In 1968, Communist authorities in Poland forced the Jews to leave. Today, there are refugees in the country.

Today it is once again a house of prayer, led by the chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich.

“They just didn’t say. It was too painful. The survivors were so terrified. They decided that being Jewish was no longer safe, Schudrich said.

“In March 1968, the public complained about the government,” Schudrich said.

Many in Poland refused to tighten the Communist Party’s grip on the country.

“The government has decided that the best way to deal with this social tension – social opposition to the government – is to argue…that the Jews are just doing it,” Schudrich said.

Scapegoating Jews was a tried and true tactic that rulers had employed for thousands of years, and it worked as well as the Communists involved in their internal power struggle hoped. For the purposes of this story, Dana Bash’s team spoke with members of her extended family in Warsaw and New York.

1968 protests

In the late 1960s, protests erupted not only on American college campuses, but also at Polish universities. While American students marched to protest the Vietnam War, students in Warsaw demonstrated against censorship in their home country. And the communist government didn’t like that.

After Israel’s victory over its Arab neighbors in the 1967 Six-Day War, Polish United Workers’ Party leader Władysław Gomułka spoke out against the “fifth column” of Polish Jews in so-called “Zionist” rhetoric. », sparking a wave of anti-Semitism.

An incendiary speech is played in one of the episodes on the television sets of the exhibition at the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Joanna Ficus, who heads the museum’s exhibits department, explained its importance to CNN.

she said, pointing to the biggest screen in the sky after this speech.

Gomoczka spoke of threats against Poland referring to “traitors”.

Ficus explained that “he never mentioned the word Jew”. – He didn’t have to.

“You can imagine people in their 40s or 50s who survived the Holocaust and remember how it started,” she said. “They got chills and realized they didn’t know how this could end, but they still went through something like this.”

Communist authorities hunted down “elite” on college campuses and so-called Zionists.

Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, speaks during a memorial service at the Nożyk Synagogue in Warsaw May 18, 2008.

Konstanti Gebert was a Polish high school student in 1968 who described his story from that year as “typical”, which is terrifying considering how he tells it.

“When the anti-Semitic campaign started, we quickly started losing friends,” CNN said last month, while standing in downtown Warsaw last month, “getting beaten up in the street because he was a dirty Jew, then standing there rubbing his face and wondering, “What was it? About that?”

He said Gibert, now a leading journalist in Poland, was expelled from high school because of his “Zionist” background.

Her older sister died. Most of his friends are away. His mother was a “de-Zionist” in her work – another anti-Semitic movement disguised as a new language.

“We were a completely assimilated family. My dad wasn’t even Jewish. We have never denied that we are (were) Jewish. It didn’t matter. I had friends who found out they were just Jews in 1968 when my dad said, “Well son, you’re old enough,” she recalls. Now that you know, “Here comes the mystery of the comet. We didn’t care.”

Gibert managed to stay in the country. Tens of thousands more were not so lucky.

Vikus, who also sits on the board of the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland, said the communist government forced Jewish citizens to emigrate.

“They were stripped of their citizenship. They were told they had to leave the house,” she explained, pointing to the case containing the $5 bill – the only amount they could have – and a – passport-type document. . But it wasn’t a passport – it was a private document.

“That means you can only leave Poland and not return to it,” she said.

The Nożyk Synagogue, the only surviving synagogue in Warsaw before World War II, stands under a modern office building on April 12, 2018.

The Gilbert family

Bach’s uncle, Alex Gelber, was one of approximately 13,000 Polish Jews who received a one-way ticket from his country.

He was 20 in 1968 and graduated from medical school.

“It was very annoying because I came out of this somewhat protected environment and found myself in a situation where I didn’t like anyone,” he recalls.

The Polish life he described before everything changed was not a persecuted life, but a relative privilege.

“We were young kids and it was mostly parties, we had a lot of fun. In fact, the politics weren’t really visible. As far as I’m concerned, there’s the issue of anti-Semitism which came more late because I just didn’t exist,” Alex said. So it was no problem. Of course, I knew I was Jewish and my friends knew I was. But that was not a problem.”

His father, the late Georg Gelber, was an outstanding doctor and teacher in Szczecin, western Poland, where they moved after Georg survived World War II, because his Catholic teacher and social doctor had him. helped and hid it from the Nazis. He looked after the children’s medical needs, wrote scientific papers, and led a relatively good life considering they were behind the Iron Curtain.

“He was certainly very well known as an excellent doctor,” Alex said.

But none of that mattered in March 1968, when the communist government purged Polish Jews.

“My father personally had a choice. They say, ‘You can quit or we’ll fire you.’ It didn’t matter, of course, so he said, ‘No, I’m not quitting. “You have to tell me that I don’t deserve to be here,” remembers Alex.

In the days that followed, Alex recalls the fog of packing and meeting friends and family they thought they would never see again.

He recalled: “You had an official standing next to you saying, ‘Well, you can take this item, or you can take this piece of anything, property, jewelry or whatever, and then you can’t take the other one.” Although he said his family may have taken a little more than others because the customs officer’s mother was one of his father’s patients.

“There were so many scattered examples of humanity,” he said, “but overall it was very disturbing because you’re a refugee.”

This uprooting happened just over 25 years after her parents survived the Nazis in Poland.

“They tried to build this near-normal future, but it didn’t work out very well,” Alex said.

It was also painful for the large family on the non-Jewish side of Alex’s mother, who remained in Poland.

Alex’s cousin, Wajisikh Zarimba, was just a boy in 1968, but he remembers it.

It was so unexpected. So it was a shock, but to make matters worse after that, we lost the connection. Because remember there was no internet, there was no connection. We were behind the iron curtain. We have no messages or messages… It was like it disappeared, very quickly.”

To this day, he said he could not believe that the Poles expelled people like Georg Gelber, who devoted his whole life to taking care of the health of the country, especially in Szczecin, which was not integrated into Poland only after the Second World War.

“There were no established networks, proper services, proper care… Basically it was irreplaceable, but it was still the main political reason for his departure,” Zarimba said.

Left: The women's worship area at the Nożyk Synagogue in Warsaw, seen from April 12, 2018.

plight of refugees. Where to go?

George and Anna Gelber traveled to New York in 1969 to stay with relatives and slowly build a new life.

Alex’s sister, Renata Greenspan, has already completed her medical studies in Poland and has also gone to the United States. She joined the US Army, rose to the rank of colonel, and broke glass ceilings as the first female director of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

Alex graduated from medical school in Italy, then joined his parents in New York where he met my aunt, Dr. Linda Wolf, in 1981 when they were both working at Bellevue Hospital.

Alex’s story has a happy ending, but the memory of his expulsion from home, country and life lives on. “This border crossing leaves a mark that never leaves you,” she recalls.

where Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February, Poland has taken in nearly 3 million Ukrainian refugees across its borders. It is a great show of compassion and humanity for a country that drove out people like my uncle less than 60 years ago.

Like the tens of thousands of people forced out of Poland in 1968, Alex sees today’s struggle through the lens of a former refugee.

“It’s eerily similar,” he said of Ukraine’s refugee crisis. “It’s the same. It’s this hatred and (the intolerance). And they kick people out, people are desperate and don’t know when they’ll come back?”

He continued, “Nobody who’s had this experience would be adamantly against immigration,” “because it’s the right thing to do. When people are persecuted, they have to be accepted elsewhere, despite everything that might have happened otherwise. ” “

As Alex watches a new wave of refugees flee to a country that can’t offer him the same, he hopes this will be a lesson he learned for Poland.

“These are normal people opening up their homes, letting people move in – so that’s hope. And that, I think, is the source of hope.”

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