WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — A ceremony at a Warsaw train station commemorated the 20,000 Jews who were forced out of Poland because of the anti-Semitic campaign of March 1968.
Golda Tencer, director of the Jewish Theatre in Warsaw, who organized Tuesday’s event at the Gdansk Station, said at the ceremony that the crisis in 1968 was her personal tragedy.
“A tragedy of those who stayed and those who left. It should be mentioned in the schools,” Tencer said. “When we ask today about the generation of March ’68, the young people do not know what we are talking about.”
March 1968 saw an uprising by students and intellectuals against the Polish government led by the Polish People’s Republic Party. The subsequent crackdown by security forces suppressed student strikes and sparked an anti-Semitic campaign throughout the country led by Gen. Mieczysław Moczar, then the minister of internal affairs. Jews were fired from their jobs and Jewish professors were dismissed from universities. Some 20,000 Jews left Poland, mainly to Israel and Scandinavia, in 1968 and 1969. The protests coincided with the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia.
During the ceremony, participants placed flowers next to a plaque commemorating the Jews who left Poland during those years.
Elzbieta Karpinska, who now lives in Grenoble, France, left on Jan. 3, 1969, when she was 22, and thought she would never return.
“I cried on the train after leaving the station to the border,” Karpinska recalled. “It has changed our lives. In Israel, everything was strange to me, surprising.”
Michal Sobelman, who now is a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw, left Sosnowiec in June 1969.
“I left with a heavy heart because those two years, from June 1967, were the hardest in my life,” he said. “I’ve always been Polish, but here my Polishness was seriously questioned by the authorities.”
“After 1968 until the end of the ’80s, many people were convinced that this is the end of the history of Polish Jews,” Dariusz Stola, director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, told JTA. “But this is different. In our exhibition, the last items are not from 1968 or 1969 but from the last year or two.”