A Jewish girl places a wooden board on railway tracks to commemorate her relatives killed at the former Nazi death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The principal of a prestigious Tel Aviv high school made waves on Sunday when he told Army Radio that he had canceled students’ annual trip to the former Nazi death camps in Poland.
The principal of Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, which was founded before the state and was the first to teach solely in Hebrew, told Army Radio that the trips to Poland were becoming “social occasions rather than learning experiences.”
“I didn’t make the decision on my own,” said the principal, Dr. Ze’ev Dagani. “I did it with the support of the administrators and the parents. The sense is that the trip has become prohibitively expensive in recent years for most people. It’s not easy to spare NIS 5,000 for a six-day trip.”
“The important thing is to remember that there was a Holocaust, that we teach the students about the Holocaust, and that we make sure it doesn’t happen again – not here and not anywhere else.”
One of the highlights of the school year for Israeli teens is the organized trip to Poland, where students get first-hand view of what remains of the extermination camps used in the liquidation of European Jewry during the Holocaust.
The trips are considered important in inculcating elements of the Zionist ethos, specifically the refusal to be “led like lambs to the slaughter.”
Dagani’s decision could be considered controversial, although he remains adamant that there’s no need to fly all the way to Poland in order to internalize the lessons of the Nazi genocide.
“We need to really think if it’s necessary to fly there,” he said. “There are many youths who aren’t emotionally built to really grasp the extent of the horror. It’s too much for them, and I think it’s too early to send 16- and 17-year-olds to trips to Poland. It’s a trip that requires emotional and intellectual maturity.”
The trips to Poland have also been an economic boon for some agencies that have managed to parlay a handsome profit from them.
In January, the police announced that they were investigating Tour operators in Israel who had formed a “cartel” to fix prices for Israeli youth delegations to Poland.
Police and Anti-Trust Authority officers arrested nine suspects and seized bank accounts linked to the alleged scam.
Police said that tour operators who had recently been awarded government tenders to provide services for the youth delegations conspired to fix prices in order to prevent competition that could reduce the cost of the trips.
The suspects include the CEOs and owners of several tour operators – including some of the major travel agencies.
The suspects are accused of violating anti-trust laws as well as committing fraud and money laundering.
The investigation – which police say has been underway for a few months – involves at least six large Israeli tour operators who organize visits to Poland , during which Israeli school students visit death camps and other sites in the country to learn about the Holocaust.
In February, the Knesset Education, Sports and Culture Committee urged schools to cancel their annual youth delegations to Poland.
The committee convened for a discussion about high school class trips to Poland to visit key sites of the Holocaust and the many students who cannot afford to join these outings.
MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas), the committee chairman, demanded that the Education Ministry offer subsidies for such trips for students in need.
“Until such time the committee is calling to suspend all the delegations and to do take every measure to ensure that no student is left behind whether it be a trip to Poland or any other educational activity,” Margi said.
MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), who initiated the discussion, said the trips to Poland enrich the curriculum and provide students with added educational and moral value.
“But it cannot be that we will continue to agree that the delegations to Poland will only be for the rich,” Shmuli said.
“The fact that the right to touch the stones of Auschwitz are denied to a child because his parents do not have enough money is something that does not stop bothering me,” he said.Ben Hartman and Lidar Grave-Lazi contributed to this report.