High school visits to concentration camps in Poland given go-ahead for summer

The annual trips, a rite of passage for Israeli youth, had been reinstated after a three-year break but then canceled after October 7, at the start of the Israel-Hamas war

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

A student on a trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in modern-day Poland on April 27, 2014. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
A student on a trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in modern-day Poland on April 27, 2014. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Israeli high school students will be able to go on the traditional organized visits to concentration camps in Poland this summer, the Education Ministry announced on Tuesday. The once-annual trips had been canceled in November due to the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war and concern over antisemitism in Europe.

The decision to greenlight the trips came after a review of security and logistical factors, and after a “pedagogical process was completed examining and adjusting the goals and contents of the trips” in light of current events, the ministry said.

“The trip to Poland allows the students to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, to be exposed to the atrocities that took place there and to prove victory and rebirth over the attempt to destroy the Jewish people,” Education Minister Yoav Kisch said in a statement announcing the decision.

“Learning about the Jewish people, its history and the importance of the establishment of the State of Israel is of the utmost importance” especially after the events of October 7, Kisch said.

The October 7 shock assault on southern Israel by Hamas terrorists, described as the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, resulted in the death of some 1,200 people in Israel, most of them civilians. Over 250 people, including young children and the elderly, were taken captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Those events and the resulting ongoing Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza set off a storm of unprecedented pro-Palestinian rallies in Europe and North America, which are often seen as having blatant antisemitic elements. A huge surge in antisemitic incidents has also been reported in Europe since October 7.

Although approved, the summer trips could be canceled depending on the security situation, so the ministry suggested that schools preparing for the trip build their curriculum “in such a way that the preparation stands on its own even if the trip to Poland is not possible.”

The ministry also suggested that parents take out travel insurance on the tickets so that a refund will be possible if the trips are canceled. Typically the trips, considered a rite of passage for Israeli youth, are paid for by individual parents, school fundraisers or other donations.

The Poland trips are meant to be a learning experience about the Holocaust, the subsequent necessity of the Jewish state, and the values of volunteerism and social cohesion. Some 25,000 Jewish Israeli high school students went on the trip annually in years past.

In 2023, Israel and Poland reached a controversial agreement to resume the trips after a three-year break caused by disputes between the two countries over curricula, before the trips were canceled again due to the outbreak of the war in Gaza.

The hard-right Polish government at the time, which is now out of power, had increasingly demanded a say over the content of the trips, as it cracked down on free speech regarding Polish people’s roles in the Holocaust.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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