WARSAW (JTA) — Poland’s president asked for forgiveness for an anti-Jewish wave that drove Jews from the country in March 1968, but said today’s Poland is not responsible for the events of 50 years ago. “I bow my head with great regret as president. To those who have been expelled, I would like to say ‘Please, forgive me, forgive Poland and Polish people,’” Andrzej Duda said Thursday, March 8 at the University of Warsaw at a commemoration of the events in Poland known as March 1968. In 1968, the communist government engineered a massive antisemitic campaign that would see Jews dismissed from jobs and thrown out of the universities. Several thousand Jews left Poland for good.
Duda’s remarks came amid a furor over his government’s support of a law that would make it a crime to blame Poland for events surrounding the Holocaust. During his speech, critics of the law chanted “shame.” At a commemoration at the Dworzec Gdański railway station in Warsaw, an adviser to Duda, Zofia Romaszewska, also was heckled as she read remarks from the president, which said in part: “In independent Poland there is no place and there will never be a place for antisemitism.”
In her remarks, Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari, said she has lived in Poland for over three years and for a long time could not understand how and why in 1968 a decision could be made to organize an antisemitic campaign and expel Jews from Poland. “For the last one and a half months I already know how easy it is to wake up in Poland antisemitic demons, even when there are hardly any Jews in the country,” Azari said. “ In response, Polish Senator Jan Zaryn of the ruling party said he would not shake hands with Azari and that he favors her expulsion from Poland for saying antisemitism was on the rise there.