Zahava Englard

The Death Camp Debate

Upon the culmination of the 11th grade, it is customary for students throughout Israel to visit the death camps in Poland on school-organized trips during the summer. Likewise, many yeshivot in Israel that welcome students from abroad plan yearly trips to Poland. Auschwitz of course is the main draw.

The other night, at my daughter’s school there was an assembly of faculty and students to discuss the annual trip to Poland. I didn’t attend. I saw no point in it. Although I had told my daughter that joining her class on the trip to Poland must be her decision to make and not mine, I’m totally against it.

These organized trips, whether they be through schools or through other organized tour groups do little more than line the pockets of the descendants of those who collaborated with the Nazis. Yes, the Poles today are laughing all the way to the bank each time groups of hundreds of Jewish students at a time embark on Polish Air, reserve rooms at Polish hotels, rent Polish buses and pay the salaries of Polish tour guides as well as Polish security guards that escort these groups.

We are, in effect, perpetuating the degradation of our murdered brethren. The thought of contributing one zloty to what unfortunately has become a highly profitable Polish business enterprise built on the ashes of our people is downright sickening.

One may argue that visiting Auschwitz leaves an indelible impression that provides our youth with a greater depth of appreciation for the State of Israel. I have no doubt that visiting Auschwitz leaves one with a powerful impression. But, a lasting one? Perhaps for a few. But for most, no. It is possible that the feelings engendered by such a trip lasts for a few weeks, but then − back to life as usual.

Over the years, many survivors have chosen to return to visit their hometowns in Europe and the death camps. They have their reasons, and no survivor owes anyone an explanation.

However, where our youth is concerned, there are other ways to stimulate their appreciation for our land.

Yad Vashem is a powerful tool in this case. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, as one who was raised in a home where the Holocaust was invoked at every turn, as one who spent the teenage years devouring every book on the subject while my peers were steeped deep into Harlequin romance novels, as one whose very persona was wrought by the Holocaust inspired tone that permeated my home, as one who grew up thinking that no atrocity can ever shock me or catch me off guard, Yad Vashem still proved to be an overwhelming, mind crushing and choking experience where after just one hour I had to leave the premises gasping for air − Jerusalem air. Not Polish air.

The long and torturous exile, the struggles of the early pioneers in the land of Israel at the turn of the 19th century, the sacrifice of each generation here in Israel to secure our land and our people, the selfless determination borne by blood and guts to build and develop the land against all odds likewise inspires gratitude and ignites the spirit.

One should not have to step on the blood soaked earth of Poland to “feel it.” One should not have to “see it to believe it.” And why stop at Poland anyway? Why not visit all of Europe? The entire continent is one massive Jewish graveyard.

Financially buttressing the Polish tourism industry amounts to replacing the European Jew tax of the past with what has become a modern-day payment for their hosting the grounds that served as the alter of our slaughter.

The annual “March of the Living” brings together thousands of high school students from Israel and across the Diaspora to Poland, where they visit sites from the Nazi Holocaust and take part in a march from Auschwitz I to Birkenau, the death camp of Auschwitz II, on Holocaust Memorial Day.

The government of Israel spends NIS 50 million a year to subsidize school trips to Poland. I would think that the 50 million shekel would be better spent on the well-being of the survivors who still struggle day to day.

Let’s not get confused. Yes, we should pay homage to all those who perished at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. We will never forget. But, Auschwitz is NOT our heritage nor is it our legacy. The enrichment of our children’s Jewish identity and Zionist fervor will not be and should not be attained on the wings of Lot Polish Airlines.

Let the Israeli air force fly over Auschwitz each year on our day of Independence in deference to the ashes of our people that will forever hover in the Polish and German skies.

On September 4, 2003, the Israeli Air Force flew three F-15 fighter planes over the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland during a ceremony marking the 85th anniversary of the Polish Air Force.
The leader of the Air Force jets was Major-General Amir Eshel, himself a son of Holocaust survivors. During the flyover, Mjr-Gen. Eshel, transmitted a message from his cockpit:

“We pilots of the [Israeli] Air Force, flying in the skies above the camp of horrors, arose from the ashes of the millions of victims and shoulder their silent cries, salute their courage and promise to be the shield of the Jewish people and its nation Israel.”

Source: Israel Defence Forces


Source: Israel Defense Forces

Let the roar of our eagles in flight that boldly display the Magen Dovid proclaim to Poland, to Germany, and to the world a very clear message, one that I’ve spelled out in previous articles. We are not in Israel because of the Holocaust we are here despite the Holocaust. And it is here, in Israel that we will remain. Our feet need no longer tread on Poland’s unholy soil.

About the Author
Author of THE GILBOA IRIS (Gefen Publishing House) and SETTLING FOR MORE: FROM JERSEY TO JUDEA (Urim Publications).