How the communists tried to poison Polish-Jewish relations in 1968

While the Six Day War marked a Soviet defeat, March 1968 in Poland marked a small but significant Soviet propaganda victory.



Earlier this month, on the 50th anniversary of the 1968 anti-communist protests in Poland, the Polish parliament voted nearly unanimously to condemn the antisemitic purges orchestrated by the Communist Party and to honor those who protested against the Soviet- backed regime.

This unprecedented joining together of Poland’s opposition and the ruling Law and Justice Party on a defining moment in Polish-Jewish history may mark a new beginning for Poland’s relations with the international community.

The events of March 1968 in the Polish Peoples’ Republic unfolded against the backdrop of Soviet foreign policy objectives. In June 1967, Israel – a US ally – defeated Soviet-supported Egypt, Syria and Jordan in what is known as the Six Day War. Humiliated, Moscow responded by ordering the leaders of its Eastern European satellites to break diplomatic relations with Israel. “Zionists” everywhere were to blame for the defeat.

Much as in the Soviet Union during the Great Purge of 1936-38, in March 1968, when the Russian-controlled Polish Communist Party turned against its own, against the purported Zionist enemy within, intra-party factional struggles took an openly antisemitic turn.

Official antisemitism of the detested communist authorities prompted broad sympathy for the party’s Jewish victims. Bitterly opposed to the Soviet occupation of their homeland, Poles instinctively cheered the Israeli victory and supported the Jewish state. They remembered that many Israeli fighters and leaders, including future prime minister Menachem Begin, were former Polish soldiers who served under my father, Gen. Wladyslaw Anders, in his army made up of Siberian Gulag prison survivors and deportees rescued from Soviet Russia during World War II.

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