In 1968, the Polish Communist party unleashed a wave of “anti-Zionist” propaganda, expelled Jews en masse from the party and from the military, and effectively forced many out of the country. This attack on the Jews was a product of the Eastern bloc’s turn against Israel in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, latent anti-Semitism, internal dynamics of the Polish and Soviet governments, and the Polish regime’s attempt to redirect popular unrest away from itself and onto the Jews. Simon Gansinger writes:
The assault on the Jews teemed with declarations against “anti-Semitism.” At countless rallies, people carried signs that read “Anti-Semitism—No! Anti-Zionism—Yes!” Yet of the 8,300 members expelled from the Communist party, nearly all were Jewish. Almost 9,000 Jews lost their jobs and hundreds were thrown out of their apartments. The regime allowed Jewish citizens to leave the country under two conditions: they must revoke their citizenship, and they must declare Israel as the country of their destination. Thereby the regime legitimized the purge in the most cynical fashion: why would these people go to Israel if they hadn’t been Zionists all along? . . .
After Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, the member states of the Warsaw Pact, with the exception of Romania, cut diplomatic ties with Israel. The developments in Poland, however, soon took a peculiar course. On June 19, 1967, one week after the suspension of diplomatic relations with Israel, Władysław Gomułka, [the de-facto head of state], made a remarkable comment on the Polish dimensions of the events in the Middle East. Some Polish Jews, he was sorry to hear, sympathized with the enemies of socialism, the “Israeli aggressors,” thereby forfeiting their claim to be loyal Polish citizens. These people were not just morally reprehensible; they also constituted a potential “fifth column” in the country, which had to be eradicated before it could gain strength.
The significance of Gomułka’s “fifth column” remark can hardly be overestimated. The term invoked a well-organized Zionist conspiracy whose center was to be found in the Jewish community, which in 1967 counted no more than 30,000 members out of a Polish population of 32 million.