Letter from Akiva Kohane, Director of American Joint Distribution Committee Office (JDC) in Poland in April 1968 to Headquarters in New York

April 18, 1968


To : Mr. L. Horwitz

From : Akiva Kohane

Re : Poland

I had three communications, directly or indirectly, from people who have just left Poland on their way to Israel. I got the following information from them which – although far from being complete – seems to indicate some new developments, especially in the field of emigration.

It seems that people who applied for a travel document based on Israeli “visa promessa” issued by the Dutch Embassy, instead of waiting for approximately three months for an answer as was the case in the past, have received the travel document within three or four weeks. My informants believe that in the future it may take even less time, as some people who have not yet left Poland got a positive answer already two weeks after they made application. Unlike the previous travel documents, which were valid for three months, the recipients must now leave the country within a very short period of time. In some cases it was three days; in some cases it was seven (or ten) days. The militia is generally willing to extend this period for an additional three or seven days, and that is all. This means that some people must leave the country within three to six days, and others within seven to fourteen days.

A major problem for the people is the cost of the travel documents. Thus, a family of four had to pay 20,000 zlotys for passports only, and they had to sell some personal belongings to cover the cost. It seems that the emigrants do not know that they can get money this purpose from the Dutch Embassy; others were afraid to ask for it. I received the name of a former employee of our Committee in Poland, who doesn’t know where to get 30,000 zlotys for six documents for the members of his family.

Furthermore, people have problems with their luggage. In Poland, where the number of people who emigrate is small, there is very limited number of packers, and if such packers are needed on short notice to pack belongings in a day or two, it is extremely costly – which again means additional money for packers, transportation of luggage, etc.

The people who have come out of Poland are very happy that they are out, as the situation is very difficult. As an example, the husband of a former secretary of Committee in Warsaw, under the impact of the developments in Poland had a nervous breakdown, developed a cardiac condition, and left for Israel directly from the hospital.

The situation of the Jews in Poland is very difficult, tense and becomes more aggrevated from day to day. Every day brings new “anti-Zionist” propaganda, information of the removal of the people from their jobs, and practically no Jew believes that there is any future for them in Poland. Practically all of them want to leave the country, but many are still afraid, if after applying for an Israeli visa, renouncing Polish citizenship, and asking for a travel document, what would happen to them if the travel document should be refused. If, in the future, they learn that travel documents are being issued to the great majority who apply, many who are afraid now will come forward and submit requests for exit visas.

I learned about another interesting aspect in connection with emigration – namely, if somebody has been fired from a governmental job and comes to ask for a visa, according to the experience of the last two or three weeks, his chances are good. However, if he is still on the job and applies for emigration, he will be fired from his job and will not receive a travel document. 

An almost paradoxical example is the case of a person well known to us, Mr. S, a well-known Communist, chief of a network of shops in Warsaw. He and his family (six people) would like to go to Israel, but he is one of the few who “have not yet been fired.” He doesn’t dare to apply for emigration. He is using his very good contacts and influence to be fired from his job, and then he hopes that nothing will stand in the way of his emigration … except that he will not have the 30,000 zlotys necessary for travel documents and 20,000 zlotys for other expenditures in connection with emigration.

The situation of the Jewish university students is very bad. Some are in prison, others have been drafted by the Army, and the remainder have been either relegated from the university or will be prevented from study by the re-registration which has been ordered for students of the university.

The Jews are not going out in the evening; they prefer not to be “visible” in the cafes, theaters, concert halls. They are sitting at home, and those who have children at the university are calling each other to find out if their children have returned home, whether something happened, and so on.”

I have learned that leaflets have been distributed at the Warsaw University where, among other things, the JDC has been accused of conducting espionage activities under the smokescreen of welfare activities, and the chief spy was Dr. Akiva Kohane, who worked for American and western intelligence services.

The Jewish youth club Babel in Warsaw has been closed by the authorities, and the same has happened to practically all other Jewish youth clubs all over the country.

The leadership of the Kultuverband has been terrorized by the authorities into signing all kinds of declarations condemning Israel, Zionism, world Jewry, etc. More and more members of the Kulturverband are shunning Nowogrodzka 5. Ms. Fiszgrund has chosen to go to a hospital in order to get involved in all those discussions and meetings. I understand that practically nobody of the staff of the FOLKSSTIMME is still with that paper. 

Smolar was the first to be fired, and so have been most of his colleagues. Sfard is the only man with a “name” who still with the FOLKSSTIMME. His son is in prison, and pressure is being used against him, especially in connection with the situation of his son, to sign new “declarations.” For the time being, he stubbornly refuses to do it. Mr. Domb is still the Chairman of the Kulturverband, but it is believed that his days are numbered. He himself indicated months ago his wish to resign. Permission not granted. Nobody knows what the end of this campaign will be, and there are doubts whether the FOLKSSTIMME and the Kulturverband will survive the campaign if it continues.

The removal of Jewish people from big, average and small jobs continues.

The political upheaval in the country and the fight among the three factions in the Communist Party is causing an economic crisis.

The people who gave me this information begged that none of it should be published in any form or fashion. They underlined – whether right or not – that any anti-Polish propaganda may cause the stoppage of emigration. They say that any statements made by Jews who are coming out of Poland are carefully registered by the Polish authorities, who are extremely sensitive to the accusations of anti-Semitic activities conducted under the sponsorship of the Polish government.

I have contacted the Jewish Agency and URS. I understand that instructions have given by the Israeli authorities to the Dutch Embassy to make available necessary funds to the applicants for Israeli visas to meet the cost of documentation.

I will continue to keep you informed about any developments in Poland about which I may learn.


P.S. – Within the next five weeks, 22 arrivals are expected in Vienna from Poland.

(Source: JDC Archives)