Voters to Decide Fate of Statue Marking Massacre of Poles

jersey city statue
Aa statue dedicated to the victims of the Katyn massacre of 1940, in Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Voters in a New Jersey community will decide whether to relocate a statue honoring Polish World War II victims after city council members took a pass on a dispute that has galvanized the local Polish community and reached across the Atlantic to the highest levels of Poland’s government.

Jersey City’s governing body had been due to vote Wednesday night on whether to repeal their June decision to move the Katyn Memorial. But the measure didn’t get the five votes it needed to pass because five of the nine City Council members abstained.

A special election will be held sometime later this year.

The Katyn Memorial, depicting a soldier bound and stabbed with a bayonet, honors the estimated 22,000 Poles massacred by Soviet troops in 1940. It has stood at Exchange Place, across the Hudson River in downtown Jersey City, for three decades. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has advocated moving the statue because of a planned redevelopment of the waterfront plaza.

“The administration is on the same page as the council to let the voters decide,” a spokeswoman for Fulop said Thursday. “The Mayor’s personal opinion is that he thinks moving the statue 30 yards in exchange for a free park and a free $2 million donation to the city is a good thing for Jersey City, but he feels even more strongly that the public deciding is a good thing either way.”

A federal lawsuit seeking to block the statue’s relocation is continuing in federal court. William Matsikoudis, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in that action, said in an email Thursday that “the petitioners showed great determination and commitment to the cause of keeping this important monument in the special place it’s been for decades, and I am pleased that the law is being followed to finally determine where the statue will be.”

During a visit to the U.S. in May, Polish President Andrzej Duda placed a wreath at the memorial and had what Fulop later called a “straightforward and spontaneous” exchange with him about the statue’s importance.

Prior to that, Fulop had tweeted that Polish Senate Speaker Stanislaw Karczewski was a Holocaust denier and “a known anti-Semite” after Karczewski criticized the plan to move the statue. Karczewski responded by calling 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.