I have to admit, when I first saw this sculpture, I had a humorous thought. I’m standing in Jersey City, looking at the skyscrapers across the river in Manhattan, and this sculpture seemed to be giving a warning: if you venture in NYC to compete with the biggest and the best, be prepared to be stabbed in the back. I can’t say that’s based on any personal experience, as I rather enjoyed my 10 years of living in NYC, but the thought did pop into my head when I saw the position of this sculpture in relation to the view of Manhattan in the distance.
Okay, beyond the specifics of my imagination, what is this sculpture really about? Of course there’s nothing funny about the original meaning, so never mind my first thought. It’s the Katyń Memorial, created by Polish-American sculptor Andrzej Pitynski. It’s a memorial to the thousands of Polish prisoners who were massacred by order of Joseph Stalin in April and May 1940 after Soviet Union troops had invaded eastern Poland. Though the killings took place at several different locations, the massacre is named after the Katyń Forest, where some of the mass graves were first discovered.
But my next question is: what’s the significance of this memorial in Jersey City? A Jersey City factory worker named Stanley Paszul was the driving force behind the sculpture and getting it installed on the massacre’s 51st anniversary in 1991. Mr. Paszul (who passed away in 2008) was a Polish immigrant and a former soldier in the Polish resistance during WWII. He was arrested by the Soviet Union’s secret police and spent 11 years in Soviet custody, much of it at a Siberian work camp. So there’s no specific connection to Jersey City as being the reason for the location of this memorial there, other than being the result of Mr. Paszul’s efforts.
The sculpture/memorial was “assigned” a secondary meaning in 2004, as a 9/11 plaque was attached to the front side of the sculpture base, as you can see below. The text reads: “Never forget! Pray for all the innocent victims and heroes who died in the terrorist attack on America, September 11, 2001.”