Education Minister Naftali Bennett has made his decision – and as a result, school trips to Poland will continue. “I weight the matter very deeply and decided to continue the trips to Poland,” he said in a statement. “The purpose of the trips is to instill knowledge of the Holocaust in students, and it is the effective way of doing so.”
Bennett had said he would review the policy on the matter in the wake of the storm of opposition in Israel to a Polish law that would prosecute anyone accusing the Polish nation of war crimes during the Holocaust – and the cancellation of a trip by Bennet to Poland several weeks ago after he said that he would “clarify” that the country could not “rewrite history.” As a result, numerous officials called for the trips to be canceled.
Yerushalayim deputy mayor Yael Antebi urged Bennett to cancel the annual March of the Living event, and hold a major Holocaust commemoration in Israel. The March of the Living sees young people and adults from the U.S., Israel, and Europe visiting the death camps of Poland and Europe on Holocaust Memorial Day, arriving in Israel a week later, in time for Israel Independence Day. Along with that event, most Israeli public and state religious high schools hold annual trips for junior or senior students to Poland, where they tour the sights associated with the Holocaust.
Those trips, along with the March of the Living, have for years been a matter of great debate in the Israeli education system, with advocates saying that the experiential aspects of the trips deliver a clear message about the Holocaust and Jewish survival throughout the ages, while opponents decry the large amounts of money that the government and Jewish groups around the world spend on the trips, which are a mainstay of Poland’s tourism economy.
Antebi, in a letter to Bennett, described both sides of the argument, but in the wake of the new law passed by the Polish legislature that would forbid assigning blame to the Polish nation for the events of the Holocaust, the argument favors those opposed to the trips. “This is an opportunity for the government and the Educational Ministry to stop paying for these trips, and at the same time to establish an experience that will teach students the significance of the Holocaust right here in Israel.”
The fact that Israel is transferring large sums of money to Poland is morally wrong, she wrote. “The Poles were the partners of the Nazis, and as such we are not allowed to provide them with economic support – especially in the guise of paying for trips to the death camps. It is not by accident that the Germans set up nearly all the death camps in Poland. They knew there would be no opposition.”