The Israeli education system will dedicate two lessons this week to teaching schoolchildren about the Holocaust, with an emphasis on the involvement of the different European nations and their collaboration with the Nazi Germans in the murder of Jews.
The decision was made by Education Minister Naftali Bennett in response to a bill being promoted in the Polish parliament that would outlaw blaming Poland for any crimes committed during the Holocaust.
The Education Ministry sent a lesson plan to schools on Monday morning about “the response of populations in countries occupied by the Nazis to the fate of the Jews during the Holocaust.”
The lesson plan, which was prepared in conjunction with the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, is meant for 7th-12th graders. It includes relevant study materials, including materials from Yad Vashem’s website, videos of Holocaust survivors’ testimonies, historical sources, and points for discussion.
“The lesson plan allows students to learn the topic in-depth, while putting an emphasis on the historical facts and the circumstances that led to the murder of the Jews in Poland and in general in eastern Europe (including the Soviet Union), western Europe, northern Africa, and the Balkan nations,” the Education Ministry said.
The lesson plan begins with an explanation on how the Polish bill proposal raised “anger in the Israeli public, which is vigilant to the different attempts to deny the local populations’ involvement, including in Poland, in the Holocaust of the Jewish people. This lesson plan is meant to help teachers make the topic more accessible to students, to explain the public debate to them, and to equip them with information that would help them formulate their position on the matter.”
The lesson plan details the extermination and concentration camps built on Polish soil: “In December 1941, the first death camp began operating in Chełmno, Poland, where Jews were exterminated. Within a few more months, the Nazis built additional death camps in Polish territories: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Majdanek. The Jews were brought to these camps from all across Europe. The great majority were murdered immediately upon arrival.
“Finding the Jews, capturing them and sending them to the camps required extensive cooperation from the local population (which was itself persecuted by the Nazi regime). This cooperation was reflected in ignoring the Jews’ fate (‘those who stand by’), ratting out Jews and turning them in, and even active participation in the murder itself (collaborators). And so, for example, some 200,000 of Poland’s Jews were murdered by the Poles themselves.
“At the same time it’s important to mention and exalt those people, among them some 6,700 Poles, who chose to help Jews and save them, despite the heavy cost of endangering themselves and their loved ones. Those are the Righteous Among the Nations.”
The lesson plan concludes that “If so many civilians outside of Germany hadn’t taken part in the extermination, far fewer Jews would’ve been murdered in the Holocaust. Even so, the number of dead might have been far greater if it hadn’t been for other non-Germans who didn’t cooperate and even disrupted (extermination efforts).”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett noted that “It’s an historical fact that many Poles aided in the murder of Jews, ratted them out, turned them in, and murdered Jews themselves during and even after the Holocaust. It is true that the term ‘Polish death camps’ is inaccurate, as these were German extermination camps in Poland’s territory. However, we cannot ignore the fact there were quite a few Poles who collaborated with the Nazis, and we need to make sure the students of Israel learn what had actually happened. These facts need to be taught and instilled in the younger generation.”
The chairman of the Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sports Committee, MK Ya’akov Margi (Shas) called on Education Minister Bennett to halt students’ trips to Poland until the Polish bill proposal is amended.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he expected Poland to amend proposed legislation that would outlaw the blaming of Poles for crimes committed during the Holocaust, as the Foreign Ministry summoned a Polish envoy to express its displeasure.
Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that Israel has “no tolerance for the distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”
Yair Lapid, the chairman of the Yesh Atid party, is opposed to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to negotiate with the Polish prime minister on the “Polish Law.”
“There is no negotiating over the memory of those who perished. This law should simply be buried in the soil of Poland, which is saturated with the blood of Jews,” Lapid said at the start of the faction meeting, “Instead of negotiating, the State of Israel should tell the Polish government one thing: If this law passes, you will have to sue us,” he said.