On the anniversary of 11 September 2001

Our Lady of New York

Witold Zych

'Never forget! Pray for all the innocent victims and heroes who died in the terrorist attack on America, September 11, 2001'. These words have been engraved on a low relief made by Andrzej Pitynski and affixed on a granite base of his Katyn 1940 Memorial. The monument is in Jersey City on the Hudson River, opposite Manhattan. The plaque shows in a symbolic way, and as seen from the perspective of the place the monument is situated, one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the United States, namely the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Almost exactly on the third anniversary of the New York tragedy, Harvey Smith, mayor of Jersey City, solemnly unveiled the memorial plaque, donated by Stanislaw Paszul, veteran of World War II, who initiated the construction of the Katyn Monument. The plaque depicts the Mother of God, immerging from above the horizon of Manhattan, who holds the burning towers. The idea of the plaque was born just after the attack of 11 September 2001. Pitynski was deeply moved by the drama that took place on the American land and made a spontaneous sketch of the plaque, which he called Our Lady of New York.
Our Lady of New York does not cry but is full of compassion and care for the victims of the tragedy. She holds the burning Twin Towers with the same love as she held the Cross on which her Son hung and died. She holds them as if she did not want to make them destroyed. As she stood at the feet of the Cross of her Son she is now with those who are dying in the horrible suffering in New York. She holds the sacrifice the whole American nation made. The vision of Pitynski, depicted on the low relief, constitutes a symbol of suffering of the American nation that was so brutally attacked for the first time in its history and in its territory. The relief is made of bronze.
This is another extraordinary presentation of the Mother of Christ by Pitynski, besides the Akowska Mother of God, placed in the American Czestochowa, in the Holy Spirit Church and the Monument to the Warsaw Rising in Warsaw. The artist deliberately changed the traditional symbols of Christian iconography in order to strengthen the expression of his artistic vision, which he did in other works as well. Mary's robe is decorated with 50 five-pointed stars of the American flag, symbols of 50 American states, and a decorative border with the words: USA, Liberty and NYC. The whole picture is completed with a unique presentation of the halo with the inscribed words: United States of America, surrounded by 13 beams, symbols of the first thirteen states of America. Seeing the scars on Mary's face, we, Poles, naturally envisage the picture of our lady of Czestochowa. However, Mary on Pitynski's relief has not two scars but three scars, which symbolize three wounds, three places on the American land, where the planes crashed: New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Three years passed from the origin of the project of our Lady of New York to its realization in bronze. The Mother of God was placed on the base of the Katyn Memorial, the place Pitynski intended from the beginning. Its placing completed the sculptor's artistic vision. Realising his Katyn Monument in 1999 he said, 'I am making a monument to one of the most tragic crimes in the history of mankind on the Polish nation, a double crime because it was silenced for over 50 years by Eastern and Western politicians'. The main element of the monument is a young Polish officer in the uhlan's uniform, tied, gagged, bayoneted Soviet rifle sprung from his back. The base of the monument holds ashes of the murdered soldiers in Katyn in an urn having the shape of the Polish Army Eagle, and in the low relief 'Siberia', presenting a Polish family on their way to Siberia, there is an urn with ashes and soil from the Polish graves in Siberia.
The origin of the monument was not simple. In spite of the involvement of Anthony Cucci, mayor of Jersey City, who spoke about the monument and the place it was to stand, 'With pride and honour let us assign this place for this wonderful historical monument. Our town will become famous for it, we will become part of history and pay homage to those who died for the cause of faith in freedom of the world', the next town authorities were not in favour of the monument, which was to present such controversial topics in such a representative place. The local papers reported about the plans to place the monument somewhere else. They accused the artist that his work was too strong, too tragic, and simply unsuitable in such a representative place of the town. Many people could not accept a vision of a soldier, with a bayoneted rifle sprung from his back. It was only the events of 11 September 2001 that made all those who could not understand the almost prophetic artistic vision of Pitynski realized how important this monument was in the history of international art. There are clear analogies between what happened to the Polish nation in 1939 and 1940 and that what occurred on 11 September 2001 in New York City. Pitynski's monument is a clear symbol - link showing the drama of the Polish and American nations that were insidiously attacked. The murderers' motifs were the same. The aim was the same: to strike the nation. The first aim of Germany and Russia was to destroy the intellectual elite of Poland. The arrest and murder of the professors of the Jagiellonian University and the University of Lvow by the Gestapo and the Soviet NKWD, and then the mass murder of thousands of Polish officers in Katyn were the beginning of the fight against the Polish nation, which was planned in a coldly calculated manner.
On September 11 the American nation also took a mortal blow. The target was the symbol of the success of the US economy and prosperity - the towers of the World Trade Center and the centre of US military power - Pentagon in Washington. The terrorists decided to hit the heart of the free democratic country, cut the roots of the free market economy and to shake the system, which was built by the efforts of American generations.
The work by Pitynski, dedicated to the events that had happened in Europe many years ago, acquired a completely new significance in the context of the event on 11 September 2001. It was not a coincidence that Pitynski, artist of Polish background and tradition, son of the nation, which experienced the tragedy of 1 and 17 September 1939, realized his project on the American land, in his new homeland, the monument that became almost a prophetic sign for the United States, warning people that crime can reach everywhere.
Just like the Polish nation cherishes the vivid memory about those who were treacherously and disgracefully killed for several years the American nation will never erase the memory of those who gave their lives in the terrorists' attacks on 11 September 2001. As the scars of the Virgin Mary never disappear, the wounds the American nation, received on that day, will never heal.

Janusz Glowacki, known Polish dramatist who has lived in America for many years, wrote in his introduction to the album 'New York', a collection of photographs by Jerzy Habdas, with the cover of the Katyn Memorial on the background of the WTC, 'Pitynski's vision, realized in the monument, being in its artistic form a symbiosis of art, politics and history, broke out and sounded with a double strength after the events of 11 September 2001. Suddenly, those who have seen Pitynski's monument on the background of the burning Twin Towers clearly understood its symbolism'.

"Niedziela" 37/2005

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl