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Fighting against the shadows: the anti-Zionist campaign of 1968

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Fighting against the shadows: the anti-Zionist campaign of 1968
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  Dariusz Stola stola@isppan.waw.pl  „ Fighting against the Shadows: The Anti- Zionist Campaign of 1968” , in Robert Blobaum   (ed.), Antisemitism and Its Opponents in Modern Poland, Ithaca (Cornell University Press) 2004. 1  PENULTIMATE VERSION  In March 1968 the entire Polish media  —   from newspapers, radio and television to  posters, banners and leaflets  —   focused on the threat that a Zionist conspiracy posed to the stability and security of Poland. The Zionists, allied with neo-Nazis, American imperialists, ex-Stalinists striving to return to power, German revanchists and a few cosmopolitan intellectuals, had recently incited students in several Polish universities to attack the principles of the socialist regime and the national interest. Contrary to the instigators’ expectations, the workers, peasants and most of the intelligentsia showed their civic maturity, firm patriotism and full support for the Party leadership and  particularly for the First Secretary, Comrade Wladyslaw Gomulka. To eradicate the anti-socialist and anti-national elements, the Party organization at all levels, along with the trade unions and various associations, engaged in efforts to cleanse the workplaces, schools and offices of those individuals corrupted by alien influences. The paragraph above comprises a summary of official accounts of the infamous events of the spring of 1968 in Poland. This article will discuss the anti-Jewish campaign of that time in terms of the images of the Jew it construed, spread and exploited. As one may suppose, in 1968 the terms “Zionism” and “Zionist” were not used to refer to a particular variety of nationalism or its proponents, but were substitutes for “Jew” and “Jewish,”  including cases where the person referred to as a Zionist was not Jewish at all. Thus, these terms will appear here in italics, together with other terms reminiscent of Orwellian newspeak, the peculiar language of the communist regime. Before the campaign started in 1967, there were approximately 25,000-30,000 Jews among Poland’s more than 32 million inhabitants. This was only a miniscule fraction of the once great Polish Jewry, which the Holocaust had destroyed almost entirely. Two waves of postwar emigration (in the late 1940s and in 1956-1958) reduced the community of survivors to a statistically insignificant minority. In the 1960s, this remnant group was aging while its younger strata were undergoing accelerated acculturation and integration into Polish society, a phenomenon that simultaneously i mplied the further erosion of Yiddish culture and the community’s secularization. This relatively small minority, however, possessed impressively developed secular institutions which  —  unique in the Soviet bloc  —  were permitted to receive significant material support from the West. At the same time the Jewish community did not have a single qualified rabbi and in the entire country there were only a few functioning synagogues. The demographic and cultural processes noted above led to an evolution of Polish-Jewish ethnic identities. 2  The anti-Zionist campaign in Poland began in the summer of 1967 following the outbreak of the Six Day Arab-Israeli war, but reached its main and most dramatic stage in the spring of 1968. In the summer of 1967 the Cold War and political subordination to Moscow caused the Communist leaders of Poland to take the Arab side in the distant conflict in the Middle East. Two weeks later, the Polish communist party leader Wladyslaw Gomulka introduced a domestic, anti-Jewish dimension into the ongoing anti-  Israeli campaign, by comparing Polish Jews sympathetic to Israel to a subversive “fifth column” and claiming that “one should have only one fatherland.” In response the brilliant writer Antoni Slonimski commented that certainly, one should have only one fatherland, but asked why this fatherland had to be Egypt? 3   As Gomulka’s initiative met angry reactions among some members of the Politburo, the propaganda campaign regained its focus on Israel and the western imperialism it supposedly served, but the Security Service (secret police) began a systematic screening of people of Jewish srcin in search of alleged  Zionists . In March 1968, in reaction to a wave of student protests (which were completely unrelated to the Six Day war) and the ferment among intellectuals, the authorities unleashed a large-scale hate campaign against alleged internal enemies, among whom the  Zionists  suddenly appeared in first place. Although its deceleration had begun earlier, the campaign was officially terminated in July 1968, while its most significant aftereffect, a wave of mass Jewish emigration from Poland, lasted for many months thereafter. 4  The noisy campaign, combined with a political crisis and a wave of disturbances in the largest Soviet satellite, evoked considerable interest in the West and stimulated numerous commentaries, followed by a number of essays and analyses. In Poland as well the goals and intrigues of the March campaign evoked understandable interest, but with the mass media under the control of the communist party, the topic for many years remained the object of public lies or enforced silence on the one hand, and private guesses, rumors and conjecture on the other. The situation changed somewhat only a decade later, with the growth of the uncensored press. However, the independent publications devoted to the anti-Jewish campaign itself or to the events of March 1968 more generally, although  sometimes highly interesting and testifying to their authors’ investigative spirit, all  suffered from a basic weakness: namely, they had very limited or no access to information from those institutions that initiated the campaign and carried it out. Only recently, especially since the termination of the 30-year long freeze period that protects Polish archives from historians, have more primary sources become available for research, thus making possible the appearance of new publications based on them. 5  This article is derived from research of these newly accessible materials, mainly from the voluminous collection of the Polish United Workers Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza  —  PZPR) and the archives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Ministerstwo Spraw Wewnetrznych  —  MSW) and has benefited as well as from earlier publications 4 . While the social background, particularly the persistence of anti-Jewish prejudice in Poland many years after the Holocaust, may be well known, a few words about the lesser known, intra-party aspects of the campaign are in order here. The srcins of the tensions within the communist elite that surfaced in 1967-68 could already be seen in the late 1940s, when Wladyslaw Gomulka, the leader of the party until that time, together with a group of other Communist leaders who likewise had spent the war years in Poland, was accused of right-wing nationalist deviation , removed from power and subsequently arrested. The group of communists that consequently emerged triumphant was dominated by those who spent the war years in the Soviet Union and included prominent Jewish party members. 6  In 1956 Gomulka returned to power and to a party leadership divided into two factions. The relatively reformist group, called “Pulawy,” included leading Jewish communists; the other faction, known as “Natolin,” did not hesitate to exploit the ethnic argument against its rival. Gomulka initially formed a strategic pact  with the first group but as time passed he put his own people in key positions and, under the slogan of fighting against revisionism   (shouldn’t this be italicized, to o, since it is part of the language of newspeak?), he was able to weaken the Pulawy faction’s position. In the 1960s a new force appeared on the political scene, the Partisans, a rather loose group of party leaders and loverl-levels activists united by similar political backgrounds, unappeased ambitions and a world-view combining nationalism and communism, under the unquestioned leadership of Gen. Mieczyslaw Moczar 5 . The campaign that began in March 1968 was neither the first nor the last hate campaign organized by the Communist regime in Poland. These Polish campaigns were local mutations of the Soviet models developed during the great purges and show trials of the 1930s, when the communist language of hate acquired its most distinctive forms. They were most frequent, intensive and fatal in the period prior to 1956, yet the regime returned to the tested patterns in later years as well. Barely two years before the March events a wave of protests and condemnation was carefully prepared and carried out in earnest against the Roman Catholic episcopate. The anti-Zionist   campaign itself had not yet concluded when the propaganda machine was set in motion against the reform movement in Czechoslovakia to justify the intervention by the combined Warsaw Pact forces. 7  A distinctive feature of the March campaign in comparison with other communist hate campaigns was its targeting of a group that historically had been the object of attack by anti-communist groups, along with its borrowing part of the anti-Semitic legacy of those groups. Noisy and aggressive anti-Jewish communist propaganda, only now in the light camouflage of anti-Zionism , had no precedent in Poland, where the stereotype of
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