JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (AP) — An acrimonious battle over a waterfront statue commemorating the 1940 massacre of Poles moved into court on Tuesday, as local Polish groups asked a judge for a temporary restraining order to stop the city from moving the monument for a renovation, and possibly permanently.
The controversy over the Katyn memorial, a bronze statue that depicts a Polish soldier gagged, bound and impaled in the back with a bayonet, has sparked strong emotions in Poland, where Katyn is remembered as one of the worst tragedies to befall the nation in a long tragedy-filled history.
In recent days, plans to remove the statue have been a top news story in Poland, where many feel that it is revenge for the passage earlier this year of a new Polish law that makes it a crime to blame Poland for any of the Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany.
“This is the end for the mayor’s dance on our Polish fallen heroes’ monument,” said Slawek Platta, a New York-based attorney who is the plaintiff in the New Jersey legal action. “He has to respect 22,000 Polish soldiers killed, massacred, in Katyn. The Katyn Forest is a place where Polish blood was mixed with American blood. American pilots were also killed in the First World War in the same area. We have to respect that.”
The memorial is scheduled to be moved for a renovation of the plaza where it stands, on the waterfront across from downtown New York City. The head of the group organizing the renovation has called the statue “gruesome” and has said he prefers that it get a new home, according to published reports.
2 be clear 1) the statue is 100% being MOVED to the place it was supposed to be per 1986 ordinance 2) senior ppl of the polish govt reached out + I won’t meet w/ppl that try to rewrite history on their country’s role in a Holocaust 3) the only ppl I answer to is Jersey City -done https://t.co/P249eHFBRb
— Steven Fulop (@StevenFulop) May 5, 2018
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop tweeted on Saturday that the statue is “100% being MOVED to the place it was supposed to be per 1986 ordinance.” Three city council members who spoke at a news conference disputed that assessment and said Fulop can’t unilaterally move the statue without their approval.
“They can work around the statue; it’s not that much of a problem,” Councilman Richard Boggiano said. “I believe this will all be worked out.”
Fulop called the lawsuit “political grandstanding” devoid of valid legal grounds.
“Imagine the precedence if a court ruled that once a statue is in a place it is entitled to that location for eternity,” he said Tuesday through a spokeswoman. “The reality is that we remain committed to building a park for Jersey City residents here and placing a statue at a new location in Jersey City.”
Fulop has engaged in verbal skirmishes extending across the Atlantic Ocean. After Polish Senate Speaker Stanislaw Karczewski criticized the plan to move the statue, Fulop tweeted that Karczewski is a Holocaust denier and “a known anti-Semite.” Karczewski called the comments “offensive” and “entirely untrue.”
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 https://t.co/xG0MUHiaIJ
— Steven Fulop (@StevenFulop) May 3, 2018
On Tuesday, Leslaw Piszewski, head of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, said Fulop’s characterization of Karczewski was baseless was “very improper.”
“He is not an anti-Semite, something he has shown many times. He supports our efforts to combat anti-Semitism,” Piszewski told The Associated Press. “I don’t know why the mayor of the city reacted in such a vulgar and improper way when Karczewski is not guilty of anything.”
Andrzej Pawluszek, an adviser to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, said Tuesday, “In Katyn, Soviets killed not only thousands of Polish people but also hundreds of Jews. Mayor Fulop should remember that his actions are disrespectful to both nations ”
The Jewish community also weighed in on the matter, recalling that among Katyn’s victims was the Chief Rabbi of the Polish Army, Baruch Steinberg.
“All were Polish soldiers who fought together against the common enemy, were murdered together and lie together in the Katyn mass grave,” the Jewish Community of Poland said in a statement. “They had a common fate and their common remembrance should unite.”