A pioneering program to educate Poland’s teachers about the Shoah took place July 2-14, 2006 at Jagiellonian University, Institute of European Studies in Krakow and at the Institute of Oriental Studies at Warsaw University. This historic project was sponsored by the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Jageillonian University in Krakow and Warsaw University. Our three-way partnership was joined by the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, the International Center for Education at Auschwitz-Birkenau and The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, whose scholars participated in our program, making their venues and facilities available for our sessions.

The Founding Director of the Teachers’ Summer Institute, Tess Wise, Chairwoman of the Board of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida, is a nationally recognized Holocaust educator and a Polish Shoah survivor. Her involvement in Holocaust education in America spans decades. Speaking of the response to the Summer Institute, Mrs. Wise commented, “The response was overwhelming. When word of the Summer Institute got out, we even had technical school faculty and a group of construction workers who wanted to attend the Summer Institute on the Holocaust. The third generation in Poland want to know what really happened.â€?

More than four hundred Polish teachers applied for admission to the International Teachers’ Summer Institute on Teaching the Holocaust. A number of factors limit participation in the program to one hundred and twenty participants, middle and high school teachers having priority.

In 1999, the Polish Ministry of Education mandated the teaching of the Holocaust to all gymnasium/middle school and lyceum/high school pupils in Poland. An important goal of the International Teachers’ Summer Institute was to create a foundation upon which Polish teachers could build their classroom lessons and curricula. The Institute’s goal is the integration of Holocaust Studies into Polish schools. The teachers who attended the Institute were clearly committed to expanding and improving their knowledge and information about the Holocaust in order to properly instruct their pupils. Their challenge is to teach their students about the principles of democracy and the responsibilities required of citizens living in a tolerant and free society, one in which prejudice, discrimination and anti-Semitism are condemned and eliminated.

In intensive daylong sessions of lectures and presentations, with question and answer periods followed by workshops, the participating Polish teachers were provided with historical background and the most up-to-date information and research on the Holocaust. Presentations and discussions were conducted in Polish, or English with simultaneous translations available. The international nature of the Teachers’ Summer Institute is reflected in the teaching faculty, which included teams from the United States, Israel and Poland, all of whom are recognized academics and scholars.

The faculty from the United States included: Dr. Michael Berenbaum, the University of Judaism in Los Angeles; Dr. Marcia Sachs Littell, the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey; Mitchell Bloomer and Tess Wise of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida. The Israeli team consisted of Dr. Gideon Greif and Dr. Havi Ben Sasson of the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The Polish team included, Professor. Zdzislaw Mach, Dr. Jolanta Ambrosewicz-Jacobs and Anna Motyczka of the Institute of European Studies at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Professor Feliks Tych, of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Dr. Roman Marcinkowski of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the University of Warsaw, Dr. Jolanta Zyndul, the Institute of History at the University of Warsaw, Dr. Franciszek Piper, Dr. Henryk Swiebocki, and Dr. Igor Bartosik, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, Dr. Piotr Trojanski Teachers’ College in Krakow, Krystyna Oleksy and Alicja Bialecka, The International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, Wieslawa Mlynarczyk, the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw, Robert Szuchta, LXIV High School in Warsaw, Tomasz Kuncewicz of the Jewish Center in Oswiecim, and Dr. Hanna Wegrzyneks, historian with expertise on the Jews of Poland.

In addition to presenting the latest research, establishing a dialogue concerning the impact of the Holocaust on past, present and future historical perspectives, was an integral part of the program. The intention was to provide a common ground for the teachers to share ideas and strategies with colleagues, university professors and researchers.

As if to punctuate the need for open discussion and dialogue on the Holocaust in Poland, the Polish teachers and professors participating in the Institute expressed concern about Poland’s current shift towards right wing, nationalist politics. They are especially alarmed by the appointment of the new Education Minister, Roman Giertych, whom they describe as a neo-fascist of the League of Polish Families (LPR). He is a strong supporter and active member of the right-wing All-Polish Youth (Mlodziez Wszechpolska), which is characterized by extreme nationalist and anti-Semitic activities.

The Education Ministers’ appointment has been denounced by Poland’s teachers, professors and workers. It has been called “a slap in the face for all Polish teachers.â€? Student demonstrations immediately occurred in most large cities after Giertych’s appointment, with more than 10,000 marching nationwide demanding his resignation. The Polish Teachers’ Association (PTA) also has requested his dismissal. More than 2,500 teachers protested his appointment in Warsaw on June 9, 2006 and an online petition calling his removal received 60,000 signatures within 40 hours. A group of students, teachers and education experts then gathered 140,000 additional signatures demanding Giertych’s resignation a month later.

While this appointment is certainly alarming, it is also positive to see schoolteachers, professors and workers openly protesting and demanding the removal of this public official. This differs drastically from another time and place when in Germany, 1925-1933, the Professors of the Weimar Republic felt they were “above politicsâ€? and absolved of any political responsibility. German schoolteachers and workers of that time, also quickly caved in without protest.

The teachers understand that the broader purpose of education is to develop students with more than pure intellectual capacity. They understand they are not training “technically competent barbarians.â€? Learning to live in a multicultural world and to respect the dignity and integrity of the human person — to build a more humane world is the true purpose and responsibility of education.

The interest, enthusiasm and demands for continuation of this pioneering project, will now result in an annual event at Universities in Poland, with an important purpose and meaning – to teach about the Holocaust and its lessons for contemporary society.