As part of a renewed agreement between the two countries, Israel's Foreign Ministry agreed to include museums that commemorate murderers of Jews on the list of recommended sites Israeli high school students may visit while on Holocaust education missions in Poland
Israel’s Education Ministry admitted on Monday that it did not carry out any inspection of the Polish museums that it recommended for school group visits and that one “shouldn’t be done,” ahead of the restart of organized Holocaust-education missions for Israeli teenagers.
As was first published by Haaretz last month, Israel’s Foreign Ministry recommended including in the school trips at least two museums that glorify members of the Polish partisans who murdered dozens of Jews after the Holocaust.
Liat Salomon, head of the Education Ministry wing that deals with Holocaust memory, said at a discussion of the special Knesset panel on Holocaust survivors that “a quality check for the sites hasn’t been done and shouldn’t be done.”
In the discussion, chaired by lawmaker Mierav Cohen of Yesh Atid, the education ministry representatives said that they are not aware of the full list of sites. Responding to Cohen’s question about the ministry’s reasons for recommending students’ visits to controversial museums, Salomon said that “the fact that there’s problematic content doesn’t mean that a qualified guide cannot mediate it to the students.”
Salomon also said that at some of the memorial sites “there are signs with a partial truth or truth that isn’t as we perceive it.” However, according to her, “We tell our truth and our story. The guide then does the mediation.”
As part of the agreement signed in March by the Israeli and Polish foreign ministers after a months-long suspension due to the diplomatic crisis between the countries, Israel also recommended museums that glorify Jewish murderers for the students’ trips.
The new agreement was signed after a crisis over the narration of Holocaust history between the two countries began in 2018, when the upper house of the Polish parliament backed a controversial “Holocaust Law” criminalizing allegations of the Polish nation’s complicity in the Holocaust. The bill has caused a storm of opposition in Israel.
Professor Havi Dreifuss, a historian at Tel Aviv University and Yad Vashem, called this list of sites “outrageous” and says that “most of them are dubious at best and controversial at worst.” She notes that some of the sites on the list “ignore documented aspects of Poles’ involvement in the murder of Jews,” and others actually “glorify Poles who were involved up to their necks in the murder of Jews.”
Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Yacov Livne, said in Monday’s discussion that he did not manage to visit all the sites on the list yet and that he does not know all of them. Yad Vashem Director General Tzvika Fayirizen, who also participated in the discussion, said the institute had not received the list, and added that they are now investigating the matter. Nevertheless, Fayirizen said that “the trips can still go on.”
Commenting on these claims, MK Cohen, the committee’s chair, said “There are some things I wouldn’t compromise on. We can’t turn the memory of the Holocaust into a business and compromise.” Cohen added that “the Israeli government surrendered to the dictates of the Poles. This deal looks like a surrender agreement.”
In her concluding remarks, Cohen asked the Yad Vashem representatives to conduct an examination of the recommended sites and to “examine in depth whether false content that rewrites history is being presented in them.” Yad Vashem’s findings will be presented to the committee in about two months, which will then decide accordingly how to work with the Foreign and Education Ministries.
Holocaust survivor Avraham Ruth said during the discussion that “There’s no doubt that [the students] need to visit Poland, but this agreement is a disgrace to the memory of the Holocaust.” On the other hand, Holocaust survivor Hannah Gofrit expressed a conciliatory position: “If it wasn’t for the Poles, I wouldn’t be here today. We forget that the trip isn’t in Israel, but in Poland, the land of Poles. We need a little modesty, and to remember the good ones among them. Weren’t there antisemites in the Netherlands? Not all of them murdered Jews. The youth groups are very important, it’s our heritage, it’s important to us.”