March 1968The Anti-Semitic Face of Communism

The events of March 1968 in Polish Peoples’ Republic unfolded against the backdrop of Soviet foreign policy objectives, its successes, and its failures. In June 1967 Israel – a U.S. ally – defeated Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq in what is known as the Six-Day War. Moscow, humiliated by the defeat of its client states, responded by ordering the leaders of its Easter European satellites to break diplomatic relations with Israel. “Zionists” everywhere were to blame for the defeat – and they were to pay the price. As in the Soviet Union during the Great Purge, the communist party turned against its own, against the purported "Zionist" enemy within.

On direct orders from Moscow, Poland broke off diplomatic relations with the Jewish State in June 1967. By March 1968, factional struggles within the Polish communist party responding to Soviet directives took an openly anti-Semitic turn. They led to ever-harsher repression, censorship, police surveillance, and arrests.

Bitterly opposed to the Soviet occupation of their homeland, the people of Poland cheered the Israeli victory as a blow against their communist oppressor. Because Israel was seen as anti-Soviet, most Poles instinctively supported the Jewish State. They remembered that many Israeli political leaders and officers were former Polish soldiers in General Władysław Anders' Army, made up of Gulag survivors and deportees rescued from the Soviet Russia (1941 - 42). Poles of Jewish descent showed their pride and support for Israel by changing their Slavic first names to Hebrew. Official anti-Semitism of the communist party prompted broad sympathy for its Jewish victims. When communist censors closed down a famous nineteenth century play, Forefather’s Eve, for its openly anti-Russian sentiment, Poland’s university students erupted in protests. Many of their best-known leaders were marching against the regime that their parents helped establish.

Israeli soldiers raise the Israeli flag over the Western Wall June 7,1967 alongside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel on the day of its capture from Jordanian forces in the June 1967 Middle East War.
It is under these circumstances – illegal joy at Israel’s victory, opposition to communist anti-Semitic witch-hunt, and resistance to Soviet oppression – that the repressive policies against Poles of Jewish origin began. The influential, anti-Semitic faction of the Communist Party associated with Mieczysław Moczar launched a crude anti-Semitic campaign in the state-run media. First Secretary of the Communist Party Władysław Gomułka accused Polish - Jewish citizens of acting as the “fifth column” and of being saboteurs. Highly scripted demonstrations against the March 1968 protesters were organized by the Party under anti-Semitic banners and propagandistic signs, such as “Long live the Central Committee of the Polish Communist Party.” The army, too, carried out its own purges of the Jewish officer corps, expelling most of them as “Zionists.” The measures were overseen by the then-head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, general Wojciech Jaruzelski, who justified the persecutions in the following way:
Numerous internal and external "Zionist" and pro-Zionist connections, both mafia - like structures and individuals, pose a great threat to us. The silence of high-ranking comrades of Jewish origin and their refusal to take a stance fuel the propaganda spread by our enemies abroad.
The communist harassment

of people of Jewish origin in 1968

General Wojciech Jaruzelski: Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army (1968): responsible for antisemitic purges in army.
March 1968 protests, initially confined to universities, spread throughout the country. Many student activists were arrested and imprisoned, as were many protesting workers. The communist harassment of “Zionists” combined with the humiliating offer to the purged party members of a one-way ticket out of Poland, led in 1968 to a large-scale Polish-Jewish emigration to Western Europe, United States, and Israel. Not surprisingly, many of those émigrés carried with them a misperception of persecution by Poland as a whole, rather than by the communist party that orchestrated the purges within its own ranks. This misperception persists to this day.

While the Six-Day War marked a Soviet defeat, March 1968 in Poland marked a small but significant Soviet victory: by purging Polish Jews from the party and forcing them to leave the country of their birth, Polish Communists helped their masters in Moscow reinforce the narrative of Poland as an anti-Semitic state, successfully promulgated by Russia at least since Yalta.
Cracow 03.1968

A mass gathering in the Lenin Steelworks

A rally organised by the Communists, after the March disturbances in order demonstrate support of Communist Parties anti-Zionist politics. The participants were forced to take part in such rallies, under threat of losing their jobs if they did not.

Banner slogans:
The workers will not forgive the instigators and the troublemakers.
"Zionists" go to Israel.
We the steelworkers loyally support our Communist Party.
Warsaw 8.03.1968

Student protest rally

March disturbances. A protest rally attended by several thousand students was held on the Warsaw University forecourt. After the rally, the units of the Militia (Communist Police) and units of the Party workers activists tore their way in to the University grounds. The demonstrating students were attacked while still on the University grounds, the turmoil then continued on Krakowskie Przedmieście (one of the main streets). On the photo one can see militia men and ORMO (Communist Party Volunteer Reserve Militia) attack the demonstrators, students and innocent passer-byes in front of the Church of the Holy Cross.
Warsaw 03.1968

A mass gathering in the Warsaw Steelworks

A rally organised by the Communists, after the March disturbances in order demonstrate support of Communist Parties anti-Zionist politics. The participants were forced to take part in such rallies, under threat of losing their jobs if they did not.

Banner slogans:
We want to work – students back to your books!
Students back to your books!
We demand that the "Zionist" troublemakers are revealed and punished.
Warsaw 8.03.1968

Turmoil on Krakowskie Przedmieście

A protest rally attended by several thousand students was held on the Warsaw University forecourt. After the rally, the units of the Militia (Communist Police) and units of the Party workers activists tore their way in to the University grounds. The demonstrating students were attacked while still on the University grounds, the turmoil then continued on Krakowskie Przedmieście (one of the main streets).
Warsaw 21.03.1968

Varsovian support

March disturbances. A two-day occupational strike at the Warsaw University of Technology. As an expression of their support, Varsovians brought the students food and cigarettes.

The banner reads:
We thank you. Your gifts touch our hearts.
Warsaw 8.03.1968

An attack on the crowds

An attack on the crowds gathered on both sides of Krakowskie Przedmieście street in front of the University. The Warsaw University forecourt was filled with thousands of students protesting against the taking off of Adam Mickiewcz’s "Dziady" (a patriotic Polish poetic drama by Poland’s leading XIXth century playwright). They were also against the expulsion of Adam Michnik and Henryk Szlajfer from the University (two dissident students at that time – currently Michnik is the Editor-in-Chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, while Szlajfer was a diplomat and a professor). The brutal actions of the militia (Communist Police) and ORMO (Communist Party Volunteer Reserve Militia) violated the extraterritoriality of the University. The militia attacked the youth and beat the demonstrators with metal rods.
Warsaw 15.03.1968

Two-day warning strike

March disturbances. Two-day warning strike of the Warsaw University students. On the photo one can see posters and banners hanging on the University’s main gate on Krakowskie Przedmieście street.

Banner slogans:
Warsaw is with us.
We want discussion not beatings.
Cracow, Lodz and Wroclaw are on strike.
We are supported by the workers from Pafawag and Nowa Huta.
Cracow 20.03.1968

A rally in support of the Communist Party

Main Square. A rally organised by the Communists, after the March disturbances in order demonstrate support of Communist Parties anti-Zionist politics. The participants were forced to take part in such rallies, under threat of losing their jobs if they did not.
Cracow 20.03.1968

A mass gathering in the Lenin Steelworks

A support rally for the Communist Party’s anti-Zionist policies after the March disturbances were organised by the communist leaders. The workers were forced to participate in rallies against student protestors and so called "Zionists", under threat of losing their jobs.

Banner slogans:
Writers back to their pens, students back to their books.
Long live Władysław Gomułka!
Long live PZPR (Polish Communist Party).
Warsaw 19.03.1968

Condemnation of the student's actions

A Communist Party gathering in the Congress Hall in the Palace of Culture and Science, condemning the antisocialist actions of students’ groups. On the photo one can see the First Secretary of the Polish Workers’ Party, Władysław Gomułka, delivering a speech.