Fifth column

“We do not want to have a fifth column in our country!” (W. Gomułka)

On 19 June 1967, after the end of the Six-Day War in the Middle East, Władysław Gomułka gave a speech in the Congress Hall at the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, during the 6th Trade Union Congress. The speech, delivered to a crowd of over 1,500 people, was almost entirely dedicated to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Gomułka insinuated that Israel had covert supporters in Poland, actively involved in “Zionist Jewish circles.” He also used the term “fifth column,” claiming: “We cannot ignore the people who, when facing a threat to world peace and Poland’s security and peaceful operation, take the side of the aggressors, the havoc-wreakers and the imperialists. We do not want to have a fifth column in our country. I urge those who feel that these words are directed at them – regardless of their nationality – to draw appropriate conclusions” (Stenogram wystąpienia Władysława Gomułki na Kongresie Związków Zawodowych 19 czerwca 1967 r., cited after: D. Stola, Kampania antysyjonistyczna w Polsce 1967–1968, Warsaw 2000, p. 274).

The term “fifth column” was created during the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 and refers to the activities of an internal enemy. It was first used by General Emilio Mola in reference to the supporters of nationalists from Madrid, that is the opponents of General Francisco Franco. The term soon gained popularity in other countries. It was used in Poland in 1939 to describe Selbstschutz guerrilla units formed among the German minority, responsible, for instance, for the sabotage action in Bydgoszcz, which resulted in many casualties among Polish soldiers and the civilian population of the town.

Due to the pressure exerted by the members of the party Politburo and the intervention of Edward Ochab, Chairman of the Council of State, the remarks concerning the “fifth column” were not included in the printed version of the speech published in the press. It remains uncertain whether Gomułka spontaneously used these words or whether he just read from a script written by someone else. There is no doubt, however, that he did not stick to the version of the speech previously agreed on with the Politburo.

Years later, Ochab thus described the speech in his conversation with Teresa Torańska: “Gomułka’s remarks were a surprise to the members of the Politburo. I later told him that he had no right to form such theses without the consent of the Politburo. He then started to make excuses, explaining that he worked on the speech until the small hours, without any help. Just empty talk” (Edward Ochab, [in] T. Torańska, Oni, Warsaw 2004, p. 98).

Gomułka’s speech was believed to condone or even call for the Jewish emigration from Poland, with Jews being perceived as covert enemies and the “fifth column.” The First Secretary’s remarks were well received in the military. They aroused nationalist and anti-Semitic sentiments in the Polish society. The speech also triggered a number of purges among the ranks of the ruling party, which started to be carried out in June 1967.



  1. Król E.C., “Polska kultura i nauka w 1968 roku. Uwarunkowania i podstawowe problemy egzystencji,” Rocznik Polsko-Niemiecki 2010, no. 18, pp. 92–94.
  2. Osęka P., Marzec ’68, Kraków 2008, pp. 100–102, 106–107, 123.
  3. Prażmowska A., Władysław Gomułka, Warsaw 2016, pp. 232–233.
  4. Edward Ochab, [in] T. Torańska, Oni, Warsaw 2004, pp. 98–104.
  5. Zaremba M., “Gomułka i piąta kolumna. U źródeł antysemickiej kampanii,” [in] Yesterday. Studia z historii najnowszej. Księga dedykowana prof. Jerzemu Eislerowie w 65. rocznicę urodzin, eds. J. Olaszek, A. Dudek, Ł. Kamiński, K. Kosiński, M. Przeperski, K. Rokicki, P. Sasanka, R. Spałek, S. Stępień, Warsaw 2017, pp. 549–561.

Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat, Ph.D.




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