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

June 10, 1968


I had very extensive talks in Vienna with a number of people who have come out of Poland. I interviewed five very well informed people who have worked in the past for our Welfare Committee, for ORT, in one of our cooperatives, for the Kulturverband, for the Yiddish Theater. The very detailed information which they game me would fill a book. The information can be summed up as follows:

The anti-Semitic, or so-called “anti-Zionist”, propaganda is increasing all the time. It is not visible any more in the Warsaw papers, but has been taken over by the provincial papers in the most vicious way. Enclosed please find photostat copy of a clipping and its translation from a paper “Glos Robotniczy” (“Voice of the Worker”), published on 12 May 1968,(circulation 250,000 copies), the official organ of the Communist Party in Lodz, the second largest city in Poland.

To my question what is the reaction of the Polish population, I have received the same answer from everybody:- namely, the intelligentsia and better educated Poles – that is, the best element – are ashamed of the policy of the Polish government. However, the majority approves the actions and the expected results – to remove the Jews for influence, from jobs, and finally to get rid of the Jews in Poland.

Everybody reports that there is great fear among the Jews that pogroms could break out, and they believe that the reason of this has not happened is that the Polish population, which has no love for the Party, is not ready to follow the slogans propagated by the Party, even if they are directed agains the Jews. The current joke in Poland is: “What is the difference between the anti-Semitism of today and the anti-Semitism of thirty years ago?” The answer: “This time it is compulsory.” And the character of anti-Semitism, guided by the Party, probably saved the Jews form pogroms.

Summarizing, the information received indicates that the authorities have started a well planned systematic action to destroy all Jewish institutions (except maybe the Jewish Religious Congregation) and that their aim and target is to make Poland Judenrein.

Now some details of interest:

a) Anti-ORT and Joint propaganda: In order to find “proof” for the accusations against the two organizations, the Ministry of the Interior started a very extensive investigation some time ago at Nowogrodzka 5, digging into facts connected with the activities of both organizations, as far back as ten years ago. After a number of months the investigation ended with a statement that everything has been conducted in a proper and orderly form.

The authorities didn’t give in, and sent a new Commission from the supreme office of the State Comptroller (NIKP). The investigators asked many questions and demanded many documents, but their attitude was generally reasonable and they again confirmed that the work of the Welfare Committee and of ORT had been conducted properly.

  After the 8th of March disturbances, a new Commission from the same office was sent with orders – according to Fiszgrund, Slobodkin and others – not to return without “proof”. Their work is not finished. Their attitude is nasty, hostile, and anti-Semitic. Slobodkin and Fiszgrund have to be at Nowogrodzka 5 almost daily in order to give them the requested information. Both have had nervous breakdowns. The same happened to our chief bookkeeper, Mr. Buzyn, who cries that he doesn’t know what they want from him and talks about suicide. The latest information is that Mr. Buzyn has had a heart attack and is in the hospital unconscious. In view of this, Mr. Brenner, the chief bookkepper of the Kulturverband, had to take his place supplying information and documents to the inquisitors.

  This is not easy for two reasons: First of all, due to the hurried liquidation, tons of documents have been packed into cases, and if they want a justification for a purchase effected in 1961, it is very difficult to find such a paper, especially as the former staff is no longer available. The second reason is that on many decisions which have been made by the Party, there are no written statements. The Party authorities never give anything in writing, and who would dare to request confirmation in writing of a decision made by a Party official. Thus, for instance, the imports which have been effected in lieu of money transfers have been allowed to enter the country customs free. This point is now one of the major targets of attack of the provocateurs in the Party. They claim that the State has lost “hundreds of millions of zlotys, if not more” due to non-payment of customs duty. The investigators asked Slobodkin to produce a document from the government with decision permitting customs free imports; no confirmation in writing exists. It is obvious that Ministry (Minister Stachelski, Department Director Rabczynski) would never have approved such releases from customs duty if they had not had the approval of the authorities (for every item imported the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare issued a separate statement approving customs-free import); however, those who made the decisions in the Central Committee of the Party “cannot remember” anything in this line.

  Rabczynski was fired on the spot and is jobless. Minister Stachelski has been fired, although the announcement will be made only when his successor will be named.

  At Nowogrodzka 5 all the blame in connection with those transactions have been put on Mr. Slobodkin, and to a lesser degree on Mr. Fiszgrund. Mr. Slobodkin is very bitter because all the decisions were made by Rajber and Wasersztrum, who went to the Party and got their approval for the transactions. However, today Wasersztrum and Rabjer claim “loss of memory”, that they don’t understand those matters, and that they left everything to Slobodkin knowing that he is a professional.

  In the meantime, the whole story has been fed to television and to the press. Warsaw TV informed the public two weeks in advance that they will have a documentary program proving the ORT/Joint subversive activities. Then they showed two half-hour programs in which, for the most part, document on the customs-free imports of various materials for the cooperatives were produced.

They indicated:

  1. that the State has lost hundreds of millions of zlotys
  2. that Slobodkin and others have made fortunes
  3. that the members of the cooperatives have made tremendous profits
  4. that the Jews had the nerve, in Poland, not to accept Polish workers into their cooperatives, which were in reality Jewish luxury ghettos
  5. that the tremendous profits were used to finance Zionist activities among the youth and older people

This sampling is rather of the higher type of anti-Semitic propaganda. The TV frequently flashes the slogan “Moski do Dajana”, which could be translated “Kikes to Dayan.” Articles in the press similar in style to the one attached to this memo are printed by the hundreds.

  One paper in Wroclaw indicated that the Welfare Committee has been supporting with large amounts the Jews who had plenty of money  anyway, at a time when Polish workers had to work hard for much smaller salaries; that every Jew received on an average of 9,000 zlotys per year. As proof that Jews didn’t need relief, they cite that in Wroclaw 96 Jewish cases formerly assisted by the Welfare Committee have applied to the Polish Welfare Committee for relief but only 3 have been approved, proving that 93 of the didn’t need it. That is the level of propaganda conducted throughout Poland at present.

  Fiszgrund, Slobodkin and others are afraid that the material which is being fabricated by the present investigating group at Nowogrodzka 5 may server Committee and in ORT. They themselves believe that their arrest is imminent. Both would like to leave, but a lawyer advises them not to apply for exit because it would be interpreted as an admission of guild and an attempt to escape, and it would surely provoke an action by the authorities.

b) Economic situation of the Jews. The economic situation of the people formerly supported by our Committee is tragic. People who in any case had a tough time, even with the few hundreds zlotys they got from us, are in an extremely difficult situation. Nobody gives the assistance. However, it seems that in this horrible situation, as always in times of hardship and danger, Jewish solidarity is at its best. People who have some money are helping others. Practically all of the people who left Polamd – and all of them had to leave in a hurry (within 7-10 days) – left all kinds of tinhs or even money to the poor people. Practically everybody with whom I spoke has done this, and they told that this is the general attitude. Whatever they cannot pack in a few days – whether it is old clothing, furniture, other goods, or unspent money – is being handed over to Jewish friends. Still the situation is very bad and aggravating. Two of my informants were approached by some Jewish leaders to take lists of people who need help in order to deliver them to us. They refused to do it, and rightly so. Practically everybody is stripped at the border and checked. Women are checked gynocologically.

  The situation of the needy is aggravated by the fact that many people took loans in the past from the Jewish Welfare Committee and were repaying them in small installments. Some were not able to repay even the small installments. Now the authorities have ordered that all those who have received loans have to repay them immediately. If anybody is in delay on payments, that bailiff comes and takes away their furniture. My informants told me about the most tragic and pathetic cases, about people who are trying to borrow money, selling their last belongings in order to pay off the loans.

c) Nowogrodzka 5. The place is almost deserted. Only a few employees of the Kulturverband are working there.

  Smolar, whose two sons are in prison, has not only been removed from the FOLKSSTIMME, but has been excluded from the Party. I understand that he is in dire need and without any income.

  The same applies to Sfard. His son is in prison. He has been excluded from the Party for a short verse which he published in YIDDISHE SHRIFTEN about a lamb who attacked the wolves. The allegoric content was too clear to the Party. He is sick and practically doesn’t leave the his house. His wife, who was a professor in the film academy, has been fired from her job and also excluded from the Party.

  Another member of the Presidium, Mr. Burg, has committed suicide.

  The present editor of the FOLKSSTIMME and the boss of Nowogrodzka 5 is the famous Felhendler, who rules there together with Rajber and Brofmann.

  Domb was submitted his resignation already three times, which until now has not been accepted. However, he never comes to office.

  Just the contrary is being reported about Mirski, who has been a fanatic member of the Party for fifty years. During the last two years he supported the “liberal” line. He signed the letter to Cyrankiewicz against censorship. He defended the university students and condemned the brutal police action against them. A lifetime bitter “anti-Zionist”, he did not “buy” the present vulgar form of “anti-Zionism.” He has been fired without any notice from his job on NOWE DROGI (NEW WAYS), the top ideological paper of the Central Committee of the Party. He decided not to give the Party the chance of expelling him and he preferred to return to his Party card himself. However, before he did this, he saw to it that his children left Poland. His family reports that he is absolutely penniless.

  The FOLKSSTIMME has practically no subscribers any more; however, it will appear as long as the Party wants such a paper for propaganda purposes.

  YIDDISHE SHRIFTEN has not been touched until now by the changes; however, practically all the workers of this institution intend to emigrate very soon.

  The Yiddish Theater is probably in the last stage of its existence. Three actors have emigrated, two of whom I met in Vienna. The theater plays to practically empty seats; on the average the attendance is below 20. Jews are afraid to come and Poles also shun the Yiddish Theater – it is not safe. Ida Kaminska as well as all the members of her family have submitter their resignations, and according to the latest information, the authorities have accepted those resignations. Either Buzgan or Rothbaum will be appointed in her place as the Director of the Theater. However, without Ida Kaminska the Theater would be meaningless, and anyway its days are numbered in view of the emigration plans of almost all of its members.

  The Jewish Historical Institute is being forced to publish “studies” proving the tremendous help given by the Poles to the Jews during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, as well as generally during the period of Nazi occupation. However, This will not save them, It is expected that the Jewish Historical Institute will be incorporated in the Polish Academy of Science (PAN).

  The Jewish old age home has problems. The general care and maintenance, and especially the food, is much worse than in the past, as the authorities do not permit any funds  which remained after the liquidation of Joint/ORT should be used as in the past for this purpose. Furthermore, there are difficulties in admittance of new Jewish aged. Although there are many vacant places, only two new Jewish aged have been admitted since the beginning of the year. It is feared that the authorities will put non-Jews into the new wing, which is still empty, and in this way abolish its character of a Jewish home for the aged.

  Jewish summer camps will not function this year, and there is no hope that will ever exist in the future.

  Youth clubs have been disbanded and closed. Most of the dramatic groups, choirs, etc. have ceased to exist. The one in Legnica still exists, but it is just a shadow of the former ensemble.

  The existence of the Yiddish schools in the next school year is under a question mark. Most probably they will be converted into normal Polish State schools.

  The huge new building of Jewish Work and Culture is nearing completion. Nobody believes that it will ever serve Jewish needs.

  All the cooperatives still exist. However, in five of them the chairmen have been dismissed and replaced by non-Jews. In almost all of the cooperatives the funds have been blocked by the authorities. It is expected that it all the cooperatives general assembly meeting will take place, in which they will decide “unanimously” to change the character from cooperatives of the Kulturverband to normal Polish cooperatives. Others believe that as a fine for non-payment of customs duties on imports, all the assets of cooperatives may be seized.

d) Emigration. Jews are being removed from their jobs daily. There are very few Jews still in semi-important jobs, and they also know that their days are numbered. Now, simple workers, small officials, etc. are being fired. In view of this situation, practically everybody wants to emigrate. The concensus is that everybody except those who had Party, military or security jobs will be able to leave. People know that the only way to leave the country is to apply for emigration to Israel. It takes about ten days to get a “promessa” of a visa from the Dutch Embassy. Within two week of application to the militia, people are getting a travel document valid for seven to ten days. However, at the time that a person applies at the militia station for travel document, he must submit the following statements:

  1. renouncing his Polish citizenship
  2. proving that he has paid all his taxes
  3. that he returned his flat in proper condition or that he has deposited with the municipal authorities the amount needed for restoration of the apartment.
  4. from the place where he was working to the effect that his job has been terminated.

   Emigration costs are substantial, although the emigrants receive from the Dutch Embassy a statement covering the cost of travel.

  Travel documents for adults cost 5,000 zlotys per capita, and the average cost for packing, cases, etc. is about 20,000 zlotys per family.  The cost of “renovating” an apartment is about 10,000-20,000 zlotys.

  Furthermore, university students who have graduated have to pay between 30,000 – 45,000 zlotys as refund for the cost of their education. However, for each year of work after graduation, one-third of the amount is being written off. If somebody has worked for three years after graduation, no refund is required.

  Those amounts are very substantial, taking into consideration that the average monthly salay in Poland is 1,600 zlotys. To some degree the Dutch Embassy is helpful, as it is ready to extend a loan to the emigrant to cover the cost of the travel document.

  However, although many people do not have the money they need for the emigration purposes, it is doubtful whether anybody would have to cancel emigration plans because of lack of funds. Everybody is ready to sell his belongings in order to get out, and as indicated, friends and even strangers – Jews – are helping each other.

  Custom control on luggage which is being dispatched is very detailed. However, people are subject to a second personal check at the border.

e) The Piasecki affair. In addition to an eventual trial against the ORT and the Welfare Committee functionaries, the Jews are afraid that revenge for the murder of the son of Piasecki may be in the planning. Piasecki, a Fascist fuehrer of the most anti-Sanitic pre-war organization, Falanga, has for twenty years been the leader of PAX, the movement trying to attract the clergy which is ready to cooperate with the Party. Mr. Piasecki feels very comfortable with the present anti-Semitic propaganda of the Party, which surpasses anything he ever dared to print under the Fascist pre-war government, and he and his papers are disseminating anti-Semitic stories among the less educated strata of the Polish population. 

This man is very much hated not only by the Polish clergy, but by the great mass of Polish Catholic believers who recognize only Cardinal Wyszynski as their spiritual leader.

About ten years ago Mr. Piasecki’s only son was murdered. The murderers were never apprehended. The last time that Piasecki Jr. was seen alive was when he entered a taxi with three young men, probably friends. The taxi driver was a Jew. About six or seven years ago, on his way to Israel, the Jewish taxi driver was taken off the train. For years after that he was in and out of prison, although no charges were filed against him and he never stood trial. In the good old “liberal” days, the Kulturverband intervened with the Party and with Cyrankiewicz against the chicanery against this innocent man and he was released, although he was never permitted to leave the country. Now there are hints and rumors that a modern ritual murder trial is in preparation, where the Jewish people may be accused and the Jewish driver may become a modem Bailiss. The Jews are afraid that such a trial may be followed by a pogrom.

f) Jewish Religious Congregation. It seems that the government, in line with other communist countries, intends to permit the Jewish Religious Congregation to exist. 

The information which they asked to be passed on to us is as follows:

The $4,000 which we are sending them monthly for the kosher mess halls cannot be used for that purpose. The government says that everyone has to pay 10 zlotys for his meal. As this decision is being fully enforced, the kitchens are self-supporting and the |4,000 are being used exclusively for administrative purposes.

The $5,000 which we are sending for the administrative and welfare budget are completely blocked by the government and can only be used with the approval of the government on a case by case basis for approved repairs of synagogues, cemeteries, etc. How much money is already blocked I do not know.

The Congregation has been instructed not to send any reports to Geneva because “the Jews will send you money anyway.” Mr. Frenkiel warned that whatever the Congregation will write to Geneva is anyway dictated by the government, so we should disregard their letters and we should demand from them in writing full accounting and statistical reports, informing them that otherwise no money will be sent by us. It may help. (I have conveyed this information to Maltre Haymann, who is writing to the Congregation accordingly. Mr. Haymann informed me also that Mr. Rotner spoke to him over the phone a^ invited him to come to Poland. Maitre Haymann asked for confirmation of the invitation in writing. It is clear that his visit to Poland at the present time would be very important, and he could get first-hand information on the situation in the Congregation.)

* * *

I am finishing this sad report with the only cheerful note. All the people I saw in Vienna were extremely happy that they are out of Poland, and they are sure that practically everybody will leave.



(Source: JDC Archives)