Dzialalnosc komunistów wsród Zydów w Polsce (1944–1949)
The Activities of Communists among Polish Jews in Poland, 1944–1949
(Warsaw: Trio & Zydowski Instytut Historyczny, 2004); pp. 371


Zydowski ruch kombatancki w Polsce w latach 1944–1949
The Jewish War Veterans in Poland, 1944–1949

( (Warsaw: Trio, 2002); pp. 220

Oblicza marca 1968
The Faces of March 1968

(Warsaw: Instytut Pamieci Narodowej, 2004); pp. 251
There is a very healthy trend among Polish historians to examine closely the status of the Jewish minority in communist Poland. Such studies present a thorough perspective on the life of the Jewish community after the Holocaust. More significantly, they serve as a major educational tool in helping to dispel popular myths about Polish Jews. Jerzy Tomaszewski, one such historian, believes that investigators in his field who look for facts hidden under the surface of stereotypical conspiracy theories in history must not dismiss ‘common wisdom’, as ‘sometimes, even perceptions far removed from reality become a source of real events.’ But historians also must determine ‘to what extent the perceptions were removed from reality’ (p. 15). August Grabski, the author of Dzialalnosc komunistów wsród Zydów w Polsce (1944–1949), offers a fresh perspective on one prevailing myth: the existence of Judeo-communism in post-war Poland.

Grabski focuses on the activities of the PPR (Polish Workers’ Party) faction at the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (CKZP) in the first years after World War II. Until 1947, that faction included all PPR organizations within the CKZP national structure and Jewish institutions affiliated with it.

The PPR national policy was based on the concept of an ethnically uniform Poland that would not grant special consideration to any national minority. Its programme was exemplified by the resettlement of Germans, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, officially justified by these groups’ hostility toward the new Polish state and border ‘adjustments’ with the Soviet Union. Despite this policy, the Jewish minority was given autonomous status by the communist party leadership. Grabski lists several possible factors behind this decision: (1) antisemitic sentiment was very strong in post-war Poland, and the PPR was following the tradition of struggle against it that had been established by the pre-war Communist Party of Poland (KPP); (2) The KPP had many Jewish members; (3) there was support for the new government among Jews; (4) the psychological impact of the Holocaust on the Polish left was a consideration; and (5) the Jewish minority exhibited an ex-territorial character. The last point refers perhaps to the fact that Jews had become homeless in the land they had lived in for centuries. Some still

remained attached to Poland, however, and as Grabski points out, with gradual liberation of the Polish territory from the Nazi occupation, multi-party Jewish committees formed in various communities. They were created under the tutelage of the CKZP, established in November 1944 in Lublin. There, communists competed with ten other political organizations, of which seven were Zionist and three anti-Zionist. The former included Hitachdut, Poalei Zion Right, Poalei Zion Left, Hashomer Hatza’ir, Ichud, Mizrahi, and the Revisionists. The latter included the Jewish Democratic Alliance (known also as the Folkists), Agudat Yisrael, and the Bund. Three parties—Aguda; the Folkists, and the Revisionists—were denied legal status.

The Jewish question presented a dilemma for the PPR. Communist Poland offered equal rights to Jews, giving them an unprecedented opportunity to participate in the country’s ruling bodies. However, this ‘nobilitation’ came at a price, as Jews were ‘encouraged’ to use Polish names. Communist leaders felt uneasy about Jewish names, in part because the leaders did not wish to reinforce antisemitic sentiment among the masses. The Jewish wife of PPR leader Wladyslaw Gomulka, for example, was famous for her disdain for Jewish names; in her capacity as deputy personnel chief at the PPR Central Committee, she turned away many Jews looking for jobs, while her husband openly favored restrictions on the number of Jews in the government. Jewish communists shared Stalin’s view on the national question.

Grabski rightfully maintains that PPR’s focus on fostering patriotic feelings made it difficult for Jewish communists to demonstrate their national identity. In part this was a result of pre-war struggles with Zionists. Hence, they opted for what they called ‘party patriotism’, a formula the essence of which subordinated Jewish interests to the goals of the communist movement. In practice it meant striving toward full integration with Polish society by removing any forms of isolation—cultural, professional, organizational, or political—in order to prevent discrimination. But Grabski points out that to the Jewish communists, integration was not synonymous with assimilation. In fact, they were in favour of developing Jewish culture with Yiddish rather than Hebrew as the language of choice. Mindful of their painful experiences in the Soviet Union, they showed greater flexibility in Jewish communal affairs, using the term ‘the Polish way’. At the same time, they were convinced that success in rebuilding Jewish cultural, social, and economic life in Poland depended on the strength of the Jewish faction; as early as 1945, they petitioned the PPR Central Committee for a more visible role, such as having representation in the Polish National Council (KRN). They were not happy that there were two Zionists and a Bundist in the KRN, but no representatives of the Jewish faction. Furthermore, they asked for the establishment of a Jewish section at the PPR Central Committee. None of these requests was seriously considered by the PPR leadership.

Without waiting for more support, which the PPR for various and obvious reasons was not willing to offer (i.e., the policy of national unity; non-communist CKZP was more credible to the West), Jewish communists immersed themselves in all facets of work in Jewish committees around the country. There they competed with many other Jewish parties and organizations. Zionists favored programmes that would help Jews to immigrate to Palestine, while Jewish communists and Bundists intended to develop a thriving Jewish community in Poland. On the economic front, communists called for change in the occupational profiles of Jews by pushing them away from trade and establishing Polish-Jewish cooperatives, while Zionists organized kibbutzim to prepare Jews for life in Palestine. In education, Jewish communists and Bundists clashed with Zionists over the character of Jewish culture and education; their battles particularly centred around the use of Hebrew. And then there was the question of religion, as the CKZP was a secular organization.

The PPR faction in the CKZP did not carry much weight with PPR leadership. The top leaders of the CKZP were not communists. Many decisions affecting the Jewish community were made without consulting the Jewish faction. For example, in July 1945, the Polish premier announced at the KRN session that Jews had the right to emigrate. The Jewish faction considered this to be an anti-Jewish declaration, even though the government’s position was grounded in grim reality: many Jews had lost their homes, had no jobs, and were victimized by murderous bands. Grabski maintains that the faction gained more credibility with the PPR leadership after Szymon Zachariasz returned from the Soviet Union at the end of 1945. He had been a member of the Central Committee and the head of the Jewish Bureau of the illegal Communist Party of Poland before the war. Appointed an advisor on Jewish matters to the PPR Central Committee, he played a dominant role in the Jewish faction as its secretary and chief theoretician. But how much clout he really had is difficult to say. It could be that he was told more than he was willing to share with the Jewish faction, but it is equally possible that on vital matters he was kept in the dark, as were his comrades in the CKZP. For example, did he know about the Commission for the Solution of the Jewish Problem under the leadership of the Politburo member, Franciszek Mazur, and its decision that the Jewish problem ‘must be radically solved by 1950’?

The Kielce pogrom of July 1946 created great turmoil in the Jewish community. Mass exodus reduced the Jewish population in Poland by 50 per cent. Despite a deep crisis in communist-Zionist relations, the Jewish faction continued to follow the popular front policy in the Jewish committees, and communists made every effort to influence activities even when committee leaders were from other parties. In some instances they were able to win leadership positions even when the faction membership was small.

Jewish communists from mid-1946 waged a major campaign in the cooperative movement, in cultural and educational institutions, among war veterans, and for youth. This campaign exacerbated continued conflicts with Zionists and Bundists, friction that reached its peak after the establishment of the State of Israel. The faction skilfully played its alliances with individual Zionist parties and the Bund on matters of policy at the CKZP and local levels, and Grabski offers ample documentary evidence in this respect. With growing stabilization inside Poland and increased support for the regime, the Jewish faction was gaining new members and support. At the same time, the faction increasingly continued to reflect the changes in the PPR leadership as evidenced by the anti-Zionist campaign and the struggle with the ‘rightist deviation’ in its ranks.

By 1949, when the PPR had already been transformed into a robust, Stalinist Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR), the future existence of non-communist parties in Poland was doomed. Zionist politicians and publicists issued numerous articles in defence of Zionist parties, warning that cutting ties with Israel would play into the hands of reactionary elements. They pushed for an ideological platform that would allow various parties to participate in the work of the CKZP and Jewish committees. The faction’s campaign demoralized the Bundists and led to the disintegration of their party in Poland. It is worth mentioning here that it was the PPR’s main organ, Trybuna Ludu, that launched the campaign against the Bund in mid-1947. The Jewish faction followed suit. Consequently, at the National Conference of Jewish Committees in February, out of 267 delegates, 169 were PZPR members, 61 were Zionists (of various parties), and 37 had no party affiliation. Three Zionists were elected to the 54-member managing board. One of them, Dr. Adolf Berman (United Poale Zion), was selected chairman, but a month later was replaced by a PZPR member, Hersz Smolar. It is worth noting here that Berman had had a very distinguished career and always worked closely with the communists. During the war he was a co-chairman of the ‘Zegota’ Council to Aid the Jews (1942-45). He was also a brother of Jakub Berman, the infamous member of the PZPR Politburo ruling circle. The removal of Adolf Berman may have been in part precipitated by the perception of some faction members that he had gone on his own to the PPR leadership without consulting the faction and by exuding an air of superiority. Adolf Berman immigrated to Israel shortly after his removal from the chairmanship of CKZP: he was among many Jews who chose immigration at that time.

Grabski emphasizes that the activities of the Jewish faction should not be reduced to its role as an agent of the PPR. Jewish communists were active participants and often facilitated programmes aiming to restore Jewish cultural, civic, and economic life. Grabski’s monograph offers a very comprehensive picture of these activities and provides a balanced view of the Jewish faction. His study enriches our knowledge about a topic that has been controversial since the establishment of communist rule in Poland. The book deconstructs the theory of the dominant role of communists among Jews in Poland in the first years after the war. It also provides valuable insight into the policies toward the Jewish community promoted by the Polish communist leadership.

Grabski heavily relies on Szymon Zachariasz’s archival collection, which contains a wealth of documents on activities of the Jewish faction as well as other Jewish parties. And yet it seems to me that more use should have been made of the Polish communist press and the Jewish press in the West. The monograph is appended by interesting photographs, cartoons, and documents. A fitting addition to this monograph is an earlier publication by the same author about Jewish war veterans in Poland in the years 1944-49. This topic has been nearly completely neglected by historians; Grabski’s pioneer study successfully fills this void.

Jewish war veterans had special reasons to organise. With the annihilation of nearly 90 per cent of Polish Jews, veterans organizations became families to Jews from the armed forces. They were also an effective instrument for combating the canard that Jews were cowards who had spent the war years hiding and making money. Grabski’s monograph, Zydowski ruch kombatancki w Polsce w latach 1944–1949, focuses on the largest Jewish veterans organization, the Union of Jews, Former Participants in the Armed Struggle with Fascism (Zwiazek Zydów Bylych Uczestników Walki Zbrojnej z Faszyzmem—ZUWZ). This organization was composed of soldiers from the 1939 campaign, the communist Polish Army, the Red Army, communist partisans, veterans of the Spanish Civil War, and from 1948 also former political prisoners in pre-war Poland. By the time it dissolved in 1949, its membership had reached 5,000, making it one of the largest Jewish organizations.

The organization was originally formed in 1944 in Lublin as the Union of Jewish Partisans (Zwiazek Partyzantów Zydów—ZPZ) with an initial membership of 250, all from the communist People’s Army in the Lublin region. ZPZ joined the CKZP in declaring its support for the communist-led government and charging the Polish government-in-exile with sponsoring armed units that had collaborated with the Nazis in exterminating Poland’s Jews. In 1945, out of 727 ZPZ members, 532 were men and 195 women; 41 were officers. Among them, 218 had fought in Jewish units, 52 in Polish, 222 in Soviet, and 235 in multi-national formations (Polish-Jewish, Russian-Jewish, or Russian-Jewish-Polish). With regard to political affiliations, 72 were PPR members, 2 PPS (Polish Socialist Party), 2 the Bund, 12 Zionist parties, and 639 non-party.

The ZPZ initially focused on facilitating commemorative activities and collecting documentation about Jewish participation in the armed struggle against the Nazis. Considering itself as the integral part of the Polish resistance movement, the ZPZ sought to cooperate with other veterans’ organizations supporting the new government. However, the political bent of the ZPZ was not attractive to a considerable number of Jewish veterans; many of them joined Zionist veterans’ organizations (Partizan-Chaluc; Maawak). The rapid growth of these organizations and their focus on preparing cadres for a Jewish state in Palestine was of great concern to the ZPZ, which was primarily interested in improving the lot of veterans in Poland. Consequently, its leaders decided to expand its membership categories and ally closely with the Polish Association of Participants in Armed Struggle for Independence and Democracy (Zwiazek Uczestników Walki Zbrojnej o Niepodleglosc i Demokracje). The fact that both were run by communists made such an alliance easier.

The Kielce pogrom in July 1946 helped the integration of ZPZ members into Jewish committees around the country. They played an important role in the Special Commission, which was established for the purpose of protecting the Jewish population, property, and institutions. Jews also played an active role in the specially created paramilitary units of the Citizen’s Militia (ORMO), which was used for securing order during the 1947 elections in Poland. These developments generated new interest in a united veterans’ organization. In 1947, the ZPZ was formally transformed into the ZUWZ. At its first national conference, attended by representatives of various Jewish organizations, the main sentiment was wholehearted support for the new regime and appreciation for Generalissimo Josef Stalin, who was by thunderous applause elected to the honorary presidium. The organization declared the following as its aims: (1) participation in rebuilding Jewish life in democratic Poland; (2) education of Jews about the legacy of the Maccabees and Bar Kokhba, and thus about the history of struggle for freedom and democracy; (3) providing information about the Jewish struggle against fascism; (4) opposition to amnesty for Jewish collaborators with the Nazis (Judenräte; ghetto police); (5) assistance to Jewish veterans, invalids, and their families, widows, and orphans; (6) supporting the struggle for a democratic Israel; and (7) rejection of Jewish chauvinism and attempts of ‘Jewish reactionaries’ to defend murderers of Jews. The ZUWZ was never able to spread its wings and by 1949 was swallowed by the newly created unified national veterans’ organization, the Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy (Zwiazek Bojowników o Wolnosc i Demokracje--ZBOWiD).

Grabski provides many examples of ZUWZ activities and offers useful illustrations of politics in Jewish organisations during the Stalinist period in Poland. Of particular interest are interactions between communists and Zionists. The book contains selected biographic notes on Jewish veterans, as well as photographs and documents that are a welcome addition.

The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) is a major depository of archival materials on major events in communist Poland. The wealth of documentation allows historians to revisit and investigate, in depth, important topics in Polish-Jewish history, including the events of March 1968. The volume, Oblicza marca 1968 (The Faces of March 1968), is a collection of articles prepared for a conference on 6 March 2003, commemorating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the ‘March events’. It is divided into four parts: Sketches and Reflections on 1968; March 1968--Regional Accounts; Comparisons; and Discussion.

In the text, Andrzej Friszke compares March 1968 to other historical months in People’s Poland: June and October 1956; December 1970; and August 1980. He observes that March 1968 lacked an economic background but was a protest of students and intellectuals. The events had several arenas: student protests against authorities; struggles within the party apparatus; antisemitic purges, related to the conflict within the party; and the propaganda campaign. The language of the protesters was based on the values of the Left; hence, the protests shared some qualities with the events of October 1956. March 1968 and August 1980 were marked by a spontaneity of protest activities. Protests in March 1968 received minimal support from workers, and in December 1970 no student support was visible. At the same time, the December 1970 protests had a more uniform social character than those of March 1968. The latter, to a much greater extent than the other crises, energized and eventually shaped the future party apparatus. Also, the secret police apparatus was much more involved. And yet unlike in 1956, political turmoil in 1968 did not lead to the selection of a new party leader. Friszke contends that the antisemitic purge was confined to persons employed in the party apparatus, government, the military, universities, publishing houses, and the press. Many of his statements are highly debatable; voices in the discussion reflect this as do other articles in this collection.

In other analyses, Marcin Zaremba offers a compelling deconstruction of the 1960s as the decade of little stabilization. He provides examples of discontent around the country at various times. However, his evidence does not offer a persuasive background for the March events. Jerzy Eisler provides a few fascinating glimpses into surveillance materials compiled by the secret police apparatus. The extent of the surveillance is mind boggling; these documents are an excellent source for students of the communist secret police and of March 1968. Dariusz Stola focuses on the antisemitic aspects of the March events. This is a basically a well-thought-out summary of the same author’s outstanding monograph, Kampania antysyjonistyczna w Polsce 1967–1968 (The Anti-Zionist Campaign in Poland, 1967–1968), reviewed in Polin.

The regional reports provide quite comprehensive accounts of student protests and activities of the secret police around the country. They effectively dispel the myth of Zionist or Jewish conspiracy as responsible for the political turmoil directed against the government. Documenting the extent of dissatisfaction with the government in various regions, they tell of provocative and brutal actions of the secret police and the militia as well as of varying responses to the antisemitic propaganda of that period.

Finally, Marcin Kula briefly reflects on ‘students as a group genetically disposed to revolt.’ He contends that analyses of student protests and revolts in other parts of the world offer very limited insight to events outside. However, they may reveal certain similarities and therefore should not be automatically dismissed by historians of student revolts.

Oblicza marca 1968 is an indispensable volume for serious students of Polish politics in the 1960s and beyond.

Washington, D.C.