First Published: Morning Freiheit, March 20, 1988.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxist Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
There is an old Yiddish saying, “Az men lebt, derlebt men sich.” It means that if one lives long enough he will live to see a wrong righted or just better times. This saying comes to mind after reading recent press reports from Warsaw. Poland, which announce that the Polish government now regrets the anti-Semitic “Anti-Zionist” campaign in 1968-69 and the harm it caused to Polish Jews, and acknowledges that a “political error” was committed at the time. Of course, many of us knew this 20 years ago when this “political error” blighted the life of the small Jewish community in Poland.
As welcome as these official acknowledgements in the Polish press of the anti-Semitic campaign in 1968-69 are, it is also evident they lack the candor and forthrightness that is needed to undo an historic injustice. One still looks in vain in present Polish statements for some acknowledgement that the “danger of Zionism” in Poland, the pretext of this campaign, was a fiction manufactured by rival groups in the Polish Communist leadership for factional purposes as well as to drive Jews out of administrative positions in party and state institutions. Neither is there any admission that this anti-Semitic campaign was organized by the top leaders of the ruling party, in particular by Gen. Moczar, Rusinek, Gen. Korczynski, Gomulka, Cyrankiewicz, their Jewish toady, Werblan, and a good many other leaders.
Twenty years ago there was a Jewish community of more than 30,000 people in Poland whose population then numbered 31 million. Yet, in 1968 most of the Communist leaders and their press organs went on a rampage against “Zionism” and the tiny minority of Jews in Poland which supposedly was dominated by Zionism. Jews were not only held up as an untrustworthy element in Polish society but as a threat to the Polish state. Jews got the message – they were not wanted in Poland! In this nightmare period thousands of Polish Jews lost their jobs and livelihoods. Most of the Jews who were members of the dominant Polish United Workers Party, (the successor of the pre-war, underground Polish Communist Party), were drummed out of the party or dropped from its rolls.
As the humiliations and threats against Jews increased over 20,000 of them emigrated from Poland, mostly to Israel, Denmark and Sweden. In addition to non-political people, these emigrants included former pre-war Communist Party members, veterans of the Spanish civil war and World War II veterans of the Soviet Army, the Polish Army and of partisan units in nazi-occupied Poland. All of them were deprived of disability and pension rights they were rightfully due.
In 1968 there were few Zionists left among the Jews in Poland. Those who wanted to leave for Israel were freely allowed to do so in previous years. The Jews then living in Poland had for the most party chosen to remain in their homeland. Many of them remained in Poland for political reasons, to build socialism; others wanted to maintain a semblance of Jewish life in a country where Jews had lived for a thousand years. The clamor that the Polish Communist leaders raised about the “Zionist threat” and the untrustworthiness of the Polish Jews assumed ugly forms. Jews who were involved in cultural and communal activities were summoned to interrogations by the security forces. Other Jews were assailed as “agents of imperialism” at meetings of the party or other organizations. For a while it was open season on the Jews. This writer was told several years ago of one case by a resident of Mohegah colony in Peekskill, N.Y. This man’s brother-in-law, a pre-war Communist Party member who had worked in a large factory in Warsaw, was pulled away from his work, shoved into a wheelbarrow and then ridden down the main aisle of the plant while the workers jeered and taunted him to go to Israel. Indeed, this man did end up there.
The anti-Semitic intellectuals in Poland, many of whom had belonged to the right-wing, anti-Semitic parties in pre-war Poland but were later induced to support the Communist regime, added their venom. One of them, Kazimierz Sidor, a former ambassador to Egypt, wrote the book, Revolution Under the Pyramids, which claimed that Jews had everywhere been “aliens,” “vagabonds,” and were descended from lepers. Thus Sidor wrote:
“Even in antiquity opinions were divided on the genesis of the Jews. The Greeks had written they originated in the leprous camp which the Egyptians had established in the periphery of their country.” (This passage was cited in Folks-Shtimmeh, Warsaw, June 7, 1969.)
One can imagine how this statement delighted the Polish Jew-baiters and what effect it had on the Polish Jews at the time!
Various commentators of this period claim that the most zealous organizers of the 1968 anti-Semitic campaign were Gen. Moczar and his associate, Rusinek, and not the party’s general secretary, Wladyslaw Gomulka, who had been their opponent. However this may be, Gomulka also joined in the frenzy against the Jews. In a speech in Warsaw on March 19, 1968 Gomulka denounced a protest movement among Warsaw University students and then specifically blamed the student unrest “on students of Jewish origin known for their revisionist actions and opinions.” This unprecedented emphasis on the “Jewish origin” of the student protesters by the top party leader legitimized the practice of other party leaders of singling out Jews for denunciations for various political sins.
No review of the 1968 anti-Semitic campaign in Poland can omit any mention of the sinister role played by the chief ideologue of the Polish United Workers Party, Andrzej Werblan. He is said to be an assimilated Jew but he was apparently quite eager to serve the anti-Semitic element in his party. He later fell into disgrace along with others in the Gierek faction during the period of Solidarity’s legal activity and was fired from the ruling party’s political bureau in December 1980.
Werblan’s defense of the 1968 anti-Semitic campaign was set forth in an essay entitled, The Genesis of the Conflict, which was issued in the Warsaw journal, Miesiecznik Literacki (Literary Monthly) of June 1968. He argued that Jews, beginning with Rosa Luxemburg (1870-1919), had undermined the party’s appeal to the genuine Poles, that Jews had been too numerous, (“between 22% and 26% of the membership,”) in the underground, pre-war Communist Party, and that after the war too many Jews had been working in the government institutions, that too many Jews leaned to “revisionism” or “Jewish nationalism” and that too many of their children had become “dissidents.” Apparently the Jews could do nothing right.
Werblan was most annoyed when Jews, much before 1968, complained they were fired from administrative positions and were replaced by Gentile Poles. Werblan commented as follows:
“The cosmopolitans” (meaning Jews who were party or state functionaries) “advanced the accusation of anti-Semitism against those comrades who realized that no society will be tolerant if persons of a national minority are represented in too large numbers in government administration, especially in such agencies as the Defense Ministry, in security, propaganda and foreign policy.”
Werblan’s advice to Jews was clear: Under capitalism you Jews don’t push yourselves into the Communist party and under socialism you Jews don’t push yourself into administrative positions. Jews should know their place and allow Gentiles to run affairs because society will tolerate them but will not tolerate Jews, “persons of a national minority,” to hold down administrative positions!
Can anyone imagine a better argument for Zionism than this one by the former Polish Communist ideologue?
In any serious political movement Werblan would be dismissed as an anti-Semitic crank. In Poland in 1968 his argument became the rationale to fire dedicated Communists who were Jews from their positions which they held because of their competence and loyal service.
As noted earlier the recent Polish statements on the 1968 anti-Semitic campaign though welcome are not as forthright as they ought to be. One cannot be pleased with several statements in the front page article, March 1968, that was published in the daily party newspaper, Trybuna Ludu, of March 2, 1988. The article acknowledged the anti-Semitic campaign “brought harm to many people,” damaged scholarly and intellectual life and tarnished Poland’s prestige abroad. Well and good. But then it adds:
“the overwhelming majority of party and state activists had nothing to do with anti-Semitism ... It should be strongly stated that the party as a whole and its leadership – although not always effective or timely – nonetheless tried to discourage an atmosphere of anti-Semitism.” (N.Y. Times, March 3, 1988).
This is a self-serving statement. Far from discouraging an atmosphere of anti-Semitism the top leaders of the Polish United Workers Party promoted it! The fears they whipped up about a Zionist danger to Poland, the purging of Jews from the party, the slanderous press articles about Jews by pre-war, right-wing anti-Semites and Werblan’s bizarre theory of too many Jews in the Polish Communist movement all encouraged a widespread anti-Semitic atmosphere.
To be sure there were at the time important personalities in the Polish Communist movement who were genuine Marxist internationalists, such as Edward Ochab, the former president of Poland, Jerzy Albrecht, Jerzy Sztachelski and others who opposed Gomulka and Moczar, but they were either driven from the party leadership, or they resigned from it.
The anti-Semitic campaign in Poland in 1968-69 shocked and depressed activists in progressive Jewish movements in the United States, Canada, France, Argentina and Israel. To everyone’s consternation several Jews who were leaders in the American Communist Party sought to whitewash the Polish Communist leadership by claiming it was engaged in a campaign against Zionism only and that whatever anti-Semitism surfaced was due to “anti-Socialist forces” in Poland but these were not specified. More on this grotesque misinterpretation of the 1968 anti-Semitic campaign in Poland in a future article.