Forgotten Exodus aims to collect, preserve, and share testimonies of Jews who were expelled from Poland during its then-Communist government’s antisemitic campaign in 1968, commemorating its 55th anniversary in 2023. Our mission is to shed light on this significant yet largely unknown chapter in modern European history, offering a platform for those who experienced the expulsion firsthand to share their stories with future generations. These accounts serve as a crucial reminder of the dangers posed by antisemitism, scapegoating, and totalitarianism.
As the window for gathering testimonies narrows with most surviving victims now in their early or mid-70s, Forgotten Exodus aims to collect a comprehensive number of testimonies from the 15,000-strong community of expelled Jews by the 60th anniversary. We are committed to making these stories broadly accessible to future generations in innovative, engaging and digitally-enabled formats.
We all had a profound awareness that our families had perished. Absolutely everyone had died in the camps and ghettoes. I could say precisely where – in the Treblinka camp and in the Bialystok ghetto. Absolutely no one survived.
Only we had been saved in the Soviet Union. And we returned there, to Poland, fully aware that we belonged there. But not only that we belonged there, but that it was our responsibility to continue the lives of those people, members of our families who had not survived.
On December 31, 1967, our son Bartek was born. One day after dinner, my stepfather, my mother, my wife Grazyna, and l were watching TV. On it was Comrade Gomulka, the First Secretary of the Party, saying that after Israel won the Six-Day War against the Soviet Union’s ally, Egypt.
Gomulka said that the fifth column of imperialistic Zionism appeared in Poland, and that Polish citizens of Jewish origin should now declare loyalty to the People’s Republic of Poland; if they don’t feel good here, then they can leave. Clad in the hands of the working class were banners that read in incomprehensible slogans: Zionists to Zion!”.
Fifty five years have passed since the infamous March of 1968 and I still consider that event and its aftermath the major formative factor in my life, despite the fact that I was not a participant in the events, but rather a recipient. I still stand by the words of my poem:
Again I travel over Gdansk Station Only I cannot Get past it to the order of the day.
I have traveled to Poland many times since my first return in 1993, but I never go down the stairs to see the station itself. Even though I know that there is a plaque commemorating our exodus, and now even the impression of my face appears there on a mural.
I was born in the largest – three and a half million – and culturally oldest Jewish community, which was known worldwide as the “Polish Yishuv.” I am only thirty-two years old.
A year ago, when I left Poland, twenty-five thousand Jews were still living there. Today, as I am writing these words, half of those twenty- five thousand have left or are leaving. How fast does history rush! […] For history, this is yet another exile. […] 1968 is the year of the expulsion of Jews from Poland;
I was born in the Polish town of Łódź on 1 January 1926, the youngest child and the only brother to four sisters. I had a very nice childhood although we lived in great poverty.
After the war broke out, the Wehrmacht conquered our town on 8 September 1939. After a few days, the restrictions came. It was forbidden for Jews to leave their home after 6 pm, and we had to give up everything of value, like jewelry or cameras. Within the next week, the mayor of Łódź publicly gave out information about a ghetto for Jews. He said that the creation of the ghetto was a preliminary decision and that he had a right to decide when and in what way they will free the town ‘of this plague’. By ‘plague’, he meant the Jews.
Born in 1951. Expelled from Poland in 1969.
Excerpts from Huset med de två tornen (‘House with Two Towers’), Weyler, 2018. (Polish translation: Dom z dwiema wieżami, Karakter, 2018).
I shall try to recreate the prevailing atmosphere, to understand why he – now I – isn’t shocked when the Party starts persecuting Jews. Initially, he doesn’t grasp that it is Jews they are targeting. He doesn’t know what “Zionists” are. No one can keep up with the number of the enemies that beset the ruling system. If it’s not CIA imperialists (who release Colorado beetles over the fields, which accounts for the shortage of potatoes), then it’s German revanchists lurking at the border, supported by fascists, racists, capitalists and colonialists, along with their local lackeys: Trotskyists, revisionists, anarcho-syndicalists, Thomists, voluntarists, symbolists, reformists, formalists, freemasons and idealists.
“They’ve left out cyclists,” the people in the streets mutter.
There I was, stirred by the play Dziady and the recent days’ events at the University of Warsaw, ready to go on strike for the Polish cause at the University of Technology. I saw that moment as lofty, significant, not at all disgraceful. I did not notice that what was happening singled me out from others, isolated and branded me, drew a demarcation line between me, a Jewess, and everything Polish.
I did not understand the political maneuver which this prelude announced. I did not notice that the insults directed at Israel are an anti-Semitic signal. I did not yet have an inkling that this was a modern-day recreation of a pogrom. Not a bloody one, but effective.
I was left almost alone here. Most of my closest friends had gone. They did not lose their homeland. Their homeland had lost them.
(Source: Gazeta, Volume 25, Spring 2018)
Practically all my Jewish friends decided to emigrate. They left in turns, and we used to go to the Gdański Railway Station to see them off.
I heard dramatic stories of formalities one had to go through before departure. I remember my friend’s sister, who arrived home in tears after officials at the Ministry of Internal Affairs forced her to “voluntarily” renounce her Polish citizenship. Right next to her, a Greek woman had been signing her documents—she was off to the country of her grandparents, to Greece, yet was permitted to keep her Polish citizenship.
My father was very much afraid. Firstly, it was like ripping out roots planted fifty-four years before and transplanting them into new ground. This is something which is not easy for people over fifty. Here, you know where to go to the clinic, to the shop and you know the language. This is the place you are used to and where you have an apartment. He really didn’t want to leave even though, in 1968, he had been thrown out of his job. They had thrown Jews out everywhere.
But the newspapers wrote – like father, like son – and vice versa, meaning that we were troublemakers, uncertain elements and they began throwing us out.
Interview in Skibet Documentary (1970) after arrival in Copenhagen, Denmark:
– I decided lo leave Poland, simply because I lost all my friends who had already left the country after being forced to do so. I found myself alone. At work it became unbearable. I was attacked at Party meetings without beeing able to defend myself. I don’t know why I was attacked. Perhaps hecause of my rank as a music producer.
-I began thinking what to do with myself. Leaving the country I was always attached to and head for the unknown? I had no idea what the outcome would be. I paid a high price for it in my health. I arrived in Copenhagen totally exhausted.
-A sad thing happened when we were leaving Poland. We were in the train window and had tears in our eyes. A railroad worker looked at us and said: “‘Hey Jews, don’t pretend to cry!”I would like to forget about it. I would like to return one day. Perhaps things will be better.
Though you no longer have under our heavens
Any “Mosiek” or “Srulek”
…Somewhere a “Zionist” threatens
Does that bother you, Herr Gomułka?
That I want to die here, where I was born,
That I call Poland my fate –
This is what bothers you most
Hell broke out in March 1968. On March 9th, the day after the demonstrations, newspapers and radio stations began to write about it all. Several Jewish names were mentioned. I understood this was not right, that something was fabricated.
Then they started to criticize freely, while friends at school were arrested. They did all of this to increase the mention of Jewish names, to prove that Jews are actively opposing Poland.
At this juncture, many of our Polish acquaintances stopped contacting us. There was hardly any Polish family which socialized with my father. One of his closest friends turned around and took a different route when seeing my father on the street. I didn’t believe him when he told me the story, but it was true.
I was sixteen years old when the anti-Semitic campaign began. It initially felt like an adventure. My best friend and I went to Nowy Świat on March 8th. I was going to pick up a pair of glasses in a shop. We weren’t students, we had no contacts with anyone, we just knew something was going on.
At first, the demonstration was fairly calm. Then we started walking towards Krakowskie Przedmieście to see what happens. Somewhere near the church, towards the end of Nowy Świat, things got brutal. I saw how people were beaten, how people ran and smelled the tear gas. My friend Asia got scared and wanted to leave. Then we met our math teacher. She attended the demonstration and saw us. “What the hell are you doing here? Go home at once!”
The question whether to leave Poland or not was discussed several times during my childhood. I lived in the small town of Strzegom, 56 kilometres from Wrocław, where nearly 200 Jewish families had settled after the war. There was a Jewish primary school, a nursery for small children, a kindergarten, a health centre, and work cooperatives for carpentry.
In front of our house, at 31 Dzierżyńskiego street, I could hear discussions each night between friends of the family about whether or not to leave Poland, when and where to go. These discussions intensified after the Kielce pogrom in 1946, when 42 Jews were murdered by local Poles.
My stepfather applied for passports to leave Poland several times. My mother, Mery Bord, started crying when she found out, fearing that she would never see her brothers again. My stepfather returned the passports.
Mass rallies were organized in Lublin in 1968. Children were taunted at school, called Jews.
One evening, my older daughter went to a cinema with a friend. Some snotnose approached her and said: ‘You, Jewess, you’re still here’. She didn’t know him, hadn’t provoked him; she had nothing to do with him.
I was as if in a fever. All the time I was thinking: ‘My God, so I’ll never return to this place. How is this possible?’ There were so many things to deal with that there was absolutely no time to think. Today, I still don’t understand why I didn’t say goodbye to my neighbours. I still don’t understand how that happened. It was all like in a dream.
You could take five dollars with you – that was the allowed amount. We ordered a box, and, principally, we took all books. I thought that there was no life without books. All books related with work and various books from my childhood. Apart from that, we took some pots, bedclothes, some clothes and that was all.
My father was born in 1910, in Zamosc; my mother was born five years later in Lublin—both to traditionally religious families. At this time, Poland was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world—3 million souls—and a principal center of Jewish culture.
Like many young Polish Jews who rebelled against their traditional upbringing by joining radical social and political organizations, my father joined the Communist Party in his early teens. He was imprisoned after involvement in a number of Party actions.
My parents moved in together in May 1939; the war broke out in September. They fled from a devastatingly bombarded Warsaw on foot, wandering around different towns and villages until they reached the Soviet border. In June 1940 my parents were arrested by the Russian secret police, the NKVD, and deported to a Gulag. During their arrest, my mother asked the Soviet officer what they would do to them. He replied that “You will be sent to a place where the birds can’t reach”.
My mother grew up in an impoverished, deeply religious family in Lodz. My father, who comes from a more assimilated family, recounted experiencing anti-Semitism in pre-war Poland, including being denied job opportunities due to his Jewish background, and facing physical violence. Due to these challenges, he was drawn to the concept of Israel and became a member of Hashomer Hatzair, a secular youth movement rooted in labor-Zionism that he joined while in Lodz and where he eventually met my mother.
My father and his siblings struggled to find consistent work, prompting them to take out loans from my grandmother to establish a small fabric production company in 1938-1939. The onset of the Second World War disrupted their business and drastically altered their lives.
On harassment by border officials upon leaving Poland:
That was horrible. (…)
They rummaged through everything, tore the sleeves of the jackets apart. I had a frame – made while still at school – a canvas frame with little cherries painted on it, and there was a photograph inside – they ripped that frame to search it, because it was soft – I’d fitted a cotton lining to make it bulgy, and they destroyed that frame. It was meant to be my souvenir for when I’d get old – I made it as a child.