Witnesses

Some performance. Account of Gabriel Lawit

Gabriel Lawit (Ławit)
fot. Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich

Gabriel Lawit (Ławit), born most likely in Magadan, son of Jewish emigrants to the USSR during WW2. He grew up in Dzierżoniów. Graduate of Wrocław University. Lawit is a musician and resides in Denmark.


"In 1968, I was in the 5th year of my university studies. That is when it all started. In fact, it all started a tad earlier, after Israel had defeated the Arabs in 1967. But that was mostly in the press.

I must emphasize that, officially, Poland was not at all antisemitic at the time. I mean, the state administration did not condone antisemitism. Perhaps it was due to the fact that there were many Jews at the top, or some other reason. I am not sure. In 1968, it suddenly erupted – do you really think I was in the least bothered by some performance?[i] What a crazy country, to start a revolution over a play written 200 years prior! This could have happened only in Poland.

Clearly, there was “us” and “them.” It was obvious what communism stood for. I was not a member of any Union of Socialist Youth or anything like that, and neither were any of my friends. And yet, suddenly, it all began… It was clear from day one, black on white in the press: “Jews are…”. They did not refer to Jews though, they used the term ‘Zionists.’ And the demonstration slogans: “We’ll do away with the Zionists!”   

I knew it was an anti-Jewish campaign, that they wanted to fish out the Jews from the system and put the blame on them, in order to prove to the society that it is “them” who are to blame. I realized that from the very beginning, that is why I participated in the strike, albeit as a pawn in the crowd. We camped out at the university campus. Come to think of it… The motivation, the politics – nobody really cared about that. Well, maybe some did. The majority of the students just wanted to stand up to the militia, to feel that the militiamen were afraid of us.

We were tourists, the University Tourists’ Club. Our club was housed in this tower. It so happened that some people were in the tower during the strike. It also happened that two of them were Jewish. They were in touch with the University of Warsaw. Obviously, somebody informed on them. I don’t know – perhaps they printed flyers, since they did have the devices to do that. All in all, they were all arrested. Only two of them were Jewish, but the militia was quick to react: “You are of Jewish origin? Send them to specialist care!” Only these two were detained and sentenced for 6 months. The Poles were released.

I came back home, to Dzierzoniów, and my mum said: “This guy came over, you know. He introduced himself as a militiaman, even though he was wearing plainclothes. He asked me if you were a good son, because you had been spotted somewhere, in a fight at some bar.” It later turned out that he indeed was a militiaman. They did not have anything on me, but they were trying anyway.

I imagined myself living in Poland. Clearly, I wanted to travel, especially for my academic career which I had envisaged for myself. I had friends, I had a girlfriend. I knew one was not supposed to trust the government. Eventually the direct attacks subsided. There was nobody left to attack. My doctoral studies came to an end. I went to Dzierżoniów for a visit. A lieutenant, clad in leather, called my name. He summoned me to his office – the Security Bureau, or Security Service – and said: “You, Ławit, what the fuck are you still doing here?! If you don’t get the fuck out of here till 1 September I promise you I will make your life such hell that you will rather cut your wrists than stay alive.” I almost shat myself. On 1 September I was already in Copenhagen. The guy helped me reach my decision, he was the main reason for my departure.

It was 1971. You see, they had statistics, they had everything. “There is one more Yid hanging around.” They all wanted to deserve credit for something, right?"



[i] Dziady, a play by Adam Mickiewicz written in 1824. The performance, directed by K. Dejmek, was banned from the stage in January 1968 on the grounds of its anti-Russian and pro-religious stance. The ban was followed by student demonstrations against the censorship.

 

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The text is based on the interview with Gabriel Lawit, conducted in 24 April 2016 for the Oral History collection of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Interview: Józef Markiewicz; editing: Joanna Król.

07.03.2017