There are many landmarks along the Hudson River that will never be moved, but a plan to relocate a memorial in Exchange Place has created a controversy that’s gotten ugly and is now heading to court.
The latest clash along the waterfront started last week, when the Exchange Place Alliance Special Improvement District announced plans to renovate a plaza situated between the neighborhood’s PATH and Light Rail stations. The project will create more green space and recreational areas but will require moving the Katyn Memorial.
The 34-foot tall bronze statue, first unveiled in 1991, depicts a bound-and-gagged solider being stabbed in the back by a bayonet that commemorates the massacre of over 22,000 Polish prisoners in 1940 that was ordered by Joseph Stalin. The renovation plan had called for temporarily moving the statue, but Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop tweeted over the weekend that the Katyn Memorial will be permanently moved three blocks away to a location outside of the Post Office.
Officials in Poland voiced their displeasure with the move, and Fulop’s tweets have gotten personal. The Mayor called Polish Senate Speaker Stanislaw Karczewski a “known anti-Semite, white nationalist + holocaust denier” with “zero credibility” and added that “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.”
The heated rhetoric has been returned to Fulop in the form of negative comments on his social media accounts relating to the memorial being moved, although how much of that is driven by “troll” accounts is up for debate. Nonetheless, a lawsuit was filed on Tuesday over the memorial’s removal seeking a temporary restraining order that would keep it right where it is.
Filed in Federal Court by four Polish Americans, the complaint claims that Fulop’s action to move the memorial “has unlawfully sought to usurp the City Council’s authority and move the Katyn Memorial without any public input.” One of the plaintiffs in that case is Andrzej Pitynski, the sculptor who designed the memorial itself.
Representing the plaintiffs in the case is Bill Matsikoudis, who unsuccessfully ran against Fulop for Mayor last November. Matsikoudis told the Jersey Journal that Fulop’s move on the Katyn Memorial is “acting in conjunction with real estate developers” and argued that the Mayor is “governing by Twitter in a way that is misleading.”
While the war of words has continued on social media, Polish Radio reported yesterday that Fulop appears to have softened his stance towards moving the memorial a bit. That outlet quoted him as saying “my commitment to the community is that we will conduct a formal meeting with you prior to the monument being re-situated anywhere and I can commit to you that we will place it back in the public view in a respected location in the city.”
A temporary stay was placed on moving the memorial for now as the case winds through the courts, but some staging appears to have already begun in Exchange Place regarding the plaza’s renovation. When exactly the renovation will commence and what it will look like isn’t immediately clear, as no detailed plans have been released about the project.