Israeli youth trips to Poland for Holocaust education are set to be renewed following a hiatus of about three years, after the two countries reached a compromise that ended disagreements over the content and security protocol for the visits.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the agreement, saying that “the lessons of the Holocaust can be learned in many ways, but there is nothing better than seeing for yourself.”
The countries had been locked in conflict over the trips for a few years. The Foreign Ministry previously said the Polish government was trying to control the Holocaust studies curriculum taught to the Israeli children.
Poland’s government has been engaged in ongoing efforts to minimize Polish responsibility for the persecution of Jews on its territory during the Holocaust, while scholars say there was significant cooperation by Poles with the Nazi regime.
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski complained last year that “the current formula of organized trips of Israeli youth to Poland requires changes due to systematic problems leading to the strengthening of false stereotypes, which negatively impacts Polish-Israeli relations.”
Tuesday’s announcement made no mention of how the matter was resolved, and whether Israel had agreed to changes to the curriculum that would strengthen the Polish narrative of the historical events.
In addition, the Polish government had refused to allow Shin Bet agents providing security for the trips to carry weapons during the trips, although the security personnel had previously been allowed to do so.
The Ynet news site reported that an agreement had been reached that Polish security would protect the trips, while Israeli guards would be allowed to attend in cases of specific threats.
Education Minister Yoav Kisch thanked his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau on Tuesday, saying the move to bring back youth trips had been “a top priority” and that “there is great importance in teaching Holocaust remembrance to Israeli students… an inseparable part of Jewish history.”
The cancellation of the Holocaust school trips had reignited longstanding tensions between the two countries over Poland’s treatment of its Jewish citizens during the Holocaust.
Young Jewish Israelis traditionally travel to Poland in the summer between 11th and 12th grade, touring former Nazi camps in order to learn about the Holocaust and memorialize those murdered. The trip has long been considered a rite of passage in Israeli education and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some 40,000 Israeli students participated each year.
Poland was the first country invaded and occupied by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s regime and never had a collaborationist government. Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile struggled to warn the world about the mass killing of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews.
However, Holocaust researchers have collected ample evidence of Polish people who murdered Jews who were fleeing the Nazis, or Polish blackmailers who preyed on helpless Jews for financial gain.
Six million Jews, including nearly all of Poland’s roughly 3 million Jews, were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, and major Nazi death camps were in Poland.