Foxman: Jersey City Mayor Committed to ‘Respectable Place’ for Disputed Polish World War 2 Monument
The mayor of Jersey City wants to resolve the bitter row that erupted with the Polish government this week by finding a “respectable place” for a World War 2 monument that is being removed from the city’s waterfront redevelopment project, a prominent US Jewish leader told The Algemeiner on Friday.
Abraham Foxman, the national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League and the head of an antisemitism study program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, said that he had spoken with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop about resolving the dispute – sparked by the planned removal of a bronze and granite statue commemorating the 1940 mass executions of Polish army officers by the Soviet secret police in the Katyn forest.
Foxman said that Fulop – who became embroiled in a furious exchange on social media with top Polish officials this week after they claimed the Katyn monument was being permanently removed – had told him, “I commit to you, Abe Foxman, that I will find a respectable place for this monument.”
The monument, designed by the Polish-American artist Andrzej Pitynski, has stood in Jersey City’s Exchange Place since 1991. Pitynski also designed the main National Katyn Memorial, unveiled in Baltimore in 2000.
Earlier this week, Mike DeMarco, chair of the Exchange Place Special Improvement District in Jersey City, sparked fury in Poland when he told the Jersey Journal,“I don’t think the statue’s appropriate for a major metropolitan area.”
“It’s a little gruesome,” DeMarco said. “I can’t imagine how many mothers go by and have to explain it to their children.” The statue depicts a bound-and-gagged Polish soldier who has been stabbed in the back with a rifle bayonet.
More than 20,000 Polish officers were murdered by the Soviet NKVD in the Katyn forest during April and May 1940. For more than half a century, the USSR blamed the atrocity on Nazi Germany until 1990, when Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, admitted that the Soviet authorities had been responsible. Previously unseen documents released by Russia in 2010 showed that the order to carry out the executions had been signed by Lavrenti Beria, the feared head of Stalin’s secret police.
The Katyn slaughter has become a political lighting rod in post-communist Poland, with nationalist historians arguing vociferously that the massacres have not received the solemn commemoration they deserve, often invoking the attention that is paid to the Holocaust as a contrast. That debate has now crossed the Atlantic Ocean, with the speaker of the Polish Senate decrying the Jersey City authorities for having created “a really scandalous and very unpleasant situation for us.”
“Perhaps the Polish Senate will give a statement on this matter,” the speaker, Stanisław Karczewski, said on Thursday, regarding the monument’s removal. “Perhaps the Senate will adopt a resolution.”
Karczewski, who represents the ruling Law and Justice Party, has been a vocal supporter of the controversial amendment to Poland’s World War II commemoration legislation that makes it a criminal offense to publicly discuss Polish collusion with the Nazi occupation of 1939-45. The Jewish community in Poland that numbered three million – half of the total number of Holocaust victims – was systematically exterminated during this period.
Jersey City Mayor Fulop reacted angrily to Karczewski’s warning, denouncing the speaker as “a known antisemite, a known white nationalist, and a known Holocaust denier.”
“The only unpleasant thing is Senator Stanislaw. Period,” Fulop, the grandson of Auschwitz survivors, declared on Twitter. “I’ve always wanted to tell him that.” The comments were slammed by Poland’s Ambassador to the US, Piotr Wilczek, who told the mayor on Twitter, “your accusations regarding Speaker Karczewski are baseless and I categorically condemn them.”
Speaking to The Algemeiner, Foxman – who was hidden from the Nazis as child by his Polish Catholic nanny – urged Polish leaders to understand “that this is not about destruction, this is about finding another place” for the monument. “How many Jewish monuments have been removed or destroyed in Poland since the end of World War II?” he added.
“Katyn didn’t happen on the waterfront of Jersey City, so why build more rifts and crises with the Jewish community?” Foxman asked.