March ’68 made me into a Jew. Account of Michał Bron
Michał Bron – resident of Warsaw, graduate of history, employee of the Institute of Social Policy, emigrated from Poland during the martial law and now resides in Sweden.
"I was a student at the Department of History at Warsaw University when 8 March happened. The University announced a sit-in strike. My father was in a sanatorium at the time, mum was home with my grandma. Father kept calling us; in the end he packed his suitcase and returned home. My sister and I were kept under house arrest. Our parents did not allow us to participate in the strike. Why? Because we were Jews. The presupposition was: we were by no means to provide the administration with a proof that the Jews were the ones who incite to revolt. This was clearly absurd - even if there had not been one Jew on strike, the narration in the press, as well as of Gomułka’s speeches, would have remained the same. Already on 9 March there was an open antisemitic campaign all over the papers.
Obviously, to me and my sister it was clear we must join the strike. There were many well-known people at our department. I am not talking about students, such as Adam Michnik who is older than me but who I kept bumping into, as he notoriously repeated the same year, before he was ultimately removed from the university. Neither am I talking about Antek Macierewicz who was at the time an ardent fan of Che Guevara.
Stanisław Herbst was one of our teachers who, with his personality and authority, had a calming effect on his students. It was him standing next to Provost Rybicki on the balcony of the Kazimierzowski Palace. It was before the ZOMO (Motorized Reserves of the Citizens’ Militia) squads entered the University campus, which was against the law binding at the time.
Henryk Samsonowicz, a medieval scholar, exerted a great influence on us. He was a young assistant professor back then. We often gathered in the largest lecture hall at our department and Samsonowicz posed provocative questions. He was very critical of the communist system, and his maliciousness was delicious.
Until 8 March, the day I was hit on the head with a truncheon on Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, I did not pay much attention to my Jewish origin. I felt Polish through and through. There was nothing Jewish in me, aside from my ancestors. In the aftermath of March, various people suddenly became curious and began inquiring who is whom. I was called “Dayan” in a tram or a bus by complete strangers. Thus March made me into a Jew, and it is highly likely that it made some people… well, disinclined towards Jews.
My sister left for Sweden in the late 1969. My parents did not even consider leaving. They did not want to leave. My dad kept his retirement money, my mum kept her job. I wanted to stay and go on fighting, as much as a twenty-year-old youngster understood what was going on around him.
I saw my sister, and some other people, off at the Gdański Railway Station. I cannot really remember it well; I just remember being there, and I remember crying. Those visits at the Gdański Railway Station were much more of a trauma than being hit by a truncheon on 8 March. At least that is how it seems to me now. Although, perhaps, this truncheon blow was doubly painful since it was not a militiaman who hit me, it was a ZOMO member. I perceived it as a grave injustice – militiamen had a legal right to beat people up, in light of the biding law. ZOMO members, however, the scum of the earth, had no such right."
The text is based on the interview with Michał Bron, conducted in 17 April 2013 for the Oral History collection of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Interview: Krzysztof Bielawski; editing: Joanna Król.