Polish lawmakers slam 1968 purge of Jews, praise protest

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s lawmakers approved a resolution Tuesday to honor mass anti-communist protests that occurred 50 years ago and to condemn an anti-Semitic purge that ensued.

Both the right-wing ruling party and the opposition backed the resolution on the 1968 events in communist-ruled Poland. The lower house of parliament voted 424-3 with two abstentions to approve it.

Starting in March 1968, students defending a banned anti-totalitarian play, based on the work of Romantic period poet Adam Mickiewicz, staged mass protests that were brutally quashed. Rival factions in the ruling communist party exploited the protests in their pursuit of party control. The crisis climaxed in the purge of Jews from the ruling party’s ranks and from across the society.

Some 13,000 Jews were forced to leave Poland and were stripped of Polish citizenship that year. The purge has continued to weigh on relations between Poles and Jews, which generally have been good since Poland became a democracy in 1989.

The resolution mentioned respect for those who “fought for freedom and democracy” and condemned anti-Semitism and the “communist organizers of anti-Semitic persecution.”

“Remembering the dramatic fate of Poland’s Jews who were forced by the communist authorities to leave Poland in 1968, Poland’s Sejm (parliament) expresses strong opposition against any symptoms of anti-Semitism,” the resolution said.

A lawmaker for the far-right National Movement party, Robert Winnicki, drew boos when he said the resolution failed to mention that Poland’s Jewish émigrés included communist judges and prosecutors who handed death sentences to Polish resistance fighters in the 1940s and 1950s.

He named the late Helena Wolinska, whose extradition Poland had sought from Britain before she died in 2008.

The resolution and events scheduled in Poland for the 1968 anniversary come at a time of tension between Warsaw and Jerusalem over a new law that carries penalties for blaming Poles for Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germans.

Poland says the law is needed to fight slander, while in Israel it has been interpreted as an attempt to suppress debate and historical research on cases in which Poles killed Jews.