Jan Krzysztof Melchior
Jan Krzysztof Melchior was born in 1948 in Warsaw. His parents met in France where they lived through World War II. In 1933, his father left for France to begin his medical studies. Jan’s mother, then sixteen years old, was sent to France by the Communist Party of Poland (KPP) and thus avoided imprisonment in Poland. Jan’s parents participated in the Civil War in Spain and were interned there. In 1939, they got involved in the French resistance movement and therefore, they were entitled to the French citizenship after the war. In 1946, however, they decided to return to Poland.
They arrived in Poland in 1946 and both begin to work in the Citizens’ Militia. Jan Melchior spent his childhood In the Mokotow District of Warsaw. He belonged to the so-called “General Walter’s youth” and attended Stefan Batory High School. He was brought up in a secular home without any elements of the traditional Jewish religious observances. He participated twice in Jewish summer camps organized by the Socio-Cultural Association of Jews in Poland (TSKŻ). He attended the Association’s club at Nowogrodzka Street in Warsaw. He participated in the meetings at the Krzywe Koło Club. His distinctive feature when compared to his peers was the lack of distant family and relatives. The only living cousin immigrated to Israel in 1956. Jan planned to study medicine in Poland but did not pass the entrance examinations.
In 1968, he was a sophomore at the Faculty of Biology of the University of Warsaw. He took part in the 8 March rally. Initially, he was elected to the Students’ Committee at the Faculty of Biology of the University of Warsaw, however – observing the intensifying anti-Semitic campaign – he gave up fearing that his origins could have been used by the authorities. He was not expelled from the University, yet he was interrogated several times at the police headquarters. In summer 1968, while staying in the village Tleń, he learnt about the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact troops. “For me it was a signal that in that system, in that country, nothing could be done. It was time to leave”. In 1969, he left for Sweden by train via Berlin and Oslo. He was one of the first Jewish immigrants from Poland who reached Göteborg. After his arrival, he got in touch with the Jewish community which provided him with an apartment. Contrary to a large group of March ’68 immigrants, he was not sent to the Immigration Centre.
In Göteborg, he continued his microbiological studies commenced in Poland. Following the graduation, he had a chance to undertake the doctorate studies. However, he gave up and began to study medicine. He became a general physician. He rejected an offer to work in a hospital. He decided to work in a remote place in northern Sweden. Then, following the birth of his son, he and his wife decided to move to Urlicehamn, a settlement in the south of Sweden.
After having obtained the Swedish citizenship, Jan Melchior tried to visit Poland for Christmas. When he left the ferry in Świnoujście, he was denied the entrance to the country. The following year, he flew in to the Okęcie Airport and got the permission to enter the country. During a talk in the Grand Hotel in Warsaw, secret service agents gave him an offer to cooperate. He refused. After his return to Sweden, he informed the Swedish security authorities on that unsuccessful attempt to enlist him by the Polish Secrete Police (SB).
In Sweden, Jan Melchior discovered the religious aspects of Jewish identity for the first time. He became a member of the Jewish community and also attended the course of Hebrew. Nowadays, he is working as a physician. In 1969, he went to Budapest to meet his father. There accompanied by his father – he visited a synagogue for the first time. “Now, I think Jewish culture is rather of a fundamental importance for me. I did not think so then. I felt a hundred percent Polish. So, certain things change”, he says.
Recording circumstances description
The interview took place in the interviewee’s house in Urlicehamn (Sweden).
- The interviewee’s birthplace; 00:00:30
- His parents’ life history: their immigration to France; their participation in the Spanish Civil War; the time of the Nazi occupation; return to Poland; 00:01:00
- Jan Melchior’s school years: Jaworzyńska Street in Warsaw; primary and secondary schools; 00:03:20
- The interviewee’s thoughts on his identity in the 1950s and 60s; the attitude of his parents to the Jewish tradition; no relatives – “I had a complex of a family all my life”; 00:07:00
- The circumstances of the interviewee’s emigration from Poland; his arrival in Sweden; first days of life as an immigrant; 00:12:00
- The interviewee’s first days in Sweden; his visit at the police station in Göteborg; getting in touch with the Jewish community in Göteborg; accommodation and first courses of the Swedish language; 00:15:30
- Education and development of professional career in the first years of emigration; continuing studies in Sweden; 00:18:00
- Work in the Göteborg docks; 00:23:00
- The circumstances of the interviewee’s wedding in 1982 – his first visit to Poland since the emigration; 00:24:00
- The interviewee’s work as a physician; 00:28:00
- The origins of the interviewee’s names – “In Sweden I am Jan, in Poland my friends call me Krzysztof”; 00:30:00
- The interviewee’s anti-Semitic experiences and his Jewish identity in the period of adolescence; The interviewee’s peers in Poland; 00:33:00
- The impact of the contacts with the Jewish community in Sweden on the interviewee’s self-identification and observing Jewish traditions; the interviewee’s activities in the cultural life of the Jewish community in Gothenburg; learning Hebrew; 00:34:30
- The interviewee’s social circle in Sweden; comparison between students’ life in Poland and in Sweden; the concept of “amch” – the interviewee’s reflection; 00:40:20
- The interviewee’s children’s attitude to the Jewish origins; 00:46:00
- Jewish summer camps for children of the March ’68 immigrants in Sweden – the impact on the identification of the second generation; attitude to Poland and Israel; 00:48:00
- The interviewee’s political involvement in students’ events of March ’68; his participation in the meetings of the Krzywe Koło Club’ and in the students’ rally of 8 March 1968; 00:52:00
- The interviewee’s acquaintances start to immigrate; 00:56:00
- The news on the occupation of Czechoslovakia; 00:57:00
- Immigration: bureaucratic procedures; the choice of the country of destination; 00:58:00
- “We left Poland as persecuted Jews, however, I did not encounter anti-Semitism myself” - the interviewee’s reflections; 01:00:00
- The atmosphere of March ’68: the reaction of the society to the Six-Day War; 01:02:00
- Description of particular groups of the Jewish immigrants to Sweden; 01:05:00
- A farewell at the Dworzec Gdański (the Gdanski Railway Station in Warsaw) (“There were some sixty, seventy people on the platform”); the interviewee’s recollections of his trip to Sweden; 01:08:00
- Practical motives of the interviewee’s immigration from Poland; economic independence as a symptom of personal freedom; 01:11:33
- The ways of contacting the interviewee with his family who remained in Poland; unsuccessful attempt to visit Poland during Christmas; the attempt of the Polish Secret Police to enlist him during a conversation in the Grand Hotel in Warsaw; 01:13:00
- Documents of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) concerning the interviewee; his alleged membership in the terrorist organisation “Koszykowa 66”; 01:16:00
- Immigration plans of the members of the interviewee’s family who had remained in Poland; 01:19:00
- The interviewee’s contemporary contacts with Poland; 01:22:00
- Significance of the Polish, Russian and Jewish culture; 01:27:00
- The interviewee’s thoughts on the possibility of returning to Poland; 01:30:00
- Importance of the March ’68 events in the interviewee’s biography; the students’ engaged movements in 1968 in various European countries; participation in the students’ movements ’68 as a generational experience; 01:33:00
- The interviewee’s thoughts on the possibility to sum up the immigration from Poland; 01:38:00
- The interviewee’s critical remarks on the Swedish healthcare and hospital care systems; 01:40:00
- The interviewee’s plans to visit Poland in March 2018; 01:43:00
- The interviewee’s participation in the guided tours in Ukraine visiting the places connected with the Jewish heritage; 01:44:00
- The awareness of the Jewish identity of the interviewee’s son; 01:47:00
- The contemporary anti-Semitism in Sweden and Poland; 01:52:00