Did Israel’s education minister fudge Holocaust history at an Auschwitz memorial event?
Naftali Bennett, minister of education and leader of the Jewish Home party, was the Israeli government’s senior representative at this year’s March of the Living event at the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland Monday.
The event, taking place on Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust memorial day, was attended by thousands of participants from around the world and by education ministers from nine European countries.
Bennett’s speech touched on the horrors of the Holocaust and the revival of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, but at least one scholar sitting in the audience found some bothering historical errors in the Israeli minister’s speech.
“Little remains from ghettos of Lodz, Vienna, Slonim, Minsk, Prague, or Paris,” Bennett stated in his speech. But there were no ghettos in Paris or Vienna during World War II, said Holocaust historian Michael Berenbaum, who was among the creators of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s permanent exhibition. “Surely the ministers of education of those countries wondered how little does this man know,” Berenbaum said. He noted that Bennett rightly criticized those French who deny responsibility for deporting Jews through the country’s railroad system, but added that “his criticism was undermined by the level of his disinformation.”
Earlier in his speech, Bennett sought to castigate the allied forces for not bombing the Auschwitz gas chambers. “One bombing attack could have stopped the killing in 1943, in 1944, and they didn’t,” Bennett said. But according to Berenbaum, it is a well known fact among historians and Holocaust scholars that the allies were not in range of bombing in 1943 and only in the spring of 1944 were they able to launch such attacks.
He noted that Israel’s justice minister made similar historical errors in a speech she delivered last year at the March of the Living.
“Can’t senior Israeli officials have their remarks to major international audiences factually checked by the distinguished scholarly staff of Yad Vashem?” Berenbaum asked. “There is enough Holocaust denial in the world, enough misrepresentation and disinformation that we don’t need some of the most senior officials of the Israeli government speaking the name of the Jewish people, making elementary mistakes that would be corrected on any freshmen paper.”
A spokesman for Bennett did not respond to the Forward’s inquiry about the speech.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman