Recent outbursts of anti-Semitism in Polish news media have prompted protests to Polish authorities from Jewish groups in the United States and underscored fears expressed by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa--in his last formal interview before martial law--that an anti-Semitic campaign was being used to discredit and divide the union movement.
Pointing up incidents going back at least to March, Simon Wiesenthal, head of the Jewish Documentation center in Vienna, accused the Polish government of distributing anti-Semitic leaflets and cartoons as part of "a primitive attempt" to "provoke anti-Semitic feelings" and to give the impression that Solidarity was anti-Semitic.
He told United Press International in Vienna Monday that he had been receiving the leaflets from Poland since March but had not publicized the fact sooner because it clearly was an attempt to hurt Solidarity.
Anti-Semitism, long a factor in Polish history, flared on a major scale most recently in 1967-68. Most of Poland's Jewish population of more than 3 million was liquidated under the Nazis during World War II. Only several thousand Jews remain today.
In the past week, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith and the American Jewish Committee have protested to Polish authorities the broadcast Dec. 15 on Warsaw radio and television of a lengthy interview with a Polish professor who charged that Jews had misled the Polish people and that "persons of Jewish origin had turned Solidarity into an antinational body."
The professor specifically attacked Bronislaw Gemerek, a member of Solidarity's national commission and a professor of history at Warsaw University.
Gemerek, he said according to tapes of the broadcast cited by an Anti-Defamation League official in New York, was a Jew, "the son of a rabbi" who had changed his name from a Jewish-sounding one. After vitriolic remarks about Gemerek's academic work, the professor added that Gemerek spent his time "deforming Polish history in his books."
The broadcast of the interview, which both groups said had been taped by Poles in Paris, included charges that Jewish groups had taken control of 80 percent of Polish industry and that the "chauvinistic Jewish internatonal" was trying to take power in Poland to serve KOR, the now disbanded, dissident Committee for Social Self-Defense.
Tass, the official Soviet news agency, carried a dispatch from the state-run Polish news agency PAP three days later, reporting Polish newspaper attacks on the "counterrevolutionary figures" in the Solidarity leadership.
The quoted article, from the official Trybuna Ludu, pointed to the "Trotskyist leanings, Zionist links and anarchosyndicalism of Jacek Kuron," the founder, now detained, of KOR and a "subversive" adviser to Solidarity.
The official newspaper then turned to Gemerek, calling him one of the "masterminds" behind Solidarity's extremists who had connections with "revisionist-Zionist quarters." The paper also attacked Kuron's associate in KOR, Adam Michnik for, among other things, "organization of a Zionist demonstration in Warsaw."
Kuron, who is not believed to be Jewish, and Gemerek and Michnik, who are, were on a list of "interned extremist activists" announced on Warsaw television Dec. 15.
A separate Tass report from Warsaw Dec. 18 made a reference to Gemerek's activities after "the suppression of the Zionist putsch in Poland in 1968." That is an ugly historical skein to which Walesa referred in his interview with Washington Post correspondent Bradley Graham Dec. 12 in Gdansk during a break in the tumultuous meeting of the union's national commission.
Walesa had sought the interview through advisers to rebut suggestions that anti-Semitism was rampant in sections of Solidarity. There were suspicions that these sentiments were being fanned by the Communist authorities to sow discord in the union and smear its reputation abroad.
Unsigned leaflets at Solidarity's summer congress hinted darkly at Jewish figures in the union; questions were asked at some union meetings about the role or presence of Jews; in Solidarity's large Warsaw branch, a "true Poles" faction grew up, a throwback to eruptions of bigotry in pre-World War II Poland and, more recently, to the anti-Semitic campaign in Poland that followed the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The leader of that campaign, Mieczyslaw Moczar, who lost out in a subsequent power struggle, was rehabilitated under his protege, former party leader Stanislaw Kania. Moczar's influence is seen behind the formation about a year ago of the ultranationalist Grunwald Patriotic Union, an anti-Semitic body that has agitated against the liberalization in Poland, spearheaded by Solidarity. It has called KOR "a Zionist" body.
Walesa denied that anti-Semitism was a problem in Poland and said Solidarity would resist all attempts to make it one, suggesting that such attempts were by those wanting to divide the union.
"We know how dearly the Jewish nation paid during World War II, for how many years it has been murdered, tormented and harassed," he said.
He said anti-Semitism in Poland was an issue "absolutely steered and manipulated" by certain people, whom he did not specify. "Not only do they speak about Jews, but they even call people Jews who are not Jewish," he added.
"There is no grass-roots support for it. . . . We won't become divided on this issue, nor will we allow anything evil to be said about this social group," he declared.
"The fate of the Jewish nation is very similar to ours, if much worse. Thus there cannot be even talk about anti-Semitism."