The main ceremony to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls tomorrow, will be held once again in Poland. The March of the Living excursions and the regular trips by high-school students – an obligatory experience for virtually every young Israeli – go only to Poland. One can argue about the contents of these trips. In my opinion, if they are properly organized and guided, then it's important and certainly fascinating to participate in them. But the question remains, and in fact is not even asked: Why Poland, or why only Poland, and why not Germany?
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On all my visits to Auschwitz and other camps included in the Israeli trip to Poland, I asked students whom I met: Have you visited Dachau? They all said no. The few who knew what I was talking about found it difficult to explain why there is no trip to Germany. I also asked the organizers of the trips and the pedagogical authorities, and never received a decent and worthy answer.
Dachau, in the Munich suburbs, was the first Nazi concentration camp, and served as an example for other camps. Masses of Jews and prisoners of war died there due to the horrific living conditions. But its unique importance lies in the fact that Dachau was established only a month and a half after Hitlers rise to power. Its existence proves that the actual root of the evil is racist thought.
Nobody was dealing at the time, in early 1933, with the Final Solution. Most of Hitlers opponents couldnt imagine that his inciting rhetoric would lead to the greatest mass murder in history. And yet, on January 30, Hitler was appointed prime minister, and immediately set Himmler the task of establishing a concentration camp.
Do they teach on the trip to Poland that racism led to acts of slaughter even after the Holocaust, and that no society is immune from it?
On March 22, 1933, the first hundreds of people were imprisoned in Dachau. Thats why we should commemorate the Holocaust on that date. Because thats how it began.
An hour-and-a-halfs ride from Dachau is Nuremberg: the center of the Nazis showcase events. In 1935 the racist Nuremberg Laws were passed there. The Final Solution grew on this foundation. In the film Judgment at Nuremberg, the American judge tries to understand how the Holocaust could have taken place. The focus of interest is not the extermination efforts, but an ostensibly minor incident: the story of Leo Katzenberger, the head of the Nuremberg Jewish community, who was executed due to forbidden contact with an Aryan girl, according to one of the Nuremberg Laws – the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor.
The man who sentenced Katzenberger to death later swore in tears, at what is referred to as the Judges Trial in 1947, that he didnt know about the mass extermination, and in no way intended to bring it about. Sir, said the American judge, it began when you sentenced a man to death when you knew he was innocent.
Miscarriage of justice was the crack in the dam. Afterward, it was only a question of time until everything collapsed. During the trip to Poland do they hear about the incisive lesson of the Judges Trial?
The Nuremberg Laws were passed on September 15, the Holocaust should be commemorated on that date. Because thats how it began.
The Israeli teen trips focus on Poland, the largest Jewish cemetery in the world, creates a historical distortion. Despicable Polish anti-Semitism played a role in the massive harm done to the Jews. But Auschwitz and Treblinka were not Polish camps, and the Warsaw Ghetto was not established and torched by Polish forces. Millions of non-Jewish Poles died at the time, millions were sent to forced labor. Poland was destroyed. We should also remember and mention that.
The time has passed when a trip to Poland was very inexpensive, compared to a trip to Germany. That can certainly no longer be a reason to maintain this format for the trips. Travel to Germany – to Dachau, to Nuremberg – and teach the root of the evil. Go down to the cellars: of the putsch in Munich and of the Gestapo in Berlin. Visit Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank was brought. Get to know the professors, the journalists and the engineers who contemplated, disseminated and implemented the horror. Because thats how it began.