Oral history
History witnesses

Joanna Mirholm

Interlocutor name:
Interlocutor surname:
Józef Markiewicz
Przemysław Jaczewski
Catalogue number:
Recording date:
20th August 2017
Recording location:
Recording duration:
Recording language:
Recording copyright:
POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews
March’68 Participants and Witnesses

Related places


Interlocutor biogram

Joanna Mirholm (nee Lebenbaum) was born in Łódż in 1954. Her mother came from Tomaszów Mazowiecki. Her father (Józef Lebenbaum) worked as a journalist for “Głos Robotniczego” (“The Workers’ Voice”) and was a parliamentary rapporteur. Joanna grows up in a home which maintains contact with both the Polish and Jewish communities. From her upbringing, she is also conscious of political and social realities. From her early childhood, her grandparents influenced her world-view to which she feels a strong attachment.

Her grandfather, a pre-War Communist living in, among other places, Paris, was the interwar Central European representative for the Goodyear company. His granddaughter listens to his stories about the “big world” and about Europe. After 1956, her grandfather wants to  emigrate. He has a good friend in Noew York. However, because of Joanna’s father’s objections, he remains in Poland.

In March 1968, her father visits Zakopane, where Joanna and her mother have been staying, and announces, “This is the end”. He emigrates to Sweden in September 1968. At the time, Joanna was in the last year of primary school. She remains in Łódż with her mother and enrols in the Bolesław Prus Comprehensive High School. Over her four years of study in the high school, Joanna experiences antisemitism to a lesser degree. She is regularly questioned by the Security Service (UB). The questions concern emigrant circles in Sweden. Both before and after her father’s departure, her family’s home is under constant surveillance. At the instigation of her parents, her best friend breaks off all contact with her. During this period, Joanna frequently encounters envy in that she is able to leave the country.  She is increasingly aware of the claustrophobic oppression of the political system and the social prejudice. She says, “I wanted to leave, I wanted to be in a free world”. Joanna first travels to Sweden on holiday in 1971 and then again in 1972. After matriculating in 1973, she remains in Sweden permanently. Joanna keeps her emigration a secret. Shortly before her departure, she passes her entrance examination for German Philology, thus maintaining the appearance of normality.

She comes to Poland seven years after her emigration. Joanna admits the she never felt fearful while living in Poland. She only began to feel fear when travelling to Poland at the end of the 1970’s. Soon after her emigration, she finds several odd jobs through the government employment service. She begins learning the Swedish language and obtains a government loan for her further education. She begins studying in the History of Art Department and also studies dentistry. She then conducts a private dental practice. Recalling her own experiences in connection with March’68, Joanna concludes, “More than the antisemitic campaign itself, I was more surprised by the lack of courage shown by Polish civil society”.

Recording circumstances description

 Interview has been recorded in interviewee’s home in Lund.

Recording summary

  1. Characteristics of the March’68 emigrant community in Lund; the close relationships between emigrants who came to Lund at student age; forms of group life; commemorating the anniversary of emigration (arrival in Sweden); 00:00:50
  2. The difficulties in adapting to Swedish society; 00:04:22
  3. Growing up in Łódż; parenting, the atmosphere in the family home, relations with the Jewish community; 00:05:00
  4. Discovering her Jewish identity in her childhood; finding her grandfather’s identity papers with, under “Religion”, she sees written; being called a “Jew” by her peers; 00:06:50
  5. Her ties with her grandfather; Her grandfather’s influence in the formation of her own world-view and her knowledge of the world; 00:07:50
  6. Her reflections on the subject of emigration from the Polish experience being a positive event in the individual’s history; 00:09:22
  7. Her grandfather’s readiness to emigrate after 1956; 00:11:30
  8. The differing political views of her grandfather and father regarding the post-War social and political system; 00:13:00
  9. The relationship between age and the feeling towards the events of March’68; 00:15:00
  10. Her response to the March events: the discussions with her parents; the awareness of the student character of March; 00:17:00
  11. The atmosphere of fear in her family home; 00:21:40
  12. The attempt at beating/abduction by Polish attackers during her visit, with her parents, to Stockholm in 1966; 00:22:00
  13. The sources for her political consciousness; 00:24:00
  14. Antisemitism Łódż; her personal experience of socially shared antisemitism; breaking-off all contact with her closest friend – the threat of her friend’s parents losing their jobs; the emotional costs in breaking off contact; 00:26:00
  15. Meeting her father’s friends at the Journalists Club; the Marca’68 atmosphere amongst journalists; 00:32:15
  16. Jerzy Flajszman – her father’s colleague from “Głos Robotniczego”; the emigration of Jerzy Flajszman; 00:35:00
  17. The generational differences within March emigrants in Sweden; identifying with her homeland (Poland) and her place of birth (e.g. USSR) – her reflections; 00:40:00
  18. The forms of her contact with the high Polish culture of the 1960’s; her interests during her high school years; 00:42:00
  19. Her father’s emigration in September 1968; the atmosphere in her family home; the relationship between her parents; her mother remaining in Poland, her parents’ divorce; 00:45:30
  20. The surveillance of her family by the Security Service; 00:50:00
  21. The dynamics of the emigration process after March 1968 – her reflections; the reasons behind her father’s departure; 00:54:10
  22. The attitude of the Bolesław Prus High School environment to her in the years 1968-73: the attitudes of the teachers; antisemitic attitudes; the lowering of her grades; the delayed granting of her matriculation certificate; the awareness of others of her father’s plans to emigrate and of his departure; 00:58:00
  23. Her questioning by the Security Service regarding her stay in Sweden; 01:04:37
  24. Her relationship with her peers in high school; antisemitic jokes; 01:09:00
  25. Her spare time and hobbies during high school – theatre, literature, parties; 01h12’
  26. The high school student’ historical awareness; A female classmate during a history lesson saying, “It’s not true! My grandfather perished in ”; expulsion from school; 01:17:20
  27. Her first job after emigrating; 01:20:00
  28. The passport formalities associated with emigration; 01:22:00
  29. Hanging on a school noticeboard a satirical drawing critical of the socialist system; 01:24:00
  30. Her first visit to Poland after emigration – being summoned to the militia; “Madam, things can happen” – the atmosphere of fear which accompanied her stay in Poland in the late 1970’s; 01:27:00
  31. Her first days following emigration; her first odd job obtained via the employment office; learning the Swedish language; obtaining a loan for further study; 01:28:50
  32. Her studies in the History of Art – her studying Dentistry; 01:30:00
  33. Sweden as an emigration destination country – her reflections; her desire to leave Sweden; 01:36:00
  34. The issues surrounding finding a job after graduation; setting up her own dental practice; 01:39:00
  35. A description of Sweden in the late 1970’s; social diversity; her problems in adapting to everyday life; her reflections on her own independence in the context of emigration; 01:42:00
  36. The ban on wearing any religious symbols while practising dentistry in Malmo – her being ordered to take off a chain with a Star of David; the meaning of religious symbolism to her; 01:45:30
  37. The influence on her world-view of her close relationship with her grandfather; the source of her Jewish identity; her Jewish identity and bring different – her experiences; 01:50:00
  38. Her discovering that she has relatives living in Israel; 01:55:00
  39. The ZMP membership examination at her high school: “What do think of the Israeli aggression against Arab countries?”; 01:56:50
  40. Changing names after emigration; the consequences of having a Jewish surname; the deliberate “twisting” of surnames by outsiders; 02:00:20
  41. Comparing the material situation in Poland and that in Sweden as an emigrant; the type of material help given, in Sweden, to newly-arrived immigrants; 02:03:00
  42. The attitude of March’68 emigrants towards Poland – the type of ties, types of involvement, her own reflections about herself; 02:05:40
  43. The diversity of March experiences and emigration – her reflections; 02:13:00
  44. The envy of others (teacher, friends) on her possibility to emigrate; 02:16:30
  45. Her reflections about freedom of speech, civil courage and social divisions in the People’s Republic of Poland in the 1960’s; 02:22:00
  46. Her reflections about human nature; 02:25:00
  47. Finding and antisemitic book at home which had been published in Łódż in the 1960s; 02:29:00
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