Jewish World Update Jul/Aug 2023
How Israel and Poland Resolved Their Diplomatic Crisis
BY ETGAR LEFKOVITS
(JNS)—The war in Ukraine helped to resolve a bitter diplomatic crisis between Israel and Poland over the Holocaust, Warsaw’s acting ambassador to Israel, Agata Czaplin´ska, said recently.
An accord signed by the two nations will see Poland restore its ambassador to Israel and resume Israeli youth visits to Poland for Holocaust education.
Czaplin´ska’s remarks, which came days after the countries announced they were mending ties, reveal the extent to which external geopolitical factors played a role in the diplomatic rapprochement as both sides seek to move past discord on Holocaust-related issues.
Israel’s decision to reinstate its ambassador to Poland last year, three days after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, to help extricate citizens and refugees from the war-torn nation “undoubtedly contributed to strengthening [Poland and Israel’s] relationship,” Czaplin´ska said.
She gave credit to the Israeli ambassador to Poland, Yacov Livne, saying he “contributed substantially” to the agreement and that without his “very active role” and interaction with Polish officials over the last year the process would have taken much longer.
“The circumstances on our eastern border [with Ukraine] required the presence of the [Israeli] ambassador . . . and contributed to the improvement in our relations we are experiencing now,” Czaplin´ska said.
Ties between the countries nosedived after Poland’s government enacted laws that were seen as whitewashing Poland’s role in the Holocaust and then banned claims from Holocaust victims and their heirs for restitution of seized property. The agreement sought to move beyond those disputes.
Czaplin´ska said the dispute over the security for and the content of the Israeli youth exchanges to Poland, which had been frozen for three years due to the diplomatic crisis and then COVID-19, was amicably resolved.
According to the agreement, Polish security will provide protection for the Israeli youngsters in coordination with Israeli security officials, she said.
Regarding the content of the youth trips, the acting ambassador said each side will present the other with recommended sites to visit in its respective country to get a broader understanding of the centuries of history the two peoples shared before the Holocaust. It will be up to each side to decide on the exact itinerary.
“We wanted to include . . . places important to the 1,000-year common Polish-Jewish history,” said Czaplin´ska. “We want the youths to get to know Poland, not just as a place where the atrocities of the Holocaust took place, but the common history and contemporary Poland.”
Poland’s role in the Holocaust has long been a source of tension between the two countries. The debate intensified over the last several years after the governing nationalist coalition in Poland sought to depict Polish crimes as a marginal phenomenon and focus almost exclusively on the Poles who helped Jews during the Holocaust.
Six million Jews, including 98 percent of the roughly 3 million Jews living in that part of Poland occupied by Germany in 1939, were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust.
About 350,000 Polish Jews survived the war; most lived in the Soviet-occupied zone of Poland during 1939 and 1940 and fled east ahead of the German advance in 1941.
Until the dispute broke out, tens of thousands of Israeli teens traveled to Poland on educational trips each year, touring former Nazi camps to learn about the Holocaust and memorialize those murdered. The trip has long been considered a rite of passage in Israeli education and the best way to study the Holocaust.
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