Preserving Memories

Preserving Memories – The Case of the Katyn Memorial

As photographers–or writers or creatives, in general–we get to capture moments, and preserve memories. For those familiar with the Katyn memorial in Jersey City, the memorial, itself, might soon become a memory.

Katyn Soldier Memorial in Jersey City.
Katyn Memorial in Jersey City with NYC as a backdrop. Flowers at the base of the memorial for the late Polish president who died in a plane crash in 2010 on his way to the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. Photo by Alina Oswald.

If you haven’t seen the Katyn memorial on the waterfront, in Jersey City, you should…and do so sooner rather than later, because it won’t be there for too much longer. Created by American-Polish sculptor Andrzej Pitynsky, the Katyn memorial was unveiled in the summer of 1991. From a distance, the 34-ft (10m) tall memorial seems almost lost against the Manhattan skyline, but one needs to take a much closer look to discover its power and beauty.

The Katyn memorial represents a bronze sculpture of a Polish soldier. He’s gagged and bound, with his back impaled by a bayoneted rifle. The soldier’s body is arched backward, his hands tied behind his back, his arms stretched, and his fingers spread as if reaching for air.

The pedestal contains Katyn soil. A bronze relief portraying the starvation of Polish individuals sent to Siberia is placed on one side of the pedestal; on another side, a plaque was added in 2004, to commemorate the victims of the September 11 attacks.

The Katyn Memorial in B&W on the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Tribute in Lights creates a backdrop for Katyn Memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Every year, on September 11, the Tribute Lights illuminating the sky that particular night, add to the symbolism of this magnificent statue. After all, the feelings it evokes are universal feelings, traversing space and time, from Katyn, 1940 to September 11, 2001…. In a way, they might resemble what and how some Jersey City residents might feel about the decision to remove the Katyn memorial, the decision to remove this memory, as powerful, painful, and as necessary as it is.

The Katyn Memorial in B&W on the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Tribute in Lights creates a backdrop for Katyn Memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald.

As photographers, artists, and storytellers, we capture memories. In this case, we get to capture the memory of a memory, so that it will never be forgotten.

I’ve photographed the Katyn memorial throughout the years, in particular on each September 11 night, as well as in 2010, when the late Polish president and others perished in a plane crash while on their way to the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, (a few images appeared on CNN iReport).

No matter what will happen, no matter where it will eventually end up, I am certain that at least some of us will never forget this beautiful, powerful (and, indeed, painful, uncomfortable) but so necessary memorial, and everything that it represents.

Hope you do stop by to take a closer look at the Katyn soldier memorial. And, as always, thanks for stopping by and visiting my blog!

Alina Oswald

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