Israel cancels youth trips to Poland for Holocaust studies

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JERUSALEM (UKTN) — Israel has canceled educational trips to Poland for thousands of high school students this summer, saying the Polish government is trying to control the Holocaust curriculum taught to Israeli children, the Israeli affairs minister said. foreign.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s announcement rekindled long-running tensions between the two countries over Poland’s treatment of its Jewish citizens during the Holocaust.

In his comments, Lapid said Poland barred Israeli delegations from learning about the role of Polish citizens in collaborating with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

“They wanted to dictate what was allowed and what was not allowed to be taught to Israeli children who go to Poland and whom we cannot agree with,” he told a conference in press on Wednesday.

Poland was the first country invaded and occupied by Adolf Hitler’s regime and never had a collaborationist government. Members of the Polish resistance and government-in-exile fought to warn the world of the massacre of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews.

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However, Holocaust scholars have collected plenty of 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 almost all of Poland’s approximately 3 million Jews, were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, and the main Nazi death camps were in Poland.

These tales of dueling have been a source of great tension between Israel and Poland, which otherwise have strong relations.

Lapid referenced a Polish bill, passed in 2018, that penalizes anyone who accuses Poles as a nation of World War II crimes committed by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland. At the time, Israel and the United States criticized the law, saying it hindered free speech.

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On Wednesday, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski said on Twitter that “the current formula of organized trips by young Israelis to Poland requires changes due to systematic problems leading to the reinforcement of false stereotypes, which has a negative impact on Polish-Israeli relations. Jablonski also said that Poland did not want to interrupt Israeli student trips but rather give them a different formula that would improve Polish-Israeli relations.

Israel’s Ministry of Education announced the cancellations earlier this week but gave no explanation for its decision.

Young Israelis traditionally travel to Poland in the summer between grades 11 and 12 to visit former Nazi camps to learn about the Holocaust and to commemorate those murdered. The trip has long been considered a milestone in Israeli education, and before the pandemic, some 40,000 Israeli students participated in it each year. About 7,000 were registered to go this summer, according to the Ministry of Education.

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Ties between Poland and Israel have gradually frayed in recent years over this issue. In 2021, Israel protested a Polish law seen as barring claims for restitution of certain property seized by Holocaust victims.

At the time, Poland recalled its ambassador to Israel, while Israel’s ambassador to Poland was also recalled. Ties have since improved in the wake of Polish-Israeli cooperation on the Ukrainian refugee crisis.

Lapid, whose late father was a Holocaust survivor, thanked Poland for its help in rescuing Jewish refugees from Ukraine, but said high school delegations could not continue under current circumstances.

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