Katyn Memorial was funded and erected by Polish immigrants in the early 1990s. Since then it has been a place for patriotic celebrations and commemorations of World War II victims and later also of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which the monument was a witness of from across the Hudson River.

The City Council’s decision ended an eight-month-long battle for the monument. It started in April 2018 when Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced his plan to move the Katyn Memorial to another location or to storage in order to make way for a waterfront development project. The Polish community had since fought to save the monument from being relocated. There were protests, federal lawsuits, and a heated exchange of words between Mayor Steven Fulop and Poland’s Senate Speaker.

At first, one group of the monument defenders secured a deal with Mayor Fulop who agreed to have the monument moved 60 feet along the Hudson River bank; the other, not happy with the new location, decided to carry on fighting to have the monument stay in its place. Over a couple of weeks in early summer, the group lead by Polish-American lawyer Slawomir Platta collected signatures on a petition to the City Council. As a result of the petition, Jersey City lawmakers decided to put the issue on a referendum.

It was scheduled for Dec. 11, 2018. However, Mayor Fulop asked the Council to rescind its earlier decision to move the statue and cancel the referendum and focus on the introduction of a payroll tax.

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