Between 1969 and 1973 almost 3,000 Jews from communist Poland fled to Denmark.
The Soviet controlled Polish government was under pressure by the end of the 1960’ies. The population felt considerable discontent with government censorship and displays of force. Many Poles cheered over Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel had won over its enemies who had fought with Soviet weapons, and in this joy over Soviet defeat was an ill concealed critique of the communist power apparatus. The Soviet Union reacted with an anti-Jewish campaign, and polish head of government Wladyslaw Gomulka followed with a radio speak, in which he attacked the Jews and pointed them out as a ‘fifth column’ who worked with western capitalists to harm Poland.
During the spring of 1968, the anti-Jewish propaganda intensified. Both Jews, who belonged to the party, and those who didn’t, were fired and harassed with strong encouragement to leave the country. Many were forced to pay for renovation of apartments, they were forced to vacate, and upon finally leaving Poland, the Jews were forced to sign a document, stating Zionist conviction and resigning Polish citizenship. The flight of the Jews from Poland was staged as emigration, but in reality they were banished.
Denmark chose a very liberal policy towards the refugees from Poland, and practically all parties agreed that Denmark should help. All refugees were welcomed and everyone were offered residence- and work permit. The largest number of refugees came in 1969 and proved to be a challenge to the Danish Refugee Council, who had been used to receiving approx. 100 refugees a year since the Hungarian refugees arrived in 1956. The first 300 Jewish refugees from Poland were accommodated on the ship St. Lawrence in Copenhagen Harbour. Later, also hotel rooms were made available to the refugees.
The younger refugees settled in Denmark during the next few years, and many went on to marry Danes. Among the older refugees, disillusionment and loneliness were strong feelings during the first years in Denmark. The differences between the Jewish community in Denmark and this new group testify to the different perceptions of what it means to be Jewish. Many of the refugees sensed the importance of creating an independent network, and soon multiple associations started their still ongoing work of arranging social and cultural events, taking as their vantage point the shared polish past.
Polish government propaganda stated, that the Jews left Poland freely for Israel. The Danish government feared that too much focus on the true nature of events would cause conflict and ultimately threaten those Jews still waiting to leave Poland. Thus Danish media were asked to avoid publicizing the events. This may be one of the reasons why public knowledge of this group of refugees is still very limited today.
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