Letter from Zachariah Shuster, Director of American Jewish Committee European Office to Headquarters in April 1968

April 26, 1968


TO: Dr. Simon Segal, Director, Foreign Affairs Department

FROM: Zachariah Shuster, Director, European Office

SUBJECT: Conversations with Recent Emigres from Poland

I met with a number of Jews who recently left Poland, and with whom I had extensive conversations about present conditions. Most of them were professional persons who had occupied positions in the government, or in institutions of higher learning. All of them spoke freely about their own experiences, and of their observations of the prevailing state of mind among Jews in Warsaw and other cities.

They all agreed that the Jews of Poland are now “sitting on their valises*” Even those who have not yet made a decision to leave are doubtful whether there is any future in Poland for them and their children, and many are thinking of applying for exit permits. They all emphasized that the dismissals of Jews from governmental and professional positions are not limited to those occupying prominent places and whose names are given in the newspapers. It extended to a large number of Jews in the middle and even lower echelons in industry and administration.

A middle-aged woman, formerly employed in a government Ministry said that she had been working there for many years, but did not occupy an important position. Although she was a long-time member of the Communist Party, she was not particularly active politically. The reason given for her dismissal was that “there was no further need for her services” She also said that many of her non-Jewish colleagues in the Ministry later came to her home to express their sympathies. A similar experience was confirmed by another Jew from Warsaw, who said that even after it became known that he had applied for an exit permit he did not suffer any inconveniences on the part of his fellow employees.

One person told me that academic circles are strongly opposed to the anti-Semitic campaign which was started by the government and the Party after the student demonstrations. By and large the general population, at least during the first six weeks following the student demonstrations, had not fallen for the anti-Semitic propaganda. However, he, as well as the others to whom I spoke, expressed apprehension that the constant and ferocious anti-Semitic propaganda carried on daily by the radio and in the press might eventually have some impact on the masses.

Their fear is based on the ground that recently the propaganda has concentrated on two major points: 1) that Israel has formed an alliance with West Germany to undermine the position and interests of Poland in the world; 2) that Jewish organizations throughout the world have developed a program to undermine the prestige of Poland everywhere. The latter point is supported by excerpts from statements in the Jewish press to the effect that Poles were at least as responsible for the extermination of the Jews as the Nazis during the German occupation, and that Poland was always a hotbed of extreme anti-Semitism. This kind of argument might, they said, finally be accepted by a substantial number of people who otherwise are not anti-Semitic.

One emigre, who had close connections with the University of Warsaw, said that when the Militia arrived on the University grounds to disperse the student demonstrators, they had with them an advance list of the students who were supposed to be the leaders and instigators of these demonstrations; and that the names on the list were mostly Jewish. Many of the students who were arrested after the first demonstration are still in jail and, according to reports, are undergoing severe treatment. It is his belief that although the student demonstrations were of a spontaneous nature, and a result of the ferment among Intellectuals against the recent censorship and control of theatre and literature, the anti-Semitic campaign was probably planned long before that. The student demonstrations were merely used as an appropriate occasion for inaugurating this campaign.

As to the possible motivations, all of those to whom I spoke said that the struggle for power among the factions of the Communist Party and within the government had been approaching a climax for some time, partly because of the worsening economic conditions and the stagnation in industrial and economic life.

Asked whether the Jews in Poland take at face value the promise made by Mr. Wladyslaw Gomulka in his public address of March 19, that those Jews who wanted to go to Israel will be permitted to do so» the recent arrivals said that up to now it is believed that the promise will be kept; but that emigration will be limited to those who expressly desire to go to Israel.

The procedure for emigration now is as follows. When applying for an exit permit, the applicant must present a promise from a foreign embassy that he will receive a visa to the country of his destination. Only when the application is accompanied by such a written promise. Is it accepted for consideration. At the same time, the applicant must renounce his Polish citizenship, before knowing the fate of his application. Some Jews who would like to emigrate, but not to Israel, are hesitating to apply for fear of receiving refusals and thus having to remain in Poland in the position of stateless persons.

According to the prescribed rules, the applicant is entitled to have a decision about his application no later than four months after submission, whether affirmative or negative. Those who want to receive a visa for Israel, proceed to the Dutch Embassy in Warsaw, which represents Israel since the severance of relations between Poland and Israel in June, 1967. After a person applies for an exit permit, if he is not immediately dismissed from his job he is usually transferred to a less responsible position while waiting for a decision.

Most of those who recently applied to go to Israel have finally received exit permits. They doubt, however, whether those who bring promises from other foreign embassies will receive such permission. This would indicate that Gomulka’s promise for emigration is limited to Israel. Persons with whom I spoke found it difficult to explain the reasons. While each application is considered individually. It is known that applications are refused to people of certain categories, particularly those who have occupied positions in the army or were engaged in sensitive scientific work (the ostensible reason is that they might divulge secrets, as was done by some defectors in the past).

Mixed marriages, which became widespread In Poland in the decades after World War II, present another problem in connection with emigration. In one instance, for example, a family was separated by events. That portion which was permitted to leave is now waiting outside of Poland for the remainder to receive exit permits. In another case, the child of a mixed marriage, who did not consider herself Jewish, had her engagement broken by her Polish fiancée after the unrest in March. She has since chosen to leave Poland.

From these interviews I have received the impression that the Jewish population in Poland is living in a state of extreme anxiety and total uncertainty about its future. Jews feel isolated from the rest of the world, and are on the verge of becoming isolated from their non-Jewish fellow citizens. The constant anti-Semitic propaganda, which is particularly violent on the radio and in the provincial press, has been poisoning the atmosphere to such an extent that the sense of alienation among Jews has mounted steadily.


(Source: JDC Archives)