The Anti-Semitic Campaign
Fuelling a sense of threat, creating the image of an enemy, and inciting hatred were abiding elements of communist propaganda. In March 1968, the propaganda machine had already had twenty-five years of experience – since 1944 it had fought against dozens of enemies - from the armed underground and all sorts of opposition activists, on through the Church, peasants opposing collectivization, and ‘mods’ (Teddy boys) to "American imperialists" and "revenge wreakers from Bonn".
The anti-Semitic propaganda campaign (at that time called ‘anti-Zionist’) began with anti-Semitic leaflets, which started appearing in Warsaw in February 1968.They were linked to the protests around the removal of the play “Dziady” (Forefathers’ Eve) from the theatre repertoire. The leaflets mocked the ‘unsuitable’ ethnic background of some of the “Commandos”1. In the press, this motif appeared on 11 March in an article found in “Słowo Powszechne”, a daily paper published by the PAX Association. Over the next few weeks, this became one of the leading elements of the March ’68 propaganda campaign.
The campaign accused ‘Zionists’, i.e. Jews, that, with the aid of the “Commandos”, they had ignited the protests of unwitting students.’. They were also reproached for their joy over Israel’s victory in the six-day war, in contradiction to the suffering of the Arab population in the occupied territories.
Several foreign-sounding surnames of the student leaders were exhibited with glee and it was emphasized that the parents of several of them belonged to the Party establishment. According to the propaganda of the time, the aim of the "excesses" was to restore to power those compromised as "political bankrupts", that is, persons holding prominent functions in the Stalinist period. The blame for crimes committed before 1956 was put on communists of Jewish origin. Sometimes ‘Zionists’ were accused point blank of ‘betraying the interests of the Polish nation’. Some of the other accusations also included the responsibility of people of Jewish origin for economic scandals or unfavorable (from the PZPR's point of view) phenomena in culture.
An important element of propaganda was the accusation that Israel and ‘international Zionism’ were forming an alliance with West Germany. On the one hand, the alliance was supposed to lead to the recognition of Poles as those guilty of crimes against Jews during World War II, and on the other - to strengthen the military power of Israel in the fight against Arab neighbors.
‘Anti-Zionist’ slogans also appeared at numerous organized mass meetings in factories, institutions or rallies in provincial capitals.
Throughout the entire campaign, great attention was paid to not using the word ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish, as the aim was to distance oneself from anti-Semitism,, for example with the use of such slogans as “Anti-Semitism – no! Anti-Zionism – yes!”. The above phenomenon was best epitomized by a popular joke of the time, in which a son asks his father, “Dad, how do you spell Zionism?” His father answered, “I don’t know but before the war it was written with a ‘J’.”2
The result of the campaign was the radical strengthening of a purge that had been going on for some time. ‘Zionists’ were being removed from the PZPR, as well as from national and economic administrative posts. In many cases, the removal from the Party ranks or a post took place in an atmosphere of persecution, during lengthy meetings when both real and false accusations were made. In effect, 13,000 people were either forced to emigrate or made the decision to leave on their own.
1 Group of student protestors from the University of Warsaw led by Michnik, Kuroń and Modzelewski.
2 In Polish, ‘Zionism starts’ with a ‘S’, whereas ‘Jew/Jewish’ started with a ‘Ż’.