Israeli high schools to add a Polish site to Holocaust trips

Yad Vashem says it won’t be involved in group visits to any site suspected of distorting events.

 A CANDLE is lit and a flower is placed on the railway tracks at Birkenau, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, last year. (photo credit: Agencja
A CANDLE is lit and a flower is placed on the railway tracks at Birkenau, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, last year.
(photo credit: Agencja

High school trips to Poland to study the Holocaust will now include one site recommended by the Polish government, the country’s Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski clarified.

Israeli high school students visiting Poland will “learn not only about the Holocaust, committed by Nazi Germany to a large degree in German-occupied Poland,” Jablonski tweeted on Tuesday.

Those students should also “have access to knowledge of other crimes of World War II, and of over one thousand years…of history, our culture and contemporary times,” he explained.

“With this purpose both sides jointly approved a list of places recommended for visits.

“The agreement stipulates that each group will visit at least one of the recommended sites – and that they will be meeting their peers,” Jablonski wrote.

 Pawel Jablonski, Polish foreign minister.  (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Pawel Jablonski, Polish foreign minister. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

He spoke up after a Haaretz article accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of caving to “Polish propaganda” by expanding the curriculum of those trips to include sites that distort the history of World War II.

The agreement reached between Israel and Poland on the matter last month, which still needs the approval of the Knesset and the government, stipulates that the organizers of each Israeli trip only have to visit one of the sites recommended by Poland. The choice of such a site is left to their discretion.

On the list for example is the Katyn Museum in Warsaw, which focuses on the Soviet massacre of approximately 22,000 Polish military officers at the start of World War II.

The Foreign Ministry had suspended the high school trips last year due to a dispute with Poland over issues relating to the curriculum and the security of the visits. It was a move that further strained Israeli-Polish relations.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen confirmed last month that the trips would be resumed, during a visit to Warsaw in which he met with Jablonski. The new agreement also stipulates that the students will be accompanied by private Polish security guards chosen by Israel.

Yad Vashem – the World Holocaust Remembrance Center issued a statement on the matter explaining that the group trips must maintain “complete historical accuracy, including the role of Poles in the persecution, handing in, and murder of Jews during the Holocaust, as well as in acts of rescue.”

“Nevertheless, the annex of the agreement contains a list of sites, compiled without Yad Vashem, which includes problematic sites that should not be visited in an educational context.

“Yad Vashem will not be involved in group visits to any site suspected of distorting the events of the Holocaust or presenting a historically inaccurate narrative. We believe that all educational visits from Israel to Poland in the future will be conducted accordingly,” it added.

Yair Lapid and Eli Cohen

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who is a former prime minister and foreign minister, attacked Netanyahu’s government for caving to Poland, stating that it was a “national disgrace.”

He added that “for years, the Poles have been trying in every way to hide and deny the participation of many Poles in the extermination enterprise.... They [Poland] passed laws that ignore their part in the destruction of the Jewish people that we cannot accept.”

It’s a sign of “unforgivable weakness” for Cohen to send Israeli students to sites where history is falsified and the Poles are presented as the main victims of the Nazis, Lapid said.

Poland tried to force Israel to submit to its demands when he was foreign minister and later as prime minister, Lapid said.

“As the son of a Holocaust survivor... I am ashamed that the Israeli government has given up on its values and principles.”

Cohen tweeted that “the journeys to Poland will be resumed similar to the way they were in the past, and no one will be required to visit sites commemorating the killers of Jews.

“There are probably those who are saddened that we resolved the political crisis with Poland that began during the Lapid era,” Cohen charged on Twitter.

Of Lapid’s statements he said, “You’re lying.”

He took issue in particular with Lapid’s decision, when in power last year, to return Israel’s ambassador to Poland without securing an agreement for Warsaw to send its envoy back to Israel. Cohen has secured an agreement for the Polish envoy’s return, but no date has been set.

“You unilaterally returned the Israeli ambassador to Poland, which is a magnificent concession and showed an abject lack of understanding in international relations,” said Cohen, as he continued to level charges against Lapid.

“You caused Poland, which supported us in the international institutions, to become an opponent,” Cohen said.

Lapid retorted that obviously he had returned Israel’s ambassador to Poland with Warsaw’s permission and thus it was not unilateral.

As to the second point, Lapid said, he had “confronted” Poland about its Holocaust denial laws. A “proud country with a national backbone” doesn’t shirk from its responsibility to the deal, just so it can secure support in international institutions, Lapid said.

He accused the current government of “flat out lying,” noting that he had not caved in any way to Holocaust denial.

Jablonski wrote on Twitter, “Some Israeli politicians, media attack the / agreement on youth visits—claiming i.e. that it is very favorable for Poland.

“I fully confirm: the agreement is very favorable for Poland.

“And for Israel. That is why both sides signed it,” he wrote.

“The agreement is very favorable for BOTH sides – it brings us back to NORMAL in key areas: relations between young people from both countries.

“As a result, our youth will be able to better learn history, meet peers and build future – relations for decades, without prejudice.

“Poland does not interfere in domestic politics or public debate in Israel. However, we express deep regret that some public figures try to damage – relations. Even worse – if they try to falsify or distort history in the process.

“We have a common duty to preserve memory of the crimes that our ancestors suffered – and to ensure that they never [are repeated] again.

“The stronger our nations and countries are, the better we can prevent it.

“Also for this reason [we’re strengthening our relations]: for our joint security,” Jablonski stated.