March 1968 started in the year 1946, very shortly after the war and lasted for the next 22 years.
When I was young, I heard from my parents (who saved from the Holocaust were coming back from Russia to Poland) how we were greeting upon arrival. Stones were thrown at the trains and the people were shouting “Jews, get out from Poland”.
I was 4 years old when we arrived in Poland. We came to Wroclaw and when I was 11 years old, we moved from Wroclaw to Bielsk Podlaski in Podlaski Province. I started 4 th grade there. When I was leaving school the boys from the neighborhood were already waiting for me to beat me up. They were tall and strong, and I was small and helpless. For them it was fun to beat up the Jew. Many times, I was able to run away, but not always. One day they beat me up and kicked me so hard that my father had to take me to the hospital. After that, my father bought 2 big dogs and we trained them to pick me up from school. With my dogs I felt safe.
In 1956 my parents decided to leave for Israel. They received all the documents but they didn’t leave. In the book published in 2017 in Poland, “The Book of Memories of the Jews from Bielsk Podlaski” is the quote: “Eliasz Pogoda added that the president of the national council, with whom he was friends, said with sincerity: It will be sad without you in the town. Don’t leave, you have nothing to worry about. The old days are gone”. But it wasn’t true. All Jews from Bielsk Podlaski left the town. My family moved to Bialystok.
In Bialystok my best friend Boris Edelman told me about the Jews who lived there right after the war including his father. Gangs of NSZ (Polish nazi armed organization) were coming at night to Jewish communities to murder Jews. Men were sleeping with guns under their beds to protect their families.
In 1962 I came to Warsaw to study. A year later I went to Srodborow (a Jewish organization owned property there). In September the counselors from different Jewish camps met there to relax and to have fun. And there I met Lusia Zajac. In July 1967 we got married.
March 8, 1968 started as usual. Lusia went to the University, I went to work. This was her last year at University. I worked in the Department of City Planning “Warsaw North”. This day we decided to meet for dinner at the University in the student dining room. When we went outside and almost reached the University gate, I saw something unexpected. Men in civil clothes were pushing students outside the gate. One of them grabbed Lusia’s hand and started to pull her toward the entrance. At the same time others started to close the gate. I grabbed Lusia’s other hand and pulled her toward me screaming at them to let her go. I was saying “don’t you see that on the other side of the gate they are beating up the students”.
In this moment my friends ran out of a building (used by the ZMS organization) next to the gate and pulled us into the building. We went to the 3 rd floor and we watched what was happening on the street, on the other side of the gate. Police (that time in Poland it was Milicja). were beating students and whoever was in the crowd, with batons.
After a long period of time the police informed the leaders of the organization that they will let us go. They stood on both sides creating a tunnel, and we went thru that cordon. They were holding batons in each hand. The next day we found out that this was a demonstration organized by students. Many of them were beaten and arrested. After these events and after the first Secretary Gomulka’s speech, many families were getting ready to leave Poland. Lusia graduated from University and we knew that she would not get a job. Her parents were saying that we had to start thinking about leaving Poland. Lusia’s sister Maryla left Poland earlier as a tourist to the United States, and she stayed there. Lusia’s uncle, with his family also lived in the United States.
I didn’t want to leave, but that did not last long. One day I went to work and quickly came back home. I was fired from my job. My boss apologized to me and told me that if he will not let me go, then he will also be fired. I came home depressed and told Lusia that now I am ready to leave. There was no reason to stay any longer in Poland. Lusia’s parents started getting us ready to leave. That was not very difficult because we didn’t have many things to take with us. We didn’t yet have our own apartment. We were still living with Lusia’s parents.
In the middle of January 1969, we took pictures for documents and we went to the police precinct to apply for permission to leave Poland. Over there, they forced us to sign a document that we are renouncing Polish citizenship. They also told us that we have to leave Poland in 2 weeks. And that’s what happened. Two weeks later we received the visas, which were only good for 24 hours. The visas were to Israel.
On February 2, we went with Lusia’s parents to the Gdansk train station. My parents, Wladek, Ania and our friends, all came to the station to say goodbye to us. My boss who fired me from my job came with a bouquet of red roses to say goodbye and to apologize again.
Lusia’s father gave the train station worker a bribe of 100 zlotych and he opened an empty compartment on the train for us. We had 3 suitcases and a sack with a down comforter and pillows. My in-laws gave us a box with bottles of vodka, just in case we’d need it. Of course, it was not for us to drink. It was cold. We were wearing sheepskin coats, specially bought for the trip. It was a very sad goodbye. We were going into the unknown, but we were together and this kept our spirits up.
When we came to the border with Czechoslovakia, 2 customs officers came to our compartment to check our luggage. They found Lusia’s diploma and they wanted to take it away. She showed them that there was the dean’s signature and the University stamp to allowher to take her diploma with her. They were not sure what to do and they didn’t take her diploma.
After checking the luggage, they told us to leave the train, because we had too much luggage. We had to drag everything out. They took us to some station office. Lusia cried, but within a short time a border control military officer came in, and after checking our documents he ordered the custom officers to put us back on the train. Our visas were only good for 24 hours. If we did not go on this train, we would not be able to cross the border and they would not know what to do with us.
We were finally leaving Poland. We first went to Vienna, then went to Rome where we were waiting for the documents to go to United States.
On October 1, 1969 we arrived at the Kennedy airport, our final destination. We were in New York when we started a new chapter in our lives, Now, we only waited for my in-laws and Lusia’s brother Wladek, with Ania and Paul. My parents and my brother went to Israel.
When I was leaving Poland, I felt that I was betrayed by that country. I felt resentment at this. In the beginning, because of a new country, customs, language and things like that, I felt that I lost something. I don’t regret leaving at all, because I don’t feel Polish anymore, I don’t feel that I belong to that country or that people. Then the changes there are only for them, they have nothing to do with me. I did not help in those changes, I did not stop those changes, and I justdon’t care. That’s all.
(Source: Submitted story by Jakub Pogoda to Forgotten Exodus )