The Jewish Community in the Polish People’s Republic (PPR) Before and after the Antisemitic Campaign of 1967–1968

Leopold Sobel


At the beginning of December 2008 an International Academic Conference entitled: ‘The Jewish Community in the Polish People’s Republic (PPR) Before and after the Antisemitic Campaign of 1967–1968’ was held under the aegis of the Institute of National Remembrance (Instytut Pamięci Narodowej--IPN). The conference was organised by Dr Grzegorz Berendt, author of many works on contemporary Jewish history in Poland. Several of them have been reviewed in Plotkies, organ of the assocation of those who were forced to leave Poland in 1968. The following representatives of the Emigration or rather Reunion 68 took part in the conference: Joanna Wiszniewicz, Andrzej Krakowski, Jaff (Jacek) Schatz and myself. Throughout the conference various members of our society appeared in the Hall, including Natka Zawadzka, Witek (Druski) Ben-Dor, Rudek Antopolski, Marta Prochwicz, Józek Lebenbaum, Gabrysia Bromberg, Henio Glazer, Jurek Przytyk, Edek Odoner, Leszek Kantor, Viki Korb, Axel Stoltz and Ruti Sobel (a small photograph gallery is attached at the end of this report). Everyone was well-behaved and there were no arguments!

The conference began on 5 December with an informal supper in the Polonia Hotel where the majority of the conference guests were staying. We were welcomed by Dr. Jan Żaryn of IPN. After a very tasty supper without further ado, we retired for the night.

Day oneof the conference

The conference sessions were held in the Renaissance Hall of the Palace of Culture. Amazingly, everything there is still in good order and working (toilets, lifts, doors and the Russian Troika Bar) in a building over 50 years old, a gift from Stalin himself. And because the conference coincided with Hanukah, the Habadniks had lit a Hanukiya in front of the Palace. Comrade Stalin must have been turning in his grave.

A total of 24 papers, most of them 20 minutes long, were read during the conference (only the inaugural lecture by Professor Antony Polonsky lasted 40 minutes). There were also 6 general discussions relating to subjects touched upon in the papers and two panel discussions, over an hour each. So, there was quite a lot to listen to. My small report (supplemented by Renata Zawadzka) can only gloss over and provide synopses of some very deep and detailed papers and discussions reflecting significant and complicated academic research.

Some statements by participants in the discussion session indicated that a volume containing the conference papers is planned in the future. Apparently it is being prepared for the March Commemoration! 

The first discussion day was opened by Professor Janusz Kurtyka, Chairman of IPN. Apart from the obvious, such as the need to carry out historical research to establish the truth about past events, he announced that this conference is the first of a series  marking the collaboration between Yad Vashem and IPN on the difficult issue of Polish-Jewish history.

The subject of Professor Polonsky’s inaugural lecture was ‘Polish Jewish traditions and consequences of the Holocaust’. The author sketched out a wide panorama of Jewish history in Polish territories in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and descibed the difficulties encountered during the Second Republic, particularly after 1935, indicating the enormous tensions at that time. Then he described the post-war period when the few remaining Polish Jews gradually experienced further disappointments and left Poland. He portrayed the state of affairs before March as vestigial, with 5000 Jews  institutionally connected with Judaism and 25,000 having only loose links. The mass emigration following the March events he called a sad epilogue to Polish Jewry. Professor Polonsky considers antisemitism to have been mainly responsible for it.

Professor Jaff Schatz or our colleague Jacek from Lund, who has already published several papers or sections of his book in Plotkies, read a particularly interesting paper entitled: ‘The world of Polish-Jewish communist mentality and identity – a sketch for a portrait’. The total number of Jewish communists among the Jewish population before and after the war among the million members of the Polish United Workers’ Party were, at most, approximately 10 thousand. The author also reminded us of the reasons why Jews became communists and, alongside discrimination against Jews in Poland, he indicated secularisation and assimilation trends and strong politicisation among the young generation before the war as well as the generation gap.

The next speaker was Mr Stanisław Aronson – an Israeli of Polish descent from a strongly polonised family. During the war he joined a special Home Army unit in Warsaw, took part in the Warsaw Uprising, later served in General Anders’ Second Corps and finally in Tsahal during the War of Independence. Mr Aronson emphasised that he could not understand why Jews remained in Poland and collaborated with the communists after the war; from his point of view this constituted national betrayal. He also assessed the antisemitic witch hunt in 1968 from the same point of view. 

A young historian, Dr Łukasz Kamiński, an IPN Public Education Employee in Warsaw, wound up the morning session. Dr Kamiński used Ministry of Public Security and Secret Police documents to investigate the gossip, rumours and opinions which circulated among the population during 1945-48, the time of the so-called creation of people’s power and later, up to 1967. During this period, gossip, rumour and whispered propaganda, etc, replaced or supplemented circulation of official information. Based on over two and a half thousand such entries, Dr Kamiński was able to show that, during the first post-war period, the subject of Jews did not dominate but rather problems connected with the situation in which the country found itself after the war. The subject of 23 percent of such rumours concerned Polish-Soviet relations, another 23 percent was related to Poland’s future and 21 percent to the chances of another war breaking out. Information about Jews made up only 3 percent of the rumours. The so-called ‘hostile questions’ put to the speakers at rallies (watched by secret police) were also analysed. Some (59 percent) referred to Polish-Soviet relations (Katyn and the Warsaw Uprising). Only 7 percent brought up the subject of Jews participating in government. Similar percentages were ascertained by analysing wall graffiti. Only 2.5 percent involved antisemitic slogans and as many as 46 percent were anti-communist. During the illegal 3rd of May 1946 demonstrations (which resulted in gun fire in 12 places), the majority of the shouting was anti-Soviet and anti-communist and only in Bytom, Sosnowiec and Kłodzko antisemitic disturbances were observed. The results presented by Dr Kamiński show that in the 40’s, anti- Soviet and anti-communist sentiments were far more significant than antisemitism. But it was at this time, albeit  tentatively, the notion of Jewish communists appeared. According to this lecturer, this was due to a kind of reversal of meanings. At the beginning, communism was regarded as a tool used by the Jews. On the other hand, during the early years of the PPR, Jews began to be regarded as a tool of communism. So this hostile view of the ‘Commune’ was directed at them.

After 1950 the percentage of antisemitic comments  recorded in the analysed material decreased dramatically. A certain revival could be observed in 1956, particularly at a regional level. After 1957 the number of antisemitic incidents decreased. The Ministry of Internal Affairs became less interested in Jews. The level of this interest and the methods used were not much different from their ‘work’ with respect to other minorities (Ukrainians, Germans) until 1967. But it  was on a different scale, as the position of Jews was no longer the same. As a result of orders from above following the 6-day war, it was suddenly stepped up. Later, after 1968, interest in Jews decreased. The author interprets both these tendencies as  evidence of strong party discipline. 

During the discussion, several interesting opinions emerged. According to Jaff Schatz, before the war Jewish communists’ uniqueness included their prison experiences, past membership of the Communist Party of Poland (KPP), Soviet experiences, a belief that they could create better socialism and perhaps the most important thing, their battle against nationalism.

The afternoon session was opened by Dr Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikow, an extremely able historian from the Polish Academy of Science Polish History Institute, who has recently completed her doctoral thesis on Dawid Sfard. Quite recently an article about him appeared in Plotkies (no 29 ‘On the banks of the Sambation. The Stormy Life of a Jewish Communist’). Her paper, entitled: ‘Recorded conversations. An unknown aspect of the history of Jewish-Jewish relations’ refers to relations between Polish and Soviet Jews, but it particularly concentrates on the infiltration of the Polish Jewish community by Soviet intelligence, aided by Jewish colleagues. One of these was Zeldin, a KGB double agent who, following a visit to Poland, reported that Szlojmo Beilis and Dawid Sfard had condemned USSR policy towards the Jews and praised Poland’s. Joanna described the attitude of the leaders of the Towarzystwo Społeczno-Kulturalne Żydów w Polsce (TKSŻ--Social and Cultural Society of Polish Jews ) as naive – they were credulous and did not suspect that the information provided to Soviet Jews would go any further. The Soviet as well as the Polish authorities regarded them as dangerous nationalists. I hope to include this exceptionally interesting paper in a future edition of Plotkies.

Audrey Kichelewski, a French researcher from the Sorbonne, delivered an equally interesting paper about Jewish life in Poland based on archives of Joint, the American aid organisation (‘Help for our brothers from Poland... The  American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Activities on behalf of the Jewish Community in the PPR, 1957–1967’).

The Joint was active in Poland from 1944-49 and also, following a break, from 1956-68. During the first period it offered financial help to the Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce (Central Committee of Jews in Poland) but then it was expelled from Poland along with the dissolution of the majority of autonomous Jewish organisations. Joint returned to Poland during the liberalisation of 1956 and an agreement was signed with the PPR authorities, providing for the presence of a Joint representative in Poland and a preferential currency exchange rate to help Joint and support for Jewish emigration. These conditions were very liberal and only Poland and Romania agreed to them. Joint collaborated with the Israeli Embassy in supporting emigration. During various periods the budget ranged from 400,000 to 1,000,000 US dollars, reaching its high point between 1958-1961. During that time considerable support was given to the Industrial, Craft and Agricultural Development Organisation (ORT) and Jewish cooperatives. This included 66 courses for 13,000 individuals, mainly connected with repatriation of Jews from the USSR. During 1962-67 the budget was reduced but it continued to offer support for clubs and other cultural initiatives and an Old People’s Home. Between 1964-67 the budget dropped by 30 percent because of the rise in international tension and limited subsidies. It also proved impossible to maintain the preferential currency exchange rate.

Throughout this period the TKSŻ financed youth colonies and camps (up to 1800 places). Support for the poor and elderly continued. Nearly six thousand people were receiving benefits. Joints action resulted in a revival of Jewish life, greater interest in native culture and a slowing down of assimilation. The Polish government regarded Joint as a nationalist organisation but it tolerated its existence, albeit not for altruistic reasons. Joint’s support for the Jewish minority justified withdrawal by the PPR government of state aid for the Jewish minority. Finally, after the 6-day war, the PPR authorities’ attitude towards Joint worsened and, in the end, it was forced to leave Poland. This decision preceded Gomułka’s notorious speech.

Dr Leszek Głuchowski, an independent researcher from Canada, read an extremely interesting paper about treatment of Jews by the Polish military intelligence  (‘Attitudes of the Polish military intelligence to Jewish issues 1945–1961’). Despite the great services rendered to the Polish military intelligence by individuals such as Wacław Komar in the 50’s (and particularly in the sixties), Jewish officers in the military intelligence were badly treated by Soviet officers, especially those under Gen. Korczyński’s influence. They were regarded as traitors and the Soviet culture of antisemitism in special services was transferred to the Polish People’s Army. This resulted in a number of defections by army intelligence officers of Jewish descent. The paper is full of details and is accessible from Dr Głuchowski by e-mail:

The last paper before the break was given by a young and very aimiable lady from Wrocław, Dr Bożena Szaynok, author of many publications about Wrocław Jews and  the Kielce pogrom. Her paper entitled ‘Israeli issues in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1948–1967)’ describes the post-war period leading up to the creation of the state of Israel when the Ministry of Public Security was only recording statements and keeping trace of illegal activities. After 1948 until the spring of 1967, surveillance of Israeli diplomats and persons visiting or contacting  the Israeli Embassy grew steadily, mainly with special attention to emigration and spying. Zionist activities were tracked and attempts made to recruit Israeli diplomats.

In the 40’s and 50’s great emphasis was placed on creating a negative image of Israel, trump up selected persons as ‘particularly dangerous diplomats’, etc. During the intensified Soviet anti-cosmopolitan campaign, Arie Kubowy, an Israeli diplomat, was pronounced a persona non grata and in 1952 expelled from Poland. At about the same time, the Jewish activist Jakub Egid was arrested because, according to a rumour... ‘he wanted to annex Lower Silesia to Israel’. After 1953 (Stalin’s death) relations improved, but not sufficiently to halt surveillance of Jewish organisations and the Israeli diplomatic institution. Surveillance of the Embassy and visitors, not only Jews, was continuous. For example, one ‘subject’ of such scrutiny was Władysław Bartoszewski. It included photographs, phone tapping and inspection of correspondence with Israel and the West. This intensified when the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MSZ) linked the Israel and Federal Germany affairs. The Ministry’s materials also include reports about the frame of mind prevailing in the TSKŻ colonies and youth camps. A report about ‘Long Live Israel’ slogans seen in the colonies were treated as a signal of a Zionist revival. According to Dr Szaynok,  Israeli Embassy employees in those days were fully aware of this surveillance by the secret police  [SP]. 

During the 6-day war, MSZ’s interest in Israeli affairs intensified. This was reflected in a propaganda war. In the autumn of 1967, Moczar went as far as comparing Cahal to the Wehrmacht. Surveillance of people connected with the Embassy was stepped up. Data related to two and a half thousand people were added to the MSZ special files. Agents were required to look like a ‘typical Jew’, to know Yiddish and to know someone in Israel. They were supposed to ‘stand out’.

Many interesting questions and occasionally surprising answers appeared during the discussion. One of the things I found out was that the 1956/8 emigration to Israel  was used by Israel to smuggle Polish agents into the USA!

A paper by Professor Dariusz Stola, the most outstanding specialist on the subject of the antisemitic campaign in Poland entitled: How and why did the March campaign strike the Jews?’ opened the last session. First he pointed out that in PPR parlance, a Zionist did depict a Jew, but Zionists did not have to be Jewish.   

Professor Stola asked himself what effect this anti-Jewish campaign had within the context of all that happened in March 68 and beforehand. After all, this was not the only campaign conducted by the authorities. There was also the anti-youth/ anti-intelligentsia witch hunt, as well as conflicts within the political establishment.
What was happening in the universities and the streets shocked by virtue of its brutality and unexpectedly violent nature!

Although the strategic goal of this government inspired campaign was to strike at the ‘Zionists’, it was not immediately unequivocally ‘decreed’ as such. Were they waiting for consent? Or an order? Perhaps. A similar ‘delayed’ reaction had been observed after the outbreak of the  6-day war. Professor Stola points out that the anti-Zionist witch hunt started only 4 days after 8 March. For the first four days of the events the press did not mention Zionists. The first anonymous article appeared in the Pax Press Słowo Powszechne [Universal Voice]. Because no one in the MSZ knew what to do, basic propaganda methods were used in this article, ie, there we find praise for Polish youth unstained by antisemitism, but there are also all sorts and... What followed was a list of Jewish names such as Babel and the Jewish Social and Cultural Society. Political bankrupts, such as Staszewski is the next topic taken up. Trybuna Ludu only launches its attack after the Słowo Powszechne article and opens the floodgates of an anti-Zionist front. The Israeli-West German conspiracy was ‘uncovered’, and old Stalinists were accused of wanting to regain power on the shoulders of the young. Such information had clear sources in the notes and leaflets produced by the MSZ and contain the same misspelt names.

The campaign mechanism was operated by MSZ Section 3 with the help of Gontarz and Walichnowski. According to Dr Stola, the idea was already born in January 1968 and was crystallising from the early 60’s. It was at that time that the screw was being tightened, a fact that at first elicited timid and then increasingly louder protests from the intelligentsia. The same period marked the emergence of a struggle for power. The 6-day war and its repercussions provided the Moczar people with the pretext to use the ‘Zionism’ phenomenon for their own aims and specifically to purge the party ranks with loud cheers from Polish society. It seemed so simple to introduce a theory of Jewish conspiracy and to blame these treacherous Jews for everything,! And it did indeed prove simple.

However, in order to avoid any problems from, lets say, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one had to create an atmosphere of paranoia. As it turned out, this turned out a success despite the fact that, after all, standard methods were employed, similar to those used two years earlier in the campaign against the bishops. It is clear that the struggle between various groups within the party ranks, eg, Gomułka’s against Ochab and Olszowski’s against Starewicz and Zambrowski created the favourable conditions. Under such circumstances it was not difficult to acquire consent for the campaign to continue in the same direction. The machine was launched. Mass meetings, rallies and slides with familiar images. The provinces followed the centre and the machine set to work. The aim of the campaign was achieved with pacification of the student revolt. The rebels were isolated and dubbed as Stalin’s offspring serving foreign interests! Excellently well from the Politburo’s point of view. It turned out that it was a group of usurpers and not the party leadership which was responsible for all this wickedness. It was one of the ways of keeping the working class outside the main stream of political and social events and it was pacified before it could raise its head. The Polish intelligence was given a warning. A finger was wagged in their direction. And it worked. Why? An important factor may well have been the fear of infection with the Czech plague as well as pure antisemitic paranoia.

Of course as we know, all this was not much help to Gomułka and it resulted in a marked radicalisation of the attitudes of young people in Poland and, as we know, this gave rise to an ever greater consolidation of the opposition!

Dr Jan Żaryn is a specialist in the field of the attitude of the Church to Jews and his paper on the Church’s attitude to the Kielce pogrom is well-known. In this conference he read a paper entitled: ‘The hierarchical church and lay Catholics with regard to the antisemitic campaign in Poland 1967–1968. The state of research and research proposals’. To provide a background, he described the Church’s attitude to the PPR authorities during periods of various repressions directed against the Church before 1968. In general, the Church hierarchya regarded the events of those times as a factional struggle within the ranks of the Polish United Workers Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza--PZPR). It believed that it should not contest this publicly or interfere with party political issues. This was one way of maintaining its own independence. But this was not the only reason for maintaining its distance. According to the bishops, a clear albeit informal aspiration begins to take shape, ie, the expectation that the Jews will emigrate and this will result in polonisation of the PZPR. This is emphasised in Primate Wyszyński’s secret statement (which can be found in the MSZ files), who thought that if Zionism is striving to create its own state, then it is preferable that the Jews should have one instead of creating their own states within other nations. Archbishop Bolesław Kominek expressed a similar opinion. Some thought that one should speak up in this matter if the priests were doing it without a blessing from above. But, surprised by the student uprising, the church managed to turn this situation to its own advantage. After 1968 it began to intensify its activities among the academic youth, gradually bringing more and more of them ‘into the fold’.

The lay catholic community was strongly polarised. Three main groups can be distinguished. The first, PAX, did not behave in a Christian manner and, in effect, supported Moczar’s group in March. The second, the pro-Socialist Christian Social Association, opted out (as usual) for the wait and see approach and their leader Jan Frankowski was ‘diplomatically’admitted to hospital. The following month he was ‘deposed’. Finally, there was ZNAK, the parliamentary group of five MPs led by Zawieyski. His announced in Parliament that social problems must not be solved by using police batons. He renounced his parliamentary seat in protest and this had dire consequences for Zawieyski. He suffered a brain stroke and received treatment in a government clinic. He died after falling from a third floor window of the hospital. Officially the cause of death was suicide, but there is circumstantial evidence pointing to possible political murder.

A presentation by Professor Eisler closed this session. He said that there was no need to summarise his book and instead showed us a film montage made by the Security Police about the events of  8-11 March as well as a few other episodes. The film begins with surveillance of Kuroń and Kołakowski and Kuroń and Modzelewski. This was followed by films documenting secret police operations. The film ends with the Polytechnic events of 9 March and shows incidents around the Electronics Building, the march along Polna street to the Riwiera and the Życie Warszawy office and finally the march along Armii Ludowej street to the Luna cinema.

The next film presents the events on Krakowskie Przedmieście where the students are burning newspapers and shows the students, both male and female, being beaten up, with very brutal scenes of young people being arrested and gas grenades being lobbed from the street into the University grounds.Next came a film made on 11 March when the students are ‘getting ready to fight the SP’ and action in the streets, including students’ heads being shaved.

The final scenes come from from the 1968 harvest festival when Siwiec set himself on fire in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia and died 4 days later. This was entirely unknown for a long time.

During the discussion following this film, Gabrysia Bromberg spoke about her University reminiscences--some people may remember them from her interview in the film ‘Rachela na Dworcu Gdańskim’ [Rachela in the Gdańsk Railway Station]. Professor Eisler talked about the investigation conducted by the IPN about who was to blame for March and he concluded that the party leaders were responsible, but it would be interesting to question some of eg. the senior officers of the Citizens’ Militia to establish certain facts rather than to punish them. But getting hold of them would not be that easy.

The last session was a panel discussion on the subject of  ‘Jews in PPR politics up to 1970’, chaired by Professor Stola. Professor Olejnik of Łódź University described the Jews in the early days of ‘people’s’ power as a privileged group reviving after their terrible war experiences. In his view, no other ethnic minority had achieved such a level of cultural and organisational revival. There were also plans for creating autonomy and Jewish self-government, particularly as Jews returning from  Russia was anticipated. In his opinion all this was happening despite the fact that, at the beginning, the stance according to which getting rid of national minorities - ‘no minority, no minority problem’, was gaining popularity.

Dr Berendt described the PPR promises to create a just world as attracting some Jews. He emphasised that antisemitism was always camouflaged inside the party ranks and even Witaszewski could not openly appear as an antisemite. It was not seemly for a communist to use antisemitic rhetoric. The phenomenon of ethnic discrimination could not exist in this best of all possible systems. This is why the Jewish problem was not raised in 1956. The comrades pretended that a homogeneous socialist society had been achieved. Professor Kotarbiński has called this phenomenon keeping silent by ‘gagging’. Equality was by decree, except that society did not accept these decrees. Antisemitism persisted, albeit in a slightly dormant form. Bierut did not allow this monster to be revived and, as is known, there were no trials like those in Czechoslovakia or Hungary. Here, it is worth mentioning that Marshal Rokossowski also conducted antisemitic purges in the Polish Peoples Armed Forces within the framework of repressions against pre-war Polish officers. In 1956 Gomułka took those comrades who dared to come out openly as anti-Semites to task. There were attempts to support some aspects of Jewish life until the end of the PPR (the Jewish Historical Institute and the TSKŻ Jewish theatre) to put Jews in a favourable light.

Professor Eisler sketched out quite a confrontational scenario. According to him, Stalin’s perfidious strategy against Poland could be the source of antisemitic outbursts according to the principle of ‘divide and rule’ by sowing discord it wanted to ensure its power over a recalcitrant nation. ‘He sent off’ Polish Jews to fill posts where they could be exposed to attacks, eg, in Anders’ Army and later in Poland. He placed educated Jews alongside simple Polish party comrades (eg, Berman+Gomułka) to stay in power. This was his way of fomenting hate for their intellectual domination. Another version of this ‘historical conspiracy theory’ strongly suggests that Gomułka never forgot his pre-war imprisonment when Jewish communist prisoners had made fun of his ignorance. These extravagant ideas put forward by Professor Eisler did not find support among the experts present but they enlivened the discussion.

The whole day passed without any friction except for... Dr Żaryn’s contention. He reacted very emotionally to Jacek Schatz’s statement suggesting that by the end of the 1960s, Jews were strongly assimilated and, apart from a higher level of education, differed from the rest of Polish society only by not being Catholics. And this was precisely what Dr Żaryn considered to be proof of a lack of ...patriotism. In his view, patriotism was inseparably connected with the Catholic tradition and formed  an inherent part of family tradition in Catholic homes. I was nearly beside myself remembering how Berek Joselewicz and Rabbis such as Kramsztyk and Meiseles had joined patriotic demonstrations in 1861 and other similar examples. There is also no shortage of examples from the period of Polish Legions and the Second World War; Jacek was only given a chance to reply to this the next day. Besides Dr Żaryn forgot that many of our colleagues had mixed families where the  ‘family catholic tradition’ from the point of view of its patriotic significance tended to be totally lost in competition with an atheist tradition. But this is another subject.

So we retired for supper, more dead than alive after all the excitement but ready for the next day for more interesting things to listen to. We continued to ‘maul over’ Professor Eisler’s ideas. Likely or not, they had appealed to our imagination. 

The Friday morning session was devoted to regional centres of Jewish life and how the March events had affected them. The conditions in Lower Silesia, Łódź, West Pomerania, Kraków and, after the break, Upper Silesia and Gdańsk Pomerania were discussed.

In his paper entitled: ‘Zionists in Lower Silesia 1967–1968’ Professor Włodzimierz Suleja admirably described the situation in Lower Silesia as ‘persecution of Zionists without Zionism’, for this what the attackers dreamed up; the Security Apparatus took an interest in approximately 1000 Jews, particularly those who had any institutional links with the TSKŻ, congregations, cooperatives or Jewish schools in Lower Silesia. The operation directed by Col. Teodor Kukuła began on 10 June 1967. Reports were drawn up and material collected with the aim of creating an impression that the nation was supporting the government and the PZPR, while the Zionists were in opposition. Lists of people in contact with the Israeli Embassy or supporting Israel (Anyone opposing Poland and the USSR) had their letters vetted and phones tapped). In 1967, Col. Piątek was the first to create a  list of 85 persons in this category, who were expelled from the PUWP and, from July 1967, sanctions were imposed against them and they were being removed from their posts.

After March, there followed a new phase consisting of actions against students and young people. The Jewish community was closely watched and ‘secret meetings’ were reported where members had been listening to, say, Kol Israel la Gola, Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, etc. These reports were largely following orders from above. 329 Zionists ended up on the lists.

Professor Olejnik read a paper entitled ‘Jewish Society in Łódź 1956–1972’. His book, ‘Ethnic Policy in Poland 1944-1960’ won the 2004 Polityka Prize. Professor Olejnik emphasised the importance of Łódź as a great Jewish centre, particularly until 1949. In the 1960s, approx. 3-4 thousand Jews lived in Łódź. There was a large and very active TSKŻ headed by Samuel Web and S. Sznaider. There was also the no. 27 grammar school, (with 176 pupils by the end of its existence), and Old People’s home, two Jewish cooperatives and a congregation led by Frenkl who was engaged in a permanent dispute with Rabbi Morejno. Beginning in 1963, the Jewish community was investigated by the SP with informers reporting that Samuel Web said positive things about Israel after a visit to that country. Jewish academics such as Amsterdamski and Syryjczyk were being scrutinised for any signs of revisionism.  Rafał Lewkowicz, the ‘secret agent’ Cyprian, was active.

After March ‘68 the TSKŻ board, at first tried not to antagonise the authorities and signed a declaration of loyalty based on the model of the Warsaw Main Board, but despite this, people were being dismissed from their jobs. in April 1968 the TSKŻ no longer took part in the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Web resigned his position and soon emigrated to Israel. Amsterdamski, Katz, Leśniewski, Toeplitz, Srebrnik and many other lost their jobs. A total of over 1000 people left Łódź. The Rozwój [Development] and Fermedia Work Cooperatives changed their statute and lost their Jewish cooperative character. The Jewish school was also shut down. Rabbi Morejno entered a psychiatric hospital for ‘treatment’. The new TSKŻ board had to deal with a shrinking number of people having Jewish connections. Zając, one of the activists submitted a plan for combining the TSKŻ with the congregation but this was decisively opposed by Rajber, the TSKŻ Chairman.

In his paper entitled ‘How the events of 1968 affected the social life of Western Pomeranian Jews’, Dr Janusz Mieczkowski (author of ‘Between Emigration and Assimilation, Essays about Szczecin Jews 1945 -1997’, Szczecin 1998) described the position of the Jewish community before March. At that time, it was a stable community with a splendid TSKŻ building on Słowackiego street. Szymon Hamburger and Izrael Białostocki organised this life which also included school no 28 (In 1960 it had 147 pupils with 69 in 1966) . After 1967 Jewish life changed. The first signs of what was about to happen was the beating up of Orthodox butchers from Israel working in the Szczecin abattoir by ‘hooligan elements’ near the Marago cafe. The authorities undertook various anti-Jewish actions and the TSKŻ authorities continued to assert their loyalty, eg, they issued a declaration of support for the authorities and opposed the student demonstrations.      

The Szczecin press appeared to be the most antisemitic in Poland (question: was it because they tried to be more zealous in the Western Territories).   The journalist Ireneusz Gwidon Kamiński discredited the TSKŻ and directed personal attacks at Białostocki. In April ‘68 the congregation was forced to issue an anti-Israeli loyalty pledge. After 1969 the Jewish school was closed and Jewish life was suspended for some time.

Karen Auerbach from Brandeis University, USA is Professor Polonsky’s PhD student and the subject of her doctoral thesis is a building, actually its residents. In her paper entitled: ‘Jewish families from Aleje Ujazdowskie 16 in post-war Warsaw. Ethical dilemmas of assimilation in People’s Poland’, Karen presented profiles of several families living in this building, including the Bergmans, Adlers and Naftalins (including Jurek Naftalin). These were educated families with a leftist past, mostly assimilated, employed in publishing houses or in higher education. In a certain sense they represented a typical community of educated Jews in Warsaw. Karen described their history from 1963-65 when more and more people lost their publishing jobs, describing the shock of March when some of them found out about their Jewish ancestry for the first time and emigrated. This was a very interesting study with special significance for natives of Warsaw, as was Joanna Wiszniewicz’s paper about Jewish youth from ‘good’ Warsaw districts. 

The session ended with Edyta Gawron’s  paper: ‘Jew or Pole? The Kraków Jewish community during the antisemitic campaign of 1967–1968’. Unlike other Polish historians, Edyta has been in contact with Kraków emigrants and presented an exceptionally rich picture of Jewish life in Kraków. According to her account, it was not a large community (approx. 2000 people on the eve of March) but was firmly integrated into Polish life. Edyta concluded that most of the Jews who settled in Kraków after the war were new arrivals and they inhabited a better part of town than Kazimierz (next to the Mining and Shipbuilding Academy). They led a rich cultural existence, enjoyed life and went to Krynica and Rabka spas, for which they were reproached during the witch-hunt. The TSKŻ on Sławkowska street was where Jews and non-Jews used to meet. It was there that the Piwnica pod Baranami [Cabaret Theatre] gave guest performances for several weeks. Strong links with the Znak [Catholic organisation] existed.  The TSKŻ also attracted young people, with financial support for students also an important factor.

March in Kraków largely involved surveillance of people coming to the TSKŻ, mail vetting and... dismissals. Leopold Kozłowski was dismissed as director of the Polish Military Choir and Dance group because, it was said, ‘his (moral) spine became deformed, so he was dismissed due to his political malady’. The real heroes of March in Kraków were neither members of the TSKŻ nor of the congregation, but academics employed by Kraków educational institutions. Professor Edward Łukawer, one of the most outstanding post-war historians of economic theory in Poland, condemned the party’s position. He risked a lot and having just been granted a postdoctoral qualification, he did not get a post as associate professor and was removed by those in power from any teaching activities as well as being reprimanded. Following an order by the then Ministry of Higher Education, he was dismissed from his post in the  Kraków School of Economics on 30 September 1969 and had no hope of finding any decent job for a long time to come. Jonasz Stern, pro-vice chancellor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, took the students’ side. He did not suffer such dramatic consequences. It appears that a representative of the arts seemed less dangerous to the system. After March, it was mainly young Jews who left Kraków. Their parents remained and the community became older.

Professor Holli Levitsky of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles is primarily a literature scholar and she presented a portrait of Sara Nomberg-Przytyk, author of several autobiographical books, including, ‘Auschwitz-True Tales from a Grotesque Land’, ‘Samson’s Pillars’ and memoirs, some still awaiting publication, who died in 1990. In a sense, Sara was typical of our parents’ generation. She came from an Orthodox Jewish family and joined the communist party before the war, lived through Auschwitz and in People’s Poland worked as a journalist in Lublin. In 1956 she lost her managerial position, was forced to retire in 1962 and in 1967 she became totally disillusioned and left Poland. That marked the end of her communist utopia. In Canada she attempted to find an answer to the question who was responsible for all this. She finally came to the conclusion that it was the Party that ‘created’ anti-Semitism.

An additional feature was her son Jurek Przytyk’s, who is an organic farmer in Canada, presence at the conference, who enriched the conference by his contributions on various subjects.

Dr Aleksandra Namysło from the Katowice IPN described the activities of the Security Apparatus in Upper Silesia which certainly was one of the most effective centres of Jewish life in Poland. It had as many as 6 congregations. The Jewish community was being subjected to surveillance as early as 1946. But beginning in 1961, during the so-called 2nd stage  of surveillance, it focused more specifically on the congregations with as many as 8 secret agents being assigned. Despite this, no facts indicating any Zionist activities were discovered. After 1965 the SP turned their attention to the TSKŻ and after June 1967 their actions were intensified and new secret agents were hired (a total of 15). 401 persons were subjected to surveillance and it was established that 83 of them were receiving help from Israel and 766 were receiving letters. As many as 193 Zionists judged to be dangerous to the State emerged. 997 individuals attempting to emigrate to Israel were registered. It is worth mentioning that the ‘hostile Jewish community’ at that time was estimated at 5000. All the numbers quoted in this context fail to exhilarate.  Department 3 of the SP continued to watch those who remained in Poland. The ‘Wanderers’ project, including surveillance of those who had planned to emigrate but did not and who maintained contacts with emigrants, etc, lasted until 1984. Only in 1990 did all SP actions connected with the Jewish community finally cease.

Dr Grzegorz Berendt, the organiser of this conference, one of the most outstanding specialists in the field of contemporary Polish Jews and author of an interesting history of the TSKŻ described the plight of Jews in Gdańsk Pomerania. He presented a very detailed picture of the tiny Jewish community in this region. In the middle of the 60s it was estimated that 500 -700 families lived there (according to various sources). Its structure resembled that of the Warsaw community, with educated people, such as doctors, lawyers (no judge or prosecutor), professional soldiers and the so-called white collar workers predominating with a small number of  craftsmen and workers.  From 1950-1958, after the activities of the former Jewish Committee came to an end, no Jewish organisations were functioning in this area, despite the fact that a Rabbi lived and seemingly carried out his functions in Gdansk until 1957. Between 1958-59 an TSKŻ and congregations did exist, but as early as 1963 they were being subjected to surveillance. On orders from above, one ambitious SP officer launched an anti-Jewish campaign already tinged with ‘anti-Zionism’. By 1967 the issue of ‘Jewish Zionism’ (it seems that there might have been another sort) takes on a special perspective. A term ‘aggression’, which since 1970 is read as a cryptonym of the total documentation concerning any signs of Zionism in Pomerania, appeared. Granted, that there was a decline in interest in this matter after 1973, nevertheless detailed files about Jewish Zionists were kept until the middle 80’s along with information being received from abroad (until 1973) concerning emigrants. According to the SP, any interest in Israel or Jewish culture was classified as Zionism. Since 1966, they had managed to recruit as many as 22 informers from the TSKŻ (even one board member). 22 officers were in charge of this community. During this period they produced 47 volumes of archives including 5000 pages. All this in order to establish that no one was involved in spying. Dr Berendt thinks that the result of these activities produced nothing but irritation among this small community.

Professor Marci Shore of Yale University presented a very interesting paper about  the brothers Jakub and Adolf (Abraham) Berman, entitled ‘Children of the revolution: post-war fate of the Berman brothers’. Knowledge of Jakub Berman’s activities ( is quite wide in our circles. But the figure of his brother, who despite his leftist views was also a Zionist and a member of Poalei Tsiyon is more interesting (according to Professor Shore, he was once told that ‘you can’t serve two masters at the same time’). After emigration to Israel, Adolf became a Mapam member of the Knesset but later changed to Maki.

Paweł Tomasik’s paper ‘The activities of the ‘Babel’ Club’ as perceived by the SP’ opened the afternoon session. From our point of view, this is a most interesting matter and this is why this paper will be published either entirely or large sections of it in the March number or somewhat later. So, for now, I will only sketch out the main points of part one. The Babel Club was registered as a Student and Young Intelligentsia Club in April 1966. It had between 200 and 280 members, including 20 percent Poles (or rather non Jews). Section III, Department III of the MSZ took an interest in this Club. It consisted of several sections and discussions were organised on Wednesdays (we will provide a complete list in the March number). As far as Mr. Tomasik was able to find out, three secret agents, ie, Żak, Rajski (no connection with Bolek Rajski) and Edward were assigned to the club. Another  ZG TSKŻ member, a secret agent since 1965, pseudonym Krzyżanowski, along with three other secret agents who were not members of the club, was handing over information about Babel. In a few words Mr. Tomasik gave a description of Edward, then he gave an account of what happened at the club meeting with Jerzy Wiatr (10 May 1967) and described the meeting with Rakowski on 7 June 1967 in detail, where speakers included Józek Sobelman, Natan Tenenbaum, Józef Dajczgewand, Wiktor Nagórski and Henryk Szlajfer. Following this meeting, Dajczgewand, Szlajfer and Nagórski did not attend any further meetings and when Heniek Szlajfer wanted to come to the club on the 8th of November, Ernest Lederman threw him out. This happened on the occasion of Leopold Domb’s lecture ‘Israel’s Problems and the Near East’ when, according to Edward the informer, Mendel Szafir well-known for his nationalist views took the floor ‘not for the first time and in a provocative manner’.  During his meeting with Andruszkiewicz,Maks Boratyński demanded reliable information and, another time, Andrzej Zakrzewski encouraged him to make anti-Polish statements. A variety of such information did exist, for example, about Władysław Bibrowski’s and Wiktor Druski’s meetings with a Dutch journalist in the TSKŻ cafe; about Roman Frydman’s and Natan Erdberg’s signing  Bibrowski’s petition (7 February 68) concerning Dziady [cancelled performances of Forefathers’ Eve] and during the Warsaw street events when it was reported how Krystyna Flato proudly gave an account of a student demonstration against the Dziady ban (11 February). So much about the March events, the rest in the March edition of Plotkies!!!!
We will compare this article with the opinions of a contemporary member of the Babel club.

The young Israeli historian Witold Mędykowski, the only representative of Israeli institutions, a specialist in Polish, Czech/Slovak affairs in Yad vaShem, read the next paper ent. ‘Echoes of the ‘anti-Zionist campaign in Poland in the Israeli papers 1967–1968’, he bluntly recounted the attitudes in Israeli papers based on what had been written in Nowiny and Kurier (the so-called kurwiny) [rude play on words combining the 2 newspaper names- translator] which, of course, was not very flattering for the Polish authorities or the Polish nation. I think that it’s not worth my while to elaborate this any further as these clearly constituted anti-Communist and, frequently, also anti-Polish attitudes.

The two final papers concentrated on what we call the ‘post-March emigration’ or on You, Dear Readers. Our colleague Joasia Wiszniewicz conducted approximately 100 interviews with March emigrants in the 1990’s, mainly in the USA and is about to publish a book on this subject. Her paper ‘Before and after the shock. Building a new identity by young March emigrants in America’, she defined our identity before emigration as incomplete, neither fully Polish nor fully Jewish.  In her words this resulted in a state of ‘identity discomfort’. The March events were followed by shock which Joanna described  in detail (starting with finding out about her background and ending with the emptiness that ensued due to Jews being shunned by their colleagues and even friends). The next act consisted of emigration when, while stopping over in Rome (those going to the USA), the less Jewish members of the emigration found out from their colleagues from Lower Silesia and their parents what it really meant to be a Jew in Poland. Next came contacts with American Jews and our colleagues were faced with a cultural abyss dividing them from the ‘real Jews’. Later, children appeared who were better able to get to know Jewish culture and traditions. Because they were cut of from Poland (there was 20-year ban) they travelled to Israel and this became their ‘old country’ resulting in ever more intense pro-Israeli attitudes and ever decreasing interest in Poland. In the concluding part of her paper, Joanna recounted our leisure activities with meetings in Ashkelon as well as other places. Like contributions to various types of internet forums and émigré newspapers, she recognised such activities as resulting from a need to return to their youth and an expression of their experiences. According to Joanna, this constituted  a phase in the formation of a comprehensive image of a generation and writing its history, as well as the creation of a myth!

And finally, Leopold Sobel read a paper  ‘We are building a “new” house’. Poland and the March emigration in ‘Plotkies’. I began with some quotations about how we enjoyed summer camps and clubs in Jewish schools and how we continue to remember them with pleasure. Because we liked being part of our own community. Colleagues whose experiences were limited to Polish life, say the same thing. Then I described the shock and trauma of March, quoting Natan Tenenbaum’s and Tamara Sławna’s verses as well as Michał Moszkowicz’s and Viktoria Korb’s views about what significance March had for us. Next, I passed on to a discussion of the emigration’s involvement in Polish issues, recalling the negative reception by the emigration circles of Józek Dajczgewad’s initiative entitled ‘Hatikva 68’ and Plotkies’ readers opinions on this subject. So, having presented the difficulties connected with Polish citizenship and the older generation’s uncompromising attitude to Poland, I propose that our periodic meetings in Ashkelon, Mulsjo, Brandbjerg and other occasional get-togethers constitute the real homecoming in the sense of reliving that which we had lost and they are the real attempts at reviving the pre-emigration community atmosphere, because even though they include a lot of emotions and joy, in actual fact they represent more than just a good time! I shall also read a Polish translation (by an oversight I read the English version at this conference, which I know a lot better than Polish but....)

An interesting side note: the last scheduled paper by Dr Piotr Gontarczyk never took place! This would be nothing unusual, except for its title: ‘Biographical notes about some emigrants to Israel as a contribution to research on the repercussion of 1968’. An interesting subject, particularly as Dr Gontarczyk recently wrote an article  ‘Comrade “Semjon”: Professor Zygmunt Bauman, an intellectual patron of the new left was an officer and agent of the communist secret police’ in the Ozon magazine 23/2006. It is hard to say what Dr Gontarczyk’s paper would have been about at this conference but I suspect that it was a good thing that it was not read. Two versions of the reason for the speaker’s absence emerged in unofficial conversations. One, that he did not manage to get it ready on time, the other that he did not dare to come. 

Some people got carried away during the discussion of Professor Eisler’s paper. He told off  Witold Mędykowski point blank (then he apologised privately for his tone and exaggeration). Professor Eisler’s said that there was a lack of critical analysis of the press material presented by the Israeli representative and this lowered the high level of the conference. The Professor was also outraged by the juxtaposition of the Gdansk Railway Station with the Umschalgplatz (it was not till later that I realised that this referred to Natan Tenebaum’s poem ‘Chochoły’ [Straw Men). He also opposed any comparisons between March and the Holocaust. Most of  his remarks were clearly due to a misunderstanding and even though everyone explained everything in a civilised manner, nevertheless it left a certain nasty aftertaste. But we were beguiled by the exceptional culture of Joanna Wiszniewicz (in the end, there is nothing like being a member of the Reunion 68) and by Grzegorz Berendt.

After the interval, there followed a panel discussion on the subject of ‘Factors forming Jewish consciousness in Poland before and after the ‘anti-Zionist’ campaign of  1967–1968’. In his presentation Stanisław Aronson spoke about how the 6-day war influenced Israeli and Jewish consciousness. Jacek Schatz returned to the issue of national traditions that Dr Żaryn had brought up the previous day and highlighted  what formed Jewish consciousness for the parents’ generation. Then I briefly described discussions about Zionism and emigration in our community before 1967 and about emigration. Next, Joanna Wiszniewicz described what had happened to Jews who remained in Poland after 1968, about their loneliness and alienation among opposition activists of the 1980s and later. About the question which still rings in their ears: did I do the right thing by staying, and one that will forever remain unanswered. Andrzej Krakowski concluded our presentation by talking about American experiences. He also spoke about the lack of tolerance for ‘other people’ even xenophobia in contemporary Poland. To confirm this he has filmed several hours of documentary material. We hope that one day it will be made into an extraordinary film. Jurek Przytyk, Józek Lebenbaum and Leszek Kantor who were present also made comments.