Raise a Flag, Don’t Forget to Cry: The Cynical Industry Behind Israeli Teens’ Trips to Nazi Death Camps

Israeli high-schoolers’ trips to Nazi death camps in Poland are based on three things: Unequivocal messages, structured situations and manipulation. These are reflected not only in the visits to familiar waystations – meant to bolster Jewish and Israeli pride, or marginalize universal messages – but also in the carefully orchestrated itinerary in which almost every moment is planned in advance, including at which points the teenagers will cry.

Over the past few years, Idan Yaron, who teaches sociology and anthropology at Ashkelon Academic College, accompanied seven student trips to Poland. His recent book, “Youth Trips to Death Sites in Poland” (in Hebrew), offers an exceptionally comprehensive and unfiltered view of what happens between Auschwitz and Treblinka, and of the adventures at hotels on the final nights of the trip to Holocaust sites.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 59

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In 2018, some 40,000 11th- and 12th-grade Israelis traveled to Poland, up from 31,000 to 32,000 during the previous five years. Renewed emphasis on the importance of these trips began when Shay Piron was education minister, but his successor, Naftali Bennett, augmented it even further.

Dr. Yaron acknowledges that these excursions, which usually last about a week, constitute an important educational experience, but suggests that more time and space should be allocated to processing, reflection and maybe, even for just a few moments, pondering values other than the ethos of victimhood and nationalism. Of course, the chances of the Education Ministry accepting such ideas, especially under a right-wing minister, are slim. They certainly aren't part of the current curriculum or civics classes.

Yaron accompanied trips organized by different types of schools, lead by educators and special tour guides. He doesn't identify them specifically in his book, but provides general descriptions: a large, “average,” nonselective school in central Israel; a yeshiva high school; a rural school serving residents of villages and moshavim; a leading high school in a major city; a school for troubled girls; and a chain of vocational schools attended by both Jews and Muslims.

Idan Yaron, author of “Youth Trips to Death Sites in Poland” (in Hebrew). Suggests that more time is needed on the trips for processing and pondering values other than victimhood and nationalism. Tomer Appelbaum

The trips to Poland are voluntary, but the various delegations are subject to a long list of regulations and objectives dictated by the Education Ministry. Yaron writes in his book that the underlying expectation of the ministry, the schools and the students themselves is that the trips will bolster the participants’ "national" feelings.

“The trip will increase your feelings of responsibility toward and belonging to your people and your country, and will awaken feelings of maturity and pride,” wrote the leader of one secular high school’s delegation, in a booklet distributed to students in advance.