Poland to take action over Jersey City Katyń memorial removal

The Katyń massacre memorial in Jersey City, NJ. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

The Polish Foreign Ministry is undertaking various campaigns in connection with a disputed plan to remove a monument to the Katyń massacre from Jersey City, Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said on Monday.

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“This is an unpleasant thing because, indeed, the mayor [of Jersey City] Steven Fulop has issued statements that are quite offensive to Polish representatives,” the minister said.

Mr Czaputowicz stressed he was “in constant contact” with the Polish ambassador in Washington and the consul general in New York and “various campaigns” are being undertaken. At the same time, he said that the possibilities of government institutions to influence independent local governments are “limited”.

“A letter has been sent, it has not been accepted ... we are supporting the Polish community’s campaigns in this case, we are also taking certain legal steps – to immediately stop the monument's removal,” the foreign minister pointed out.

Polish Minister of Defence Mariusz Błaszczak told a public radio broadcaster on Monday that plans to transfer the Katyń Monument in Jersey City are a manifestation of anti-Polish attitudes and blaming Poles for crimes committed by the Germans during WWII.

He expressed hope that the dispute over the memorial will be an opportunity to show “Poland's clear position in this matter”. “We must take decisive action so that everything related to the Katyn genocide is recognised and respected internationally,” he said.

The Katyń Monument is located in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Exchange Place. Americans of Polish descent from New Jersey and New York chose it as a site for gatherings on the anniversary of the Katyn massacre, and more recently also the 2010 Smolensk crash of a Polish government jet that killed 96 people including President Lech Kaczyński and top government officials. The delegation was on its way to nearby Katyn in western Russia to attend events marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre.

Last Monday, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced plans to build a park on the grounds on which the memorial stands, and the monument's temporary move to the city's Department of Public Works. Plans to move the memorial, which commemorates 1940 mass executions of 22,000 Polish POWs by the Soviets in west Russia's Katyn Forest, evoked a strong response from the local Polish community, which had not been consulted about the plans.

An offshoot issue in the conflict is an exchange between Mr Fulop and Polish Senate Speaker Staniłlaw Karczewski, who on Thursday announced plans to write to the Jersey City mayor in the matter. In a tweeted response to Mr Karczewski's idea, Fulop called the Polish politician “a known anti-Semite, white nationalist and Holocaust denier” with “zero credibility”, and said he was “the only unpleasant thing” in the affair.

“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 Stanisław. Period. I’ve always wanted to tell him that,” Fulop tweeted.

On Saturday, Poland's Senate speaker called Jersey City mayor's remarks “offensive”. He said that the charges are “very strong and entirely untrue” and announced he would take legal steps over the Jersey City mayor's Tweet.