“Never forget! Pray for all the innocent victims and heroes who died during the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.” These words appear on Andrzej Pitynski’s bas-relief mounted on a granite base of his KATYN 1940 monument in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“Never forget! Pray for all the innocent victims and heroes who died during the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.” The plaque in English with these words is found on Andrzej Pitynski’s bas-relief, which is mounted on a granite base of his KATYN 1940 monument. This powerful monument stands in Jersey City on the Hudson River on the opposite side of Manhattan, New York. The bas-relief, in a symbolic manner seen from the perspective of the monument’s location, depicts one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the United States, the terrorist attack on the towers of the World Trade Center.
The plaque which was funded by a veteran who initiated the building of the Katyn Monument in Jersey City, Stanislaw Paszul, was officially unveiled almost exactly on the third anniversary of the New York tragedy, on September 12, 2004, by the Mayor of Jersey City, Harvey Smith. Arising from the horizon of Manhattan, the bas-relief depicts the figure of the Mother of God who embraces with her arms the burning towers of the World trade Center. The idea for the plaque was born almost immediately after the attack of September 11, 200l. It was then that Pitynski, working under the great impact of these dramatic events, spontaneously executed a sketch of the bas-relief which he called “Our Lady of New York.” At the same time as the New York tragedy was taking place, the artist was finishing the Stations of the Cross which he was creating for the Pauline Fathers of Doylestown. It was not coincidental that his vision of Our Lady of New York, encircling with her arms the towers of the WTC, resulted directly from the artist’s meditations on Christ’s Way of the Cross. Our Lady in his XII station, “Jesus Dies on the Cross” from Doylestown, embraces the cross of Christ exactly in the same manner as in his bas-relief from Jersey City.
Our Lady of New York does not cry but is compassionate and takes into her care the victims of the tragedy. She embraces the WTC towers with the same love as the cross on which her Son hung and died. She hugs them to herself as if she wished to keep the tragedy away. However, she knows that just as she could not prevent the death of her own Son, neither can she halt the approaching tragedy. She cannot prevent the death of the people trapped in the WTC skyscrapers. Just as she stood under the cross of her Son, so now she is also with those who are dying in horrible suffering in New York. She takes into her arms the offering which the whole American nation laid down. Pitynski’s vision, shown in the bas-relief is a symbol of suffering of the American nation which, for the first time in its history, was attacked in such a brutal way on its own soil. The XI station of the Cross “Jesus is nailed to the Cross” seems to be for the American nation. “Jesus Falls for the Third Time” is the IX Station of the Cross. The terrorists attacked the United State three times. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that the terrorists chose the 11th of September as the date of their criminal act.
The bas-relief is made of bronze using the lost wax casting method which allowed the artist to execute it with geat diligence and attention to every detail. This successive monument, after Our Lady of the Home Army whose likeness is found in American Czestochowa, the Holy Spirit Church, and on the monument of the Redoubt Uprising in Warsaw, as well as in the church in Cape Town in South Africa, are unusual depictions of the Mother of Christ authored by Pitynski. Also in this instance, in order to enforce his artistic vision of the world, he knowingly changed the traditional symbols of Christian iconography by giving them new meaning. On Mary’s neck is a medallion with the American eagle. Her robes are decorated with fifty small, 5-point stars from the American national flag, symbolizing the fifty American states, as well as a decorative circle with inscriptions such as the United States, Freedom, and the abbreviation for New York State, and New York City.
It is completed with the unusual aureole and inscription, “United States of America” and surrounded with their fifteen stripes, symbols of the first thirteen states of the United States. Our lady of New York in Pitynski’s vision is a symbol of the 200-year history of the American nation, its highest values, freedom and democracy which radiate from America to the whole world. Seeing the scars on Mary’s face Poles immediately see the vision of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Pitynski’s bas-relief shows not two but three scars on the cheek which symbolize three wounds, places on the American soil where the airplanes hit – New York, Washington, D.C. and in Pennsylvania.
From the moment that the Our Lady of New York project came into being to the time of its realization in bronze, three years had passed. They placed Our Lady of New York on the foundation of the Katyn Monument in Jersey City in the place where Pitynski envisioned it. Situating the bas-relief of Our Lady in this position was for the sculptor the fulfillment of his artistic vision.
The monument “Katyn 1940” in Jersey City from the very beginning aroused much controversy. Many people found fault with Pitynski in that his monument was too forceful, too tragic and completely unsuited to such a representative place. In the perception of many people the depiction of a soldier with a bayonette in his back was unacceptable. Only the events of September 11, 2001 enlightened all those who were unable to understand the almost prophetic, artistic vision of Pitynski of how important this moment is to the history of world art.
In the context of what happened on September 11th, even Pitynski’s biggest critics, bowed their heads and had to admit that he was right. They paid homage to his artistic genius, to his artistic vision. The editor-in-chief of “Nowy Dziennik” Boleslaw Wierzbianski, during the promotion at the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York of the album, “ New York,” where the Katyn Monument was displayed on its cover with the WTC in the background, admitted that the symbolism of the moment and the impact of that which occurred on September 11th, is the same. The album, put out by the BOSZ Publishing House, was a collection of photographs of New York authored by Jerzy Habdas. His section was dedicated to the events of September 11 which took place in New York.
The introduction to the album was written by the well-known Polish dramaturge, Janusz Glowacki, who lived in the United States for many years, also mentioned in his text the Katyn monument in Jersey City: Pitynski’s vision manifested in the monument in his artistic form, being a symbiosis of art, politics and history, after the events of September 11, 2001 exploded, resounding with redoubled strength. For those who had seen Pitynski’s monument in the background of the burning WTC towers his symbolism, suddenly, became apparent.
There are clear analogies between what happened to the Polish nation in 1939 and 1940 and what happened on September 11 to the American people in New York. Pitynski’s monument is a great symbol, a link between the drama of the cunning attacks on the Polish and the American nations. The motives that led these criminals were the same. The goal was the same: to hit that which was dearest, that which was worth the most in the nation, something that was the symbol of value and pride. It is not possible to destroy the whole nation, but it is necessary to hit and destroy that which is most precious.
In 1939, as a result of the conspiracy of two big nations, the Polish nation was to disappear from the map of Europe. As their first goal, Germany and Soviet Union chose to destroy the intellectual elite of Poland, the flower of Polish intelligentsia. The arrests and murders of the best Polish professors from the Jagiellonian and Lwów Universities by the Gestapo and the annihilation of thousands of Polish officers according to the Katyn Execution Order by the Soviet NKVD began a planned, cold and calculated extermination of the Polish nation. It was the deadly blow from which Poland cannot recover to this day.
On September 11, 2001 the deadly blow was also given to the American nation. The very heart of America was struck. The enemy chose a symbol of success of American economy and prosperity, the towers of the World Trade Center, and the center of her military power, the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C. The enemy decided also to hit the heart of the free democratic world, to cut the roots of the free market economy. The enemy aimed to shake the system built through the efforts of many generations of Americans.
The symbol of a rifle bayonet driven into the back of a soldier that stood out against the flames of the WTC towers into which the planes coming from this very direction had crashed is too powerful not to let us see the analogy of the two events. At this very moment a vision was born in the mind and heart of the artist. His artistic depiction, dedicated to events which occurred years ago in Europe, gained new expression on the American soil in 2001. It, probably, is not a coincidence that the sculptor, Pitynski, having Polish roots, growing up with the traditions of his nation, and experiencing the tragedy of the 1st and the 17th of September, 1939, that he created in his new home on American soil a monument which became a prophetic mark for the United States. Many years earlier, the Polish artist warned by means of his monument, that crime has an unlimited reach. On American soil he created a monument with a universal message, warning the world against tolerating evil and crime. His work proves how much meaning the art has in the history of nations and what great values it represents.
Hatred was, and continues to be, the basis of the criminal motivation. The same hatred, which led to the crucifixion of Christ, led to crime and to terrorist acts. The events of September 11, 2001 were not only a common tragedy, but a heinous crime planned in cold blood. The thrust of the sword in the back, just like the hit with the airplane, extinguished the lives of thousands of people. Facing impending death, the people in the flaming towers felt just as helpless as the Polish officers who were murdered in Katyn. Just as the young Polish officer from Pitynski’s monument fought to the end, believing he would be saved, similarly, the people running from flames, and jumping from windows, hoped for another moment of life. They wished to live to the very end. The lips of the Polish officers were tied so that their cries would not reach anyone. The cries of the people jumping from windows were not heard by anyone except God. Thousands of Polish officers never returned to their beloved families. Remembrance of their sacrifice was never lost in the Polish nation. Those who died in the ruins of the WTC and the Pentagon did not return to their homes, to their wives, husbands, nor to their children who anxiously awaited them that day. Just like in the Polish nation there is a living memory of those who were brutally murdered in a treacherous and ignoble way, the memory of the American nation about those who gave their lives in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, will never fade. Just like the scars on the cheek of Our Lady, the wounds inflicted on the American nation that day will never be forgotten.
At the initiative of the Fr. Lucjan Terasinski, then pastor of St. Stanislaus Church in Manhattan, Poland’s “Our Lady of New York” dedicated to the memory of the Polish people who died in the attacks at the WTC was unveiled on the façade of the St. Stanislaus Church in Manhattan and blessed. The ceremony took place on September 11, 2005 on the fourth anniversary of the WTC attacks. The following names are engraved on the bas-reliefof Our Lady of New York: Maria Jakubiak, Lukasz Milewski, Dorota Kopiczko, Anna Pietkiewicz-De-Bin, Jan Maciejewski, Norbert Szurkowski, Jozef Piskadlo.
Written by Dr. Witold Zych
This article and the photographs have been made available curtesy of Pomnik Smolensk