Kersten's Foundation

Fundacja Kerstenów

Krystyna Kersten

The Kersten Foundation was established in 2011 with the aim of celebrating and commemorating the life and work of Krystyna and Adam Kersten.

March 1968 and the so called Jewish issue in Poland after the Second World II

 Krystyna Kersten
  Translated by Margaret Kersten

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It has been almost twenty years since the events of March 1968. Such anniversaries provoke reflection about their long-term impact.  And this is how I would like to look at what comprises the symbolic images of March 1968, i.e. students’ rallies, police actions, trials and the brutal campaign of poisonous words and actions directed mostly at arbitrarily selected people.

The anti-Semitic character of this campaign could hardly be hidden behind the ideological camouflage or smokescreen of Zionism. It was directed against the Jews, people who were identified on the basis of ancestry, not self-determination—that is, according to race, blood and the criteria of the Nuremberg laws—regardless of how well camouflaged. Exposed and discredited by appropriate organizations, Jews were slighted in the press, at rallies, at mass meetings and assemblies organized across Poland, as “instigators and organizers, specialists in provocation” and researchers who saw for themselves “a great opportunity for their muddy politics, camouflaged in patriotic emotions” or “as cynical trouble-makers and politicasters”. Their Jewishness was signaled by certain allusions or the word “Zionist”, which substituted the word Jew, the word that could not be used without disclosing the anti-Semitic character of the campaign. When, on March 11th, Trybuna Ludu and Słowo Powszechne published a list of names of the student “instigators” of the unrest at the University of Warsaw, the commentaries in newspapers stated that behind the students’ backs “hide instigators from different groups of bankrupt political sorts well known to the authorities”. Furthermore, the newspaper published by the PAX Association stressed that those instigators are “Zionists … [who serve] the anti-Polish politics of the Federal Republic of Germany”.

On the same day, the theme of Zionism was picked up by Józef Kępa, the First Secretary of the Warsaw Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza: PZPR) who, in his speech at the council of the Warsaw socio–political membership, attacked, among others, Stefan Staszewski and Roman Zambrowski, and said: “We are not anti-Semites but we will not tolerate camouflaged Zionists.” On the same Monday, a rally was organized at the Motor-Car Factory (Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych: FSO)—the first of many across the country—under the following slogans: “Students go back to study, writers pick up your pens” and “Cleanse the party of Zionists”. At other rallies, the banners read: “Down with Israeli fighting squads”, “Students andintelligentsia—yes, Zionists and putsch—no”. As one of the students’ satirical songs put it: “Buła, a machinist, disagrees—guilty must be the Zionists”. Zionist was the code word that everybody understood. However, few in Poland knew what Zionism really meant. This is reflected in a Warsaw joke: a reporter asks a colleague: tell me how do you spell “Zionist”? His colleague responds: I am not sure, before the war it was spelled with letter “J”.

After many years, we can see that 1968, the year that is so permanently and so strongly written into the biographies of tens of thousands of people, was one of the critical moments of the modern history of Polish society. I mean Polish, not only of Polish Jews or Poles of Jewish origin or Polish–Jewish relations. Frankly, nobody doubts that what we call the Jewish question after World War II was and will remain an important element of Polish reality in moral, psychosocial and political terms. Contrary to common interpretations, what happened in 1968 cannot be reduced to the political tactics or social engineering manipulation undertaken by the Moczar’s clique in their interior fight for power. To the contrary, March was the consequence of processes rooted in the past—the remote and the more recent past—and determined by the situation Poland found herself in after the fall of Hitler’s Germany.

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Source: This article originally appeared in Polish in Polacy, Żydzi, komunizm. Anatomia półprawd 1939—68, Warszawa 1992, s. 143—171.