FOLLOWING THE SIX-DAY WAR in 1967 the authorities in Poland started to present Poland’s remaining Jews as a “fifth column”. The propaganda was part of a struggle for power between different fractions of the communist party. The struggle intensified in the spring of 1968 following student demonstrations against censorship. The movement for democracy was classed as “Zionist” or “cosmopolitan” in collusion with “American imperialism, West German revanchism and world Zionism’s joint anti-Polish conspiracy”. Thousands of people of Jewish origin (including people who had no knowledge of their Jewish roots) were dismissed from their jobs and many were charged with fictitious crimes. The government decreed that they should be able to leave the country on forfeiting their Polish citizenship.
Deprived of work, any possibility of studying (in some cases turned out of their apartments) and subject to government-directed anti-Semitism, some 20.000 Polish Jews fled the country. Since the fall of communism in 1989, only a few have returned. The Polish communists almost succeeded in fulfilling the Nazi idea of Poland “free of Jews”.
1968 was an extraordinary and dramatic year both in East and West. In its presentation of the year, the Jewish Museum in Stockholm is focusing on the narrative of how the Polish Jews were driven from their homeland.
The museum would not have been able to present this narrative without the highly professional and committed support of the exhibition committee comprising Miriam Andersson Blecher, Christina Gamstorp, Gabriel Herdevall, Jackie Jakubowski and Maciej Zaremba. We are indebted to them and to our institutional collaborators whose contributions have made “1968” possible. We should also like to thank all the numerous people who, through their writings, testimonies, films, photographs and loaned objects, tell their stories in the exhibition.
We sincerely hope that the exhibition will inspire people to reflect on and discuss the issues that are raised.
Jewish Museum in Stockholm
Miriam Andersson Blecher, Curator, Jewish Museum in Stockholm (JMS)
Christina Gamstorp, Project Manager, Forum for Living History, Stockholm
Gabriel Herdevall, Architect
Yvonne Jakobsson, Museum Director, Jewish Museum in Stockholm. Responsible for the exhibition and project managaer for JMS
Jackie Jakubowski, Journalist/Author/Chief Editor of Judisk Krönika/Jewish Chronicle
Natalie Lantz, Public Relations officer, JMS
Maciej Zaremba Journalist/Author
Forum for Living History, Stockholm
International Culture Forum in Sweden
Instytut Adama Mickiewicza, Warszawa
Jewish Historical Institute, Warszawa
Open Society Archives, Budapest
Polish Institute, Stockholm
Spårvägsmuseet (Stockholm Transport Museum)
Stockholm Education Administration
With generous contribution from Swedish Arts Council
Dorotea Bromberg, Anders Carlberg, Anders Carlberg, Josef Dajczgewand, Jerzy Eisler, Lars Hallberg, Jurek Holzer, Leo Kantor, Jurij Lederman, Anders Lekholm, Lena Lucki, Thomas Pettersson, Pierre Schori, Leopold Sobel, Anna Szapiro, Katarina Warman.
News reports in Sweden in 1968 were full of accounts of the student riots in Paris, Berlin and Stockholm. Young people manned the barricades and protested against injustices and the authoritarian society.
We saw how people in Prague vainly attempted to stop the Warsaw Pact’s tanks with their own bodies. The Soviet Union’s display of power was forceful and devastating. The invasion became a tragic fact.
The dramatic photographs displayed here are from the invasion of Kosice in Czechoslovakia in August 1968.
Only about sixty to eighty thousand of the 3,2 million Jews survived the Holocaust on the territory that, in 1945, became Poland. At the end of the war some 150.000 Polish Jews who had fled to the Soviet Union returned to Poland. And so about 200.000 Jews lived in Poland for some years after the Holocaust.
But many of them – almost 100 000 people – chose to flee from Poland after the pogrom in Kielce in July 1946 when 37 Jews were murdered by a mob with some members of the local police involved. After this a further 80 000 Jews left Poland primarily for Israel in two periods, 1948-1949 and 1956-1959. Thereafter there were about 25.000 Jews left in the country.
Ten years later the remaining Jews were expelled. The Polish communists almost succeeded in fulfilling the Nazi idea of Poland “free of Jews”.
The occupation of the student union building in Stockholm
The occupation of the student union building in Stockholm received a vast amount of media coverage; it was the lead story in all Sweden’s newspapers and news broadcasts. Television was a relatively new medium at the time and news items covered by both Sweden’s TV channels had an enormous impact. People living in the provinces could readily believe that Stockholm had become a war zone. Every last nuance, shift or statement was blown up into a major event.
The main grievance underlying the occupation was the Social-Democrat government’s proposed reform of higher education launched under the heading UKAS. This involved a centralized educational programme for the universi-ties and other tertiary educational institutions allowing little freedom of choice to the students. A similar proposal in France had led to the May revolt there some months earlier. We students wanted discuss the proposal with the then Minister of Education, the Social-Democrat ‘crown prince’ Olof Palme. He refused to come and debate the issue. When the occupation had been in force for three hours Olof Palme turned up.
The opposition to UKAS was justified. We maintained that students’ freedom, creativity and independence would suffer. And we were proved right. The reform has since been abandoned. It had resulted in too much cramming for exams and too little in-depth learning, debate and critical thinking. But the struggle against UKAS also generated strong affects and vague leftish ideologies. Olof Palme exploited this with considerable skill, thereby avoiding hav-ing to defend the serious weaknesses of the reform.
The most positive aspect of 1968 was that young people broke with the old authoritarian society. Youngsters in their twenties stood up and took part in a hard-hitting debate with the country’s education minister who was one of Sweden’s most gifted public speakers. This would have been unthinkable a few years earlier.
Political discussion changed after 1968. The Vietnam movement, protests against he Davis cup match between Sweden and Rhodesia in Båstad, the occupation of the student union and defence of the elm trees in Stockholm’s most central park a few years later led to a situation in which the political authorities could no longer count on being able simply to steer public opinion.
1968 acted as a midwife for the feminist movement, the green movement and a growing awareness of an unjust world.
“I had just left the Adolf Fredrik police station (Watch 5) and was at the junction of Kammakargatan and Holländargatan when a procession of demonstra-tors, filling up the entire street, came marching along in the direction of Kungsgatan. I seem to remember that the sun was shining both in the sky and in the faces of the demonstrators, even though their slogans sounded threatening. At any rate, the young woman who gave me the leaflet had a sunny smile. I realized that what I had witnessed was a matter for the police and returned to my police station at No. 37 on Kammakargatan to report. It certainly was a matter for the police. For the Stockholm police was busy for several days with the occupation of the student union and the so-called Ghost Park.
I don’t really know how this leaflet has survived. For really it was only relevant on the evening that it was handed to me.
Extraordinary police constable 305/5
I had, of course, heard about the occupation of the student union on the news. At that time I was working on the corner of Sveavägen and Tegnérgatan. Since this was quite close to the student union I went there after work at about six o’clock. I had no difficulty in getting in.
There were masses of people in the main hall. Most of them had been there for a long time. It was very warm and humid and airless. People were moving around in the hall. One had to push one’s way through them. The bad air meant that most of the people were tired and irritated. Somebody fainted. I had an unpleasant feeling that panic might break out at any moment.
Then a representative of the student union got up on the rostrum and, after a while, managed to quieten people down so that he could make himself heard. He got everyone to sit down on the floor which immediately calmed the mood. He explained that somebody had been sent off to look for tools in order to open the windows which could only be opened with a special key. When the fresh air finally streamed into the room people calmed down. An hour or so later Olof Palme turned up. He can be seen on the rostrum in the photographs.
If I my memory serves me rightly, Anders Carlgren spoke earlier in the evening, before Olof Palme. I do not remember what Palme said but I remember that his speech was involving and seemed to have been carefully prepared. He held the attention of his audience by asking questions and getting an-swers with a show of hands.
Soviet troops invade Czechoslovakia
On the 20th of August 1968, armed forces of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia. The initial force consisted of about 250.000 soldiers and 4.200 tanks. The second wave comprise 450.000 soldiers and 6.500 tanks. Poland had contributed in excess of 24.000 officers and men, 647 tanks, 566 armoured vehicles, 191 mortars, 84 anti-tank weapons, 96 anti-aircraft weapons, 4.798 lorries and 36 helicopters. Not since the Second World War had Poland been involved in a military operation on this scale. Similar forces were mobilized a few years later to put down the rebellion in Gdansk in December 1970 – and even more during the period of marshal law in December 1981.
Excerpt from “March 1968”
by Professor Jerzy Eisler
Director, Institute of National Memory, Warszaw
When the Polish Jews were expelled from their homeland
The Universal Delusion
The anti-Semitic campaign in Poland in 1968 came as a shock to many people. How could a communist party preach hatred of the Jews? Was not communism the best possible vaccine against xenophobia? Racism and nationalism are capitalism’s progeny but the proletariat knows no nation, the manifesto proclaimed. Communism was the promise of the universal brotherhood of men.
In particular, in the Central European countries of the twenties and thirties, under the yoke of aggressive nationalism, this promise had a deep attraction to minorities and this explains the relatively large proportion of people of Jewish origin in the communist parties.
For the Polish-Jewish communists the 1968 campaign was an unfathomable tragedy. But it was also the deathblow of communism as an ideology. In the light of history – and including what happened in the Balkans during the 1990s where communists had no difficulty in turning into ultranationalists – it is necessary to move our focus from the communist slogans to the underlying patterns of thought.
The doctrine is notably dualistic. It requires the presence of an enemy “other”: capitalists, imperialists, kulaks, revisionists, whom it is essential to resist and it is natural to hate. Since communism, which represents Good, cannot by definition will something evil – though mishaps still occur – the rule explains the setbacks as the work of “the others”: saboteurs, fractions, enemies.
The anti-Semitic campaign of 1967-1968 showed that in communist politics the need for an Enemy carries more weight than the humanist slogans. That this is the very axle of communist policy and the dominant power strategy – but that the enemy can be changed at will.
When the Polish communists, whom many people regarded as an occupying power, sought domestic legitimacy, they started to present opposition to the system as something foreign and “un-Polish”. One merely had to replace certain concepts in the communist propaganda. Authors who had previously been described as “enemies of socialism” now became “enemies of the nation”. “Foreign” which had previously been used to describe a hostile ideology now came to mean a foreign race. “True communists” became “real Poles” with deep roots in the Polish soil and even with “Polish blood” in their veins. At the same time that the hostile forces, troublemakers and parasites all turned out to have Jewish names.
The anti-Semitic campaign in Poland started after there had been violent student protests demanding freedom of speech and democracy.
The regime described the difficult political situation as the result of “American imperialism, West German revanchism and world Zionism’s joint anti-Polish conspiracy”. Those who, it was claimed, played the decisive role in this international conspiracy were – Jews. Their loyalty as Polish citizens was questioned and they were accused of sympathizing with Israel during the Six-Day War of June 1967 and not with the Arab states that were allies of Poland the Soviet block. Polish Jews were expelled from the party and made to sign declarations of loyalty. They were prosecuted for defaming the Polish state and subjected to harassment at universities and other workplaces. And finally, they were encouraged to leave the country.
In March 1968 the anti-Semitic propaganda reached its culmination. The estimated 25.000 Jews – in a country that, prior to the war, had more than three million Jewish citizens of whom only a tiny fraction survived the Holocaust – were declared to be “foreigners”, “Zionists” and “cosmopolitans”; enemies of the state and the Polish people.
The campaign against the Jews in Poland in 1968 – not much more than 20 years after the Holocaust – was not ideological even if it began in answer to an emerging movement for democracy and as part of the internal power struggle in the communist party. The campaign was racist because the harassment and dismissals from the universities and from other jobs were also directed at Jews who were totally assimilated; even people whose “Jewishness” was three generations back – according to the Nazi Nuremberg Laws.
The threat of pogroms in the years 1968-1970 led to most of Poland’s Jews – some 20.000 people – leaving the country.
My father screamed. I had never in my life heard anything similar. I was sitting alone in my room in Warsaw and listening to the conversation going on in the living room. My father had just come back from yet another day spent with the Polish customs authority and another round of negotiations regarding what items we could or could not take with us. Objects that were dear to the family had been allotted to groups of 10 items. The customs officer had thrown them all together without the least interest in what belonged with what. Then it was my father’s turn to choose. Only two items from each group. As soon as my father pointed to something they immediately disallowed it and the game started over again. This had been going on for a week. The Polish customs officer knew who we were and why we were leaving Poland.
One afternoon my father cautiously entered my room with a plate of thinly sliced apple. He was to tell me that we should soon be obliged to leave Poland because he was a JEW. This was the second time that I had heard that I was Jewish. A “helpful” Polish friend had whispered this in my ear on the playground at school a few days earlier. But I did not believe her. The word Jew was a common swearword in Polish schools. I had recently taken advantage of my status in the class to defend a classmate who had been pointed out as a Jew.
And now I had nothing to build my new identity on but persecutions and horrors. There were no stories or lullabies, no delicious-smelling dishes or personal memories. Being a Jew was irrevocably and solely connected with all that I knew of the horrors of war. I had grown up with stories and pictures of the war. Human skeletons in striped clothing, piles of corpses, crematoria… These appalling images from the nation’s painful history that were so close in time and space became, in the twinkling of an eye, part of my private world. I had a new role in them.
The 8th of March 1968 marked the turning point in our family’s secure and well-ordered life
While my father, Adam Bromberg, as an officer in the Russian army, was fighting to liberate Poland during the Second World War, his entire family was annihilated by the Nazi occupiers. After the war he helped to rebuild Poland which, he believed, would never again allow persecution and discrimination. He started several publishing companies, including one of the world’s largest scientific publishers. My mother, Anna, was a scientist. My parents saw themselves primarily as Poles – Poles of Jewish origin. But it soon became apparent that it did not matter how assimilated they felt themselves to be.
The 8th of March 1968 marked the turning point in our family’s secure and well-ordered life. I was fifteen years old and on this day I saw how a small demonstration at Warsaw University was brutally dealt with by the communist regime. Everything that happened after that I only remember through a mist, like an evil dream.
On the following day we could read in the newspapers and hear on the radio that it was Jews (“Zionists”) who had stirred up the students. On the same day my father was dismissed from his job. Almost all our friends and acquaintances disappeared. We were forced to leave the apartment that we had lived in for twenty years. We had to move to a small apartment in a building in which the neighbours were openly hostile towards us. Everything changed at school. My grades were lowered and all my friends had suddenly disappeared. No one dared to talk to me any more. Only one friend remained, Grazyna. She refused to abandon me and protested to the teachers. She was called up to the school principal and told that she was never to attend school again. And she was forbidden to apply to any other school. Sixteen-year-old Grazyna went home, wrote a letter about how deeply she was ashamed at what was going on in Poland, and opened the gas tap…
As if it was not enough to lose my best friend I was accused of causing her death. The school reported me to the police and I was forced to confess my “crime” in the assembly hall in front of the entire school.
Following a virulent media campaign against my father he was threatened with prosecution, accused of taking part in a “Zionist conspiracy” against Poland. He faced ten years or life in jail. He was refused a lawyer and was cross-examined every day for a whole year. More than one hundred witnesses were forced to sign false testimonies against him.
Our situation became untenable and we applied for permission to leave the country. After many refusals we were finally granted permission.
On a beautiful day in August 1970 we embarked on a boat for Ystad. Our only thought at the time was: never again, never again. Whatever happened in our new and unknown country of Sweden we should never have to experience anything similar. Never again would we be subjected to anti-Semitism.
In December 1968 my mother came into my room and told me to sit down. She seemed very nervous, which is to say very resolute. She said that she had something important to tell me. And then she said: “We are going to emigrate”. She briefly paused. And then added: “I am a Jew”.
I don’t remember very much of the chaotic feelings that must have resulted from these two remarks. I only remember two things. That I had never loved her more than I did just then. And that, as usual, I had no way of showing this. And I also thought: “She should have told me this the other way round”.
Ten years earlier a boy on the street had said something strange about Jews. I did not know what he meant. I asked my mother what Jews looked like. “Like me”, she answered. Which I interpreted to mean “like everyone else, you fool. Now stop disturbing me”.
By a miracle my mother had survived the Holocaust and thereafter she had hidden her origins for everyone except her husband.
I was seventeen and I saw myself as the most Polish one could possibly be, with a father who had fought for Poland in three wars and who had evidence that his ancestors, in steel armour and plumed helmets had, in July 1410, defeated the German Order at Tannenberg and, in gratitude to God for the victory, had “erected” a church. I had a name that entitled me to a coat of arms which was important in a country that was communist on the surface but medieval deeper down. But who was I now?
That question had to remain dormant. I was her son. Four months later we were no longer in Poland.