A statue of beloved Polish Catholic priest, Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, was found vandalized last week in the square bearing his name near McCarren Park. The statue and its surrounding area, usually home to flowers and religious paraphernalia, was littered with garbage, with a trash bag placed over the bust of Popiełuszko. Following the incident, a vigil on Saturday, May 8 took place near the statue, gathering 25 people to celebrate Popiełuszko’s legacy.
“If we save this place in our park as a meeting point, a place of rest, and a place where good grows, Father Jerzy’s message will be fulfilled – a message and a dream to overcome evil with good,” said Konstancja Maleszyńska, the Greenpoint resident who organized the vigil.
Father Jerzy Popiełuszko was a strident anti-communist known for his work with the Solidarity workers’ rights movement in Poland at a time of complete Communist domination. He was murdered in 1984 by secret security forces and later made a martyr and beatified by the Catholic Church. Shortly after his death, the square on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint was dedicated in his honor in 1985.
This is not the first time that the statue was vandalized. When the statue was first commemorated in 1990, it was soon defaced with pro-communist sentiment spray-painted in Polish, with Popieluszko’s head severed. The severed head later found a permanent home at nearby St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. After the restoration of the statue in 1992, an alleged 11,000 people showed up at the rededication ceremony. The statue had been defaced several times over the past few years. The motives, if any, are less clear for this most recent incident.
“Those who did this probably don’t realize that thousands of “Solidarity” freedom fighters still live in New York City and in Greenpoint, they are part of our communities and this statue symbolizes their struggle against communism that ultimately brought freedom to the whole Eastern Europe,” said local Polish community activist Gregory Fryc. “This constant vandalism is especially hurtful to them and all who suffered under communism, it’s un-American.”
Some Polish community members hope to see permanent security cameras installed in the square so as to deter another incident. On Facebook, the Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union pledged the funds necessary to restore the statue and 24/7 provide video monitoring.
The statue of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko is unfortunately not the only monument to the Polish community that has been defaced in recent years. A mural commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising was vandalized in 2014. The Warsaw Uprising was a major offensive led by Polish resistance fighters against the Nazi German forces. An estimated 150,000 – 200,000 Polish civilians died as a result, so the memorial was particularly meaningful to the Polish community in Greenpoint. The Polish-American artist Rafal Pisarczyk created the mural, located on Driggs Avenue outside of the Polish National Home.
Local Polish-American community groups have worked together with the New York office of the Polish Consulate to host a “Rally Against Polish-American Hate” this upcoming Saturday May 15 from 1-3pm. The rally will host speakers including Adrian Kubicki, the Consul General of the Republic of Poland in New York and Witold Mroziewski, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Brooklyn Diocese. The rally will take place at McCarren Park.
The Hate Crimes division of the NYPD is investigating the incident and encourages anyone with information to contact 1-800-577-TIPS(8477).