Poles mark 1968 Jewish program

Poles mark 1968 Jewish program

Poland is marking the 50th anniversary of the decision by the communist government to declare thousands of Jews enemies of the state and forced them to flee.

The communists used the 1968 student protests to purge around 13,000 Jewish Poles, among them Holocaust survivors. Half the country’s Jewish population were stripped of their citizenship.

Last week President Andrzej Duda made an emotional plea for forgiveness and placed flowers at a memorial at the university.

Duda said: “What a shame, what a loss for the Polish republic today that those who left — and some who are maybe dead because of 1968 — are not here with us today… I am so sorry.

“The free and independent Poland of today, my generation, is not responsible and does not need to apologise.

“To those who were driven out then… I’d like to say please forgive the republic, Poles, the Poland of that time for having carried out such a shameful act.”

During his speech some protesters shouted “hypocrite” and “shame”, the Polish media reported.

The 1968 protesters, many of whom were students and professors of Jewish origin, were quickly suppressed but they were used as an excuse to expel Jews from the government.

Intellectuals and universities across Poland protested when a patriotic play by Polish Romantic-era poet Adam Mickiewicz was banned because it was deemed to have an anti-Russian message.

Jozef Lebenbaum was a 38-year-old Jewish reporter with the Workers’ Voice newspaper in Lodz, Poland’s second-largest city. He was forced to leave in August 1968.

“Suddenly, my work was gone, my colleagues, my apartment and the Polish culture I had grown up with,” he said. “I was never angry at Poland as a country.”

About 20,000 Jews from Poland left the country between 1968 and 1972.

The authorities organised demonstrations in which prominent Jews were accused of undermining the state. “Zionists to Zion,” delegates shouted at the party conventions.

Lebenbaum was accused of making pro-Israeli comments during the 1967 Six-Day War (pictured).

Initially, Polish society welcomed the victory of Israel, whose founders included many Jews from Poland. Poles said at the time: “Our Jews beat Russia’s Arabs,” reflected the pro-Israeli sentiment, as well as hostility toward the Soviet Union, which controlled Poland’s regime.

But the authorities then began referring to Jews in Poland as a “fifth column” or a group that threatened the state from within.

“My point of view was in accordance with international law and not with Warsaw’s propaganda at the time. Warsaw had sided with the Arab states,” Lebenbaum said.


The crushing Israeli victory in 1967 lay behind the 1968 pogroms. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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