'Youth trips to Poland should not include perversion of history,' minister says

In an agreement reached by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and finalized during his visit to Warsaw last month, Israel agreed to include at least one from a long list of sites presented by the Polish government including some which may contradict historical facts and pervert the memory of the Holocaust

Itamar Eichner, Tamar Trabelsi-Hadad, Alexandra Lukash, Nir Cohen|
Flags raised to commemorate Warsaw Ghetto uprising
(Video: FromTheDepths.org)
Israeli lawmakers on Monday criticized the agreement recently signed by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, with the government of Poland to reinstate school trips to Holocaust sites, while also accepting Polish demands, that they are introduced to the Polish narrative of the war.
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According to the agreement, Poland expects that Israeli youth would visit Polish museums, some of which deal with Polish history and culture, and would learn about Polish suffering during the Holocaust.
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תלמידי כיתה יב' במסע לפולין
תלמידי כיתה יב' במסע לפולין
Israeli delegation in Poland
(Photo: Giora Smolansky)
Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu criticized the agreement in an interview with Ynet. "it would be very bad if we aid the denial of the Holocaust," he said.
Officials involved in the negotiations said that the Polish government scraped most of the demands to present the Polish narrative of the war years. Nonetheless, additional sites that were not part of the visits in the past, were added to the agreement. The visiting delegations would have to select at least one such site from a long list presented to them.
Prof. Jan Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian historian who specializes in the Holocaust of Polish Jews told the Ha'aretz newspaper that one such site - "Ulma Family” museum - was a distortion of the Holocaust. It was dedicated to a Polish family that had taken Jews into their home to hide them from the Nazis and ultimately paid for their kindness with their lives. They were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations after the war.
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משלחת לפולין
משלחת לפולין
Israeli youths in Poland
(Photo: Moshe Milner)
The list also includes the museum for the "Cursed Soldiers", the Polish term for Polish resistance fighters whom Grabowski says murdered Jews during and after the war. "This is the 'Polish wish list' of places Israelis must visit. It looks like a Holocaust denier’s dream," he said. The Foreign Ministry said the agreement was signed after the list was examined and approved by the Education Ministry.”
The agreement was finalized last month during Cohen's visit to Warsaw when he and his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau announced the reinstatement of ambassadors and an end to a years-long diplomatic rift. "We’re turning over a new page in relations with Poland. The return of the Polish ambassador to Israel, alongside the return of youth delegations, are important steps in strengthening relations between the countries," Cohen said.
The trips to Poland were designed to provide Israeli youth with an educational experience and raise awareness of the history of Polish Jewry and the Holocaust.
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תלמידי כיתה יב' במסע לפולין
תלמידי כיתה יב' במסע לפולין
Israeli delegation in Auschwitz
(Photo: Giora Smolansky)
In their response to the criticism of the additions to the trips, the Education Ministry blamed the previous Bennett-Lapid government. "Given the crisis that arose during the previous government's term, experts worked hard to find an agreed-upon solution for renewing trips to Poland. During the preparation of the updated program for the trips, the teams relied on sites that delegations had visited in previous years.”
"The contents taught during on the trips will deal with the memory of the Holocaust, the annihilation of the Jewish people, and historical events related to the Holocaust. Schools were made to commit to visiting one site from a long list provided by the Polish hosts, which includes many historical locations that were part of the trip’s program in previous years as well,” the statement said.
Yad Vashem said in a statement that the visit of highs school students to Poland and the study of the Holocaust were important and required appropriate preparation, but added that the list that was agreed upon in Warsaw, and that the museum was not involved in its preparation, included problematic sites.
"Delegations sent by Yad Vashem will not visit any site that may be preventing historic accounts of the Holocaust or presenting an untrue narrative. We believe all delegations from Israel to Poland would act in a similar manner," Yad Vashem said.
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