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Memorial to honor lives taken by Stalin's order; Sculpture to mourn Poles killed in World War II


Builders of what will be the tallest sculpture in Baltimore -- a bronze memorial more than five stories tall to honor thousands of Polish Army officers and intellectuals murdered during World War II -- will break ground for the project today near the Inner Harbor.

The National Katyn Memorial Committee, a nonprofit organization led by Polish-American residents of the city, plans to start construction on the abstract sculpture in a circle next to President and Aliceanna streets.

The statue will be devoted to the Polish officers who were massacred in Poland's Katyn forest and buried there and in mass graves near Kiev, Ukraine. The 12-ton, 44-foot-tall creation of Polish-born sculptor Andrzej Pitynski is a representation of an eagle -- the symbol of Poland -- rising from the flames of war.

"You really can't make a mass grave into a realistic memorial. It's just too horrific," said Alfred Wisniewski, chairman of the committee, which has raised more than $500,000 for the project. "So we made it more abstract. An eagle rising from chaos to eventual independence and sovereignty.

"The flames represent not only destruction but rebirth," said Wisniewski, 77, a retired restaurant owner and Navy veteran who has spent 10 years planning the project.

The groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. near the Inner Harbor East hotel and office complex being built at the southern end of President Street by H&S; Bakery Inc. owner John Paterakis.

In September 1939, the Polish army was crushed by simultaneous invasions from the east by Stalin's forces and the west by Hitler's troops. The ambush by Poland's historic enemies, Germany and Russia, occurred after the Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement, signed days before the invasion.

Among the Soviet prisoners were more than 15,000 Polish military officers and intellectuals whom Stalin wanted to kill so he could dominate Poland without their opposition, Wisniewski said.

Under Stalin's command, the soldiers were taken to the Katyn forest and other locations and shot in the back of the head -- some with their mouths stuffed with sawdust to keep them quiet.

For almost half a century, the Soviets denied any connection to the graves, insisting that Hitler's forces had killed the Polish officers. But in 1990, then-Soviet General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev acknowledged Soviet responsibility. In 1993, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin issued an apology.

"They say that in the Katyn forest, even the birds don't sing," Wisniewski said.

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