JERSEY CITY, United States (AP) — Poland’s president met Wednesday with a New Jersey mayor who stirred controversy recently by making plans to move a statue honoring Polish World War II victims, with the two men having a brief exchange the US mayor described as “straightforward and spontaneous” about the memorial’s importance and its impending fate.
Polish President Andrzej Duda placed a wreath at the Katyn memorial, a statue next to the Hudson River depicting a soldier bound and stabbed with a bayonet that honors the estimated 22,000 Poles massacred by Soviet troops in 1940.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s recent announcement that he would put the statue in storage during a planned redevelopment of the waterfront plaza where the statue sits stirred protests from some in the local Polish community, who said moving the statue would desecrate the remains of those it means to honor.
During a contentious news conference on Monday, Fulop and Polish consul general Maciej Golubiewski announced an agreement to move the statue a short distance south along the waterfront.
Several dozen people gathered near the memorial Wednesday, holding Polish flags and singing the Polish national anthem when Duda arrived to greet Fulop. Some in the crowd shouted “Shame! Shame!”
Duda didn’t speak to reporters, but Fulop said Duda gave him a book in English that described the monument’s history, and reinforced the importance of the memorial to Poles.
“It was a fairly straightforward, spontaneous conversation,” Fulop said. “He said, ‘I’d prefer for it to stay here, but if that’s not possible then it needs to be in a place that is dignified and respected.’ And I said to him, ‘That is our commitment.'”
Jersey City’s council is expected to take up the matter next week.
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.
Fulop’s initial comments in recent weeks about moving the monument provoked some trans-Atlantic verbal jousting with Polish Senate Speaker Stanislaw Karczewski. After Karczewski criticized the plan, Fulop 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.
“I understand the importance of this to the Polish community, and we’re looking forward to making sure we finish with a resolution that everybody’s satisfied with,” Fulop said Wednesday.