A sculpture commemorating a tragic event in Polish history is back on public display in Buffalo City Hall. It remembers the victims of a Soviet-led massacre that took the lives of an estimated 22,000 people, including two born in Buffalo.
On September 17, 1939, less than three weeks after Nazi Germany invaded Poland to begin World War II, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. Over the next few weeks, the Soviets rounded up thousands of Polish military officers, professionals, intellectuals and imprisoned them. Then, in April and May of 1940, thousands were put to death at Katyń Forest and at other nearby locations by members of Soviet secret police.
The massacre was personally approved by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
In 1980, Buffalo artist Józef Sławiński created a copper sculpture honoring the dead. It was publicly displayed in City Hall until recently, when city officials removed it to have it cleaned and restored. On Thursday, a rededication ceremony was held and a veil was removed, showing the memorial back in its longtime location on a wall in City Hall's main lobby.
"The important thing about today's rededication is that we aren't just rededicating a newly-restored copper memorial. We are rededicating ourselves to remember the importance of human kindness to all people," said Mayor Byron Brown. "This sculpture is a reminder of the close connection of our community of Buffalo, Western New York and Poland."
The Katyń massacre has very close connections to Western New York. Two of the approximately 22,000 victims were from Buffalo. Henryk Adamski and Bogdan Dominik Fundalinski later moved to Poland and ended up among the military officers captured and executed.
Relatives of both victims were in City Hall to see the monument.
"I'm happy for this, that the City of Buffalo provides such a prominent and conspicuous place for this monument," said Robert Johnson, whose mother was a cousin of Adamski. "It really is a tribute to so many people. I don't think there was a family that was not touched by the evil time."
Other Western New Yorkers are people who arrived here as displaced persons whose loved ones were among those rounded up and slaughtered by the Soviets while they lived in Poland.
And yet, Katyń remains one of the lesser-known events from World War II and is completely unknown to many. Buffalo Common Councilmember Joseph Golombek, when he's not working in City Hall, teaches history at Buffalo State College. He says even many young people with Polish roots have no knowledge of Katyń.
"It's interesting that some of the students will look at me and say, 'I always thought that all these wars that were fought in the past were because of religion and all this other stuff," Golombek said. "I try to explain to them that in the 20th Century more people were killed in the name of political ideology than anything else."