During World War II, German Nazis invaded and took over the European nation of Poland. The Nazis built their major death camps on the soil of occupied Poland. There, nearly all of Poland’s roughly three million Jews were murdered by the Germans and their collaborators.
For many years since that horrific time, Poland has hosted annual educational trips, which thousands of young Israelis participate in. The Israeli youth tour some of the death camps to grasp the scope of the Holocaust.
Those youth tours were suspended due to travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as most restrictions lift, the tours have not been reinstated. Why? The Polish government has concerns about what Israeli participants are taking away from the visits.
Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz says the Polish government wants to establish formal rules to regulate the terms under which Israeli schoolchildren pay Holocaust study visits to the country. Przydacz says a perception is emerging that suggests “that Poland is an anti-Semitic country.” He says before the tours resume, an agreement between Israel and Poland must be reached concerning both the curriculum taught—and how it represents Poland’s role as an occupied nation during the Holocaust—as well as some regulations for the armed guards that accompany the student tours.
Officials from Warsaw are also urging an increase in direct communication with Polish and Israeli youth. They say the lack of contact is isolating, allowing young Israelis to form a “negative image” of Poland. Poland would like the Israeli travelers to meet with their Polish peers and to grow in understanding of the Polish-Jewish history that spans centuries.
Poland was the first country officially invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II. Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile warned the world about the Nazis’ mass killing of Jews. Thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews. But some Poles, as in several other occupied European nations at the time, assisted the Nazis. Some Poles murdered or victimized Jewish compatriots. Even so, Poland says those few do not define the position of the Polish nation.
Young Israelis traditionally travel to Poland in the summer between 11th and 12th grades to tour former Nazi camps, learn about the Holocaust, and remember the victims. The trip has long been considered a milestone in Israeli education and, prior to the pandemic, some 40,000 Israeli students participated each year.
The holy God Himself invites His sinful people into conversation and dialog. In Isaiah 1, He says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” He welcomes sinners to bring their past to Him, and He will forgive, cover, and purify sin. Humans too can benefit from coming together to reason over differences, with openness to gain understanding and wisdom for growth and good.
(Jewish people visit the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland, in April 2022. The Polish government wants formal rules under which Israeli schoolchildren pay Holocaust visits to the country. AP/Czarek Sokolowski)