In a letter to the editor, Jersey City teacher Kristen Zadroga Hart says that the Katyn memorial is “a stark reminder that history can repeat itself” and shouldn’t be moved.
Winston Churchill famously said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
My great-grandparents, Jas and Michaelina Checkowski, immigrated from Poland to pursue the American Dream. Jas was a butcher and Michaelina raised their three children in their Erie Street apartment, in a tight knit community among the thousands of others Poles who made that voyage through nearby Ellis Island.
They couldn’t imagine the atrocities their family and friends who didn’t take that voyage would face at the hands of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet secret police.
Tens of thousands of Polish military personnel, police officers and scholars were slaughtered in various locations and dumped in mass graves, most of which were in the Katyń National Forrest.
It left the Polish Army extremely depleted and was a precursor to the horror Poland would soon experience at the hands of Nazi Germany.
I vividly remember standing with my father, Richard Zadroga, at the foot of Montgomery Street when the Katyń Memorial was first unveiled. He used it as an opportunity to teach me about my history.
There was nothing gruesome about it. As a proud Polish-American, I am deeply bothered by the recent quote from the Exchange Place SID chairman and local developer when he said, “It’s a little gruesome…I can’t imagine how many mothers go by and have to explain it to their children.”
The insensitivity of this statement is astounding. Just a few paces over is a memorial commemorating the events of September 11th. Just up the block on Montgomery Street near City Hall is the fallen police officer’s memorial.
Would any of those be just as “inappropriate”? It is unfortunate that the reality of the Katyn Massacre does not fit his vision of a pocket park or a pedestrian plaza, however, to dismiss the history of the very people who helped to build Exchange Place and contributed to the fabric of Jersey City is disheartening.
It’s even more disheartening that our Mayor would capitulate to such a callous desire by a developer, but I can’t say I’m surprised anymore.
Mayor Fulop has repeatedly emphasized that he desires Jersey City to be a model for diversity, and he endeavors to make Jersey City a relevant community in the shadow of New York City.
By removing a memorial that has such significance to the Polish community beyond Jersey City is inconsistent with his stated objectives.
This entire issue wouldn’t be as problematic if the Mayor engaged in a dialogue with the community regarding a plan for the statues return.
Given the growing influence that Russia has demonstrated, particularly in the Trump Administration, I believe it is wholly appropriate to never forget history and using a public memorial like the Katyń Memorial aides in that education.
My hope is that the Katyń Memorial today can be looked on as a stark reminder that history can repeat itself, and the lives lost by such foreign aggression will never be forgotten.
Finally, Mayor Fulop needs to initiate a dialogue with the Polish community just as he would with any other ethnic community in Jersey City about the appropriate placement of our memorial.
Kristen Zadroga Hart
Jersey City teacher