The film is an attempt to deal with a painful period of Polish history – the year 1968, an outbreak of anti-Semitic hysteria that led to mass Jewish emigration from Poland.
The film is set in Ashkelon, an Israeli tourist resort on the Mediterranean Sea, which, every few years, has been hosting 1968 emigrants’ meetings since 1988. They left it 50 years ago but Poland is still present in their homes. Its presence is remarkable, which has been confirmed by the conversations we held with them from morning till night. They were deprived of their homeland against their will, in the most terrible way – by virtue of a decision made by the authorities and tacitly endorsed by most of the society. For many, particularly young people, that decision was a real tragedy. They did not feel Jewish and many of them did not even realize they had Jewish roots until 1968.
The Gdanski Railway Station became a symbol of banishment for those who were compelled to leave Poland, and a symbol of humiliation for those who stayed (and came to see their relatives off). Nobody knew what was going to happen to Poland, so many considered their leaving to be final, both for émigrés, their families and those who saw them off.
The film is a non-standard project. We think that it may play an important role in social debate on Polish national identity, which also includes unsaid and readily forgotten aspects. It also has educational merits as it shows the March 1968 events from the perspective of victims; people directly affected by persecution and may be an unprecedented source of information on these events, especially to the young audience.
From 1968 to 1969, over 12 thousand people applied for emigration documents in order to leave for Israel. It is estimated that at least double this number actually left Poland.
They applied for a permission to go to Israel because it was an official requirement imposed by the communist authorities. Most of the emigrants did not want to go there because they did not feel Jewish, did not know Hebrew or had little in common with Judaism. Emigration documents were like one-way tickets. Those who received them were automatically deprived of Polish citizenship. Spouses of Aryan origin (using the Nazi nomenclature applied at that time) would also lose Polish citizenship if they remained loyal to their family and chose not to abandon it.
Often entire extended families were leaving the country. Adults were very well educated: 2600 had university degrees, 1000 were students at that time.
Many families were separated. Older parents stayed, while the youth were leaving. Many siblings were also separated, aware that they might never meet again.
A significant number of emigrants belonged to the elite of the Polish society. This group included: 230 scholars working at universities, including 25 professors, 37 associate professors, 10 faculty directors; 200 scientists working at various institutes, including 40 professors, 13 assistant professors (e.g. the Institute for Nuclear Research lost all staff with 40 scientists having left); 407 lecturers; 200 press and publishing employees including a few editors-in-chief; 61 radio and TV employees; 23 musicians, 20 artists, 26 actors; 525 top officials from ministries and state offices, including 90 directors and 130 heads of department; 370 doctors. The most affected by emigration were the University of Warsaw, Warsaw University of Technology, medical universities and the Institute for Nuclear Research.
Duration: 55 minutes