Anti-Israel demonstration in NYC

In Lodz in 1937, his fellow city councilmen shouted at my father: ‘Go to Palestine!’

‘Go back to Poland.” So chanted some of the pro-Hamas protesters at Columbia University in recent weeks. The message, directed at Jewish students, has stuck with me.

I was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1936. In that year my father, a rabbi who also earned a doctorate in law at the University of Lviv, was elected to the City Council of Lodz. The city had about 700,000 residents and was one-third Jewish. The council was dissolved after several stormy meetings. When elections were again held in 1938, my father was re-elected.

During his first term Isaac Lewin earned a reputation as a vigorous and articulate defender of the Jewish population of Lodz. Violent antisemitism endangered the city’s Jewish residents. Many were murdered on the streets, their deaths unpunished and praised by antisemitic council members of the National Camp party. Three particularly outspoken Jew-haters on the council were named Kowalski, Czernik and Schweidler.

My parents fled Poland in September 1939, after the Nazi army invaded the country and days before its arrival in Lodz. Among the papers my father took with him as we crossed the border into Lithuania in the middle of the night were transcript pages of sessions of the Lodz City Council. A half-century after our arrival in America as refugees, he published English translations in a 1992 volume of essays titled “In Defense of Human Rights.” (He died at 89 in 1995.)

My father spoke at a council session on Jan. 28, 1937, about “terrible things happening on the streets of Lodz”—the latest being the fatal stabbing that day of a 23-year-old Jew. Councilman Kowalski responded to news of the killing, “Bravo, bravo,” after which the transcript reports “noise in the hall.” Councilman Czernik then chimed in: “I am ready to kill hundreds of you in one hour.” The transcript recites that the president called: “Order. Order!”

My father continued in a conciliatory vein: “The City Council should appeal to the citizens that peace be restored. The City Council should teach the population the lesson of peace and call upon all inhabitants to live in peace.”

Councilman Schweidler immediately responded: “In Palestine, you can speak of peace!”

“We are proud of Palestine,” my father said, “and you do not have the right to tell us what we should do in Palestine.”

The transcript documents that, pounding his rostrum, Kowalski seconded Schweidler’s directive: “Go to Palestine.”

Is today’s “Go to Poland” truly different from the “Go to Palestine” abusively hurled at my father? Czernik’s sadistic 1937 dream of killing hundreds of Jews in one hour was realized with the Holocaust and repeated with the Oct. 7 massacre. But the sliver of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that my father’s Jew-hating colleagues then called “Palestine” is very different today.

Israel preserves the rights of all residents, whether or not they are Jewish, against vicious assaults. The embattled democracy seeks only—as my father urged—to live in peace.

Mr. Lewin is a Washington lawyer with a Supreme Court practice.