Polish government delegation visits Israel after contentious deal on youth trips

Deputy foreign minister meets Israeli officials to discuss bilateral cooperation and ‘stopping Russian aggression,’ as sides look to mend ties damaged by row over Holocaust history

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski in Warsaw, Poland, September 8, 2020. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski in Warsaw, Poland, September 8, 2020. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

A Polish government delegation was visiting Israel Tuesday to meet government officials as the countries seek to mend their frayed ties, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Citing a Polish readout, the news outlet said the meetings were focused on “stopping the Russian aggression against Ukraine,” as well as bilateral cooperation on economic, cultural and educational matters.

Warsaw’s Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski met National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Foreign Minister Director General Ronen Levy.

Polish officials were expected to ask Israel to support the country on the international stage the same way Warsaw defends Jerusalem from “European Union efforts to limit its ability to defend itself,” according to a separate Kan report last week.

Until several years ago, Poland was one of the most pro-Israel countries in the European Union. But relations deteriorated in 2018, after Poland passed legislation that outlawed blaming the Polish nation for the Holocaust, amid what critics say is a wider effort to paper over Polish complicity with Nazi crimes. Then-foreign minister Yair Lapid called the law antisemitic, touching off a diplomatic row.

The sides recently signed a deal to restore diplomatic relations, paving the way for the resumption of Israeli youth trips to Poland. Jablonski has complained that the educational trips were giving Israelis an incorrect view of the Holocaust, and the agreement will see the Israeli student groups visit a list of Polish-recommended sites.

The deal has been met with widespread criticism in Israel for adopting the Polish point of view, despite scholars noting the significant evidence of cooperation by Poles with the Nazi regime. Critics say students will now visit sites that provide a distorted view of the Holocaust, ignore Polish complicity in the Holocaust and aggrandize efforts by Poles to save Jews.

People participate in the annual ‘March of the Living’, a trek between two former Nazi-run death camps, in Oswiecim, Poland, on April 18, 2023, to mourn victims of the Holocaust and celebrate the existence of the Jewish state. (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)

On Monday, the head of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum criticized Poland at a Jerusalem Post conference in New York, noting several Polish academics who recently came under attack for noting that there were Poles who aided the Nazis during the Holocaust.

“Regarding Poland, we have seen very, very worrying and dangerous developments in the last weeks,” Dani Dayan said.

“We will continue to honor the Polish righteous among the nations,” Dayan said, referring to individuals who saved Jews during the Holocaust, often by risking their own lives. “We will continue to demand from Poland to remember the heinous actions done by other Poles.”

Poland was the first country invaded and occupied by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s regime during World War II 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, including Auschwitz, were in Poland.

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.

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