Bennett: Israeli schools to teach about Polish complicity in Holocaust

Israeli students will learn about nations that helped in the “Final Solution” in reaction to a proposed Polish law making it a crime to refer to Polish death camps.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

All Israeli students in state-run schools, Grades 7-12, will get two extra hours of history instruction this week that will concentrate on the part played by Nazi-conquered European nations in the German attempt to liquidate the Jewish people during World War II. The purpose of the lesson is educate the students about how the collaboration between ordinary people and officials when it came to anti-Jewish policies and the Nazis who had taken over their countries.

Naftali Bennett, Minister of Education, made it clear that the timing was not accidental. Although Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked in Israel on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (which usually falls in April), along with extensive educational programming, International Holocaust Day was on Saturday.

Poland’s parliament on Friday approved legislation which sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone – including foreigners — who refers to Nazi German death camps as being Polish. The Polish government has always strongly protested when foreign media called the Nazi-run camps “Polish,” considering it a defamation of their nation’s character and a lie.

However, although the Poles’ claim that the concentration and death camps were German inventions run by Germans on Polish soil is true, Bennett said, “The truth is that many nations, including the Poles, were engaged in helping the Nazis murder Jews and in murdering Jews themselves.”

The lesson plan’s introduction refers to the sensitivity in Israel “to the different attempts to deny the local populations’ involvement, including in Poland, in the Holocaust of the Jewish people.” Ignoring the help the Nazis got from local populations would simply not be historically accurate, the education ministry says.

“If so many civilians outside of Germany hadn’t taken part in the extermination, far fewer Jews would have been murdered in the Holocaust,” the plan explains, pointing out that in Poland’s case, “some 200,000 of Poland’s Jews were murdered by the Poles themselves.”

The lessons will also make it clear, however, that those who risked their lives to help the Jews should be lauded – such as the 6,700 Poles who have already been identified by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined a host of Israeli lawmakers from both sides of the political divide who criticized the Polish law, calling it “baseless,” and saying that “one cannot change history.” After speaking with his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, on Sunday evening, the two agreed to set up teams in order to reach an “understanding” regarding the law, leaving the way open to making changes before it is signed by the Polish president.