WARSAW - The World Jewish Congress brought a first-of-its-kind delegation of special needs youth from across Israel to Poland this week, on an educational mission to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz. The mission was arranged through the generosity of WJC President Ronald S. Lauder at the initiative of WJC-Israel Chairman Gad Ariely, in cooperation with the Welfare Department of the Modiin-Reut-Maccabim municipality, Akadem House for autistic children and adults, Nitzan Modi'in, and the Center for Autism Treatment and Research.
“Jewish tradition teaches us the dangers of forgetting who we are and where we come from,” Ariely said. “The commandment to ‘remember’ is one of the oldest tenants of Jewish tradition, and its significance has never been lost, as can be seen throughout the holidays of our calendar year. WJC-Israel is proud to take part in this mission of strengthening Jewish memory. We hope that this mission, particularly the opportunity to enhance our acquaintance with the modern Jewish community that arose from the ashes of the Holocaust, will help our youngsters learn more about themselves and strengthen their sense of belonging to the Jewish people.”
The aim of the mission is to ensure that special needs students are given the same Holocaust education as other members of Israeli society. In preparation, the students underwent a series of meetings and educational workshops in Israel, including at Yad Vashem.
Upon arrival in Poland with a staff of trained aides, as well as members of the WJC-Israel Board and the Modiin municipality, the delegates began their tour with a visit to the historic Jewish Quarter of Krakow and the site of the wartime ghetto, where they also learned the story of the Righteous Polish pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewicz who tried to alleviate the suffering of the Jews. The evening ended with a special dinner with at the Krakow Jewish Community Center where the delegates met with young people who discovered their Jewish identity in their teens.
A day-long visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was a key element of the mission and the delegation held a moving ceremony in memory of the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Germans and their accessories and concluded with the singing of Israel’s national anthem.
Over the course of the mission, the delegates will also visit Warsaw, including the Polin museum which chronicles the history of Polish Jewry.
For nearly 30 years, Lauder has stood at the forefront of efforts to preserve Auschwitz as a memorial site and has made the preservation of Holocaust memory a core issue of the World Jewish Congress’ agenda.