Batia Gilad

Doctoral Student/Haifa University (Israel)

Research Stay: 15 November 2005 to 6 February 2006

Research Project:

The »Gomulka Immigration«: The Immigration Process of Polish Jews 1957–1960 and their Absorption into the State of Israel

 

The study will attempt to examine the emigration process of Jews from Poland to Israel in the second half of the 1950s, against the background of the development of two countries on different sides of the Cold War aspiring to become nation states. In addition, it will also examine the absorption of the immigrants in their new country — Israel.

 

I was born in Poland after the war to Holocaust survivor parents who found themselves in the west of Poland (in the new territories), far from their childhood homes. In 1957, my family (my parents, my brother and I) immigrated to Israel. The first years here were not easy ones. The absorption process, a new language, housing and work were stages my parents had to go through in order to recreate a framework for existence, social life and education. My father, who was relatively old, never learned to speak Hebrew fluently, which did not prevent him from working as an expert in petroleum refining. My mother, who was very energetic, studied at an ulpan (accelerated Hebrew course) and worked at a job based on the Hebrew language.

 

Looking back, I ask myself why my parents didn’t come to Israel right after the war. Why didn’t they spare themselves the double move – from eastern to western Poland and from Poland to Israel? From talks with them I learned that they wanted to immigrate, but the Polish authorities didn’t permit my father to leave because of his professional expertise.

 

These and other questions led me to study the events of 1956 in Poland, which ended up enabling my family and other families to leave Poland, come to Israel and become absorbed in it.

 

The crisis of 1956, »Poland’s October,« created a new equation in Polish public opinion, which replaced the former equation: instead of Jews = government, they proposed Jews = Stalinism, based on Khrushchev's speech at the twentieth convention of the Communist Party in 1955, in which he condemned the acts of the Stalinist period.

 

This combination was one of the motives for ethnic cleansing in the Polish party, the cleansing of foreign elements, from a desire to base it on Polish apparatchiks. This tendency was encouraged from the center in Moscow. With the revelation of the fact that the Polish Communist Party was infected with anti-Semitism, and with the opening of the country's gates, which were opened by Gomulka’s new government, most of the Jews packed their bags and emigrated.  Most of the emigrants came from the Jews who until then had believed in the new Poland and wanted to be partners in its construction, and who now felt lost and threatened. Approximately one third of the Jews who decided to emigrate came from among the Jews who had returned to Poland from the Soviet Union – repatriates.

 

In this work I will refer to three aspects:

*        The perception of Jews as aliens in Polish society

*        The emigration process that began in Poland

*        The initial absorption process of the immigrants

 

Many articles were written about the Jews of Poland in Poland, mainly by Polish scholars. These articles deal mainly with the Jews' share in the building of Poland after WWII, in the Jewish social structure and the Jews' share in the communist government.

 

However, almost nothing has been written about the place of the Jews in the formulation of the new Communist government after 1956, to a great deal due to the Polish desire to assimilate the Jews who remained in Poland into national Polish society, as part of it. Consequently very little has been written about the immigrants called the »Gomulka immigrants« and their absorption into the State of Israel. This was the last large group of immigrants from Poland, and in actual fact the Jewish community, which had lived in Poland for hundreds of years and had contributed to the country's economic, cultural, governmental and social development, ceased to exist.