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Poland calls for ‘regulated’ Holocaust educational trips amid dispute with Israel

After Jerusalem declines to resume visits due to disagreement over curriculum, Polish deputy FM says Warsaw wants deal on presence of armed guards, meetings with young Poles

Illustrative: Jewish people visit the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp after the March of the Living annual observance, in Oswiecim, Poland, April 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)
Illustrative: Jewish people visit the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp after the March of the Living annual observance, in Oswiecim, Poland, April 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

WARSAW, Poland — The Polish government wants formal rules to regulate the terms under which Israeli schoolchildren pay Holocaust study visits to the country, including on the presence of armed Israeli guards, an official in Warsaw said Monday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said that young Israelis were receiving a “negative image” of Poland, because of the armed guards accompanying the youth groups, the visits’ focus on the Holocaust only, and a lack of contact with Polish youth.

“There are also threads appearing [to suggest] that Poland is an antisemitic country and for that reason, it’s dangerous here,” Przydacz told Radio RMF24.

He said a new intergovernmental agreement should state in which cases guards with loaded weapons can be present. Warsaw has been seeking such a deal for months, Przydacz said.

Poland would also like young Israelis to meet with their Polish peers and understand their approach to Polish-Jewish history that spans many centuries.

The annual educational trips by thousands of young Israelis were suspended during the pandemic and, last week, Israel said it was not resuming them because Poland’s right-wing government was trying to control the curriculum.

Przydacz said the reason they have not been resumed was “because we believe that [they] should be regulated by an agreement between Poland and Israel.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany started World War II. Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile warned the world about the Nazis’ mass killing of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews.

However, Holocaust researchers have collected ample evidence of Polish villagers who murdered Jews 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.

These dueling narratives have been a source of great tension between Israel and Poland in recent years.

Young Israelis traditionally travel to Poland in the summer between 11th and 12th grade to tour former Nazi camps, learn about the Holocaust and remember the victims. The trip has long been considered a milestone in Israeli education and, prior to the pandemic, some 40,000 Israeli students participated each year.

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