Treatment of Jewish Themes in Polish Schools

Treatment of Jewish Themes in Polish Schools

The goal of the Jewish theme in a textbook is to show, or at least to indicate, the role that Poland played in Jewish history and culture, as well as the place and contribution of the Jews in the development of the Polish state and culture. One ought to learn that prior to the partitions Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in the world; that before 1939 the Polish Jewish community was the largest in Europe and the second-largest in the world. Jews played an enormous role in the process of urbanization and the development of a merchandise economy. Poland was also an important center of Jewish culture; Talmudic schools developed here, as did basic Yiddish literature. In this context, the history of the Jewish population ought to be distinguished, presenting it in close connection with the political changes and economic processes taking place in the republic.

Methodological problems are a completely different issue—for exam-ple, the need to adapt the presentation of information to the age of the students, as well as the continued expansion of the students' knowledge at various stages of education. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain that students broaden their knowledge of a particular topic or historical process in successive stages of education. In general the information contained in textbooks for secondary schools is not an extension of the knowledge acquired in elementary school. This often leads to a situation in which a student learns about something only once and in a very general form. This reservation concerns Jewish issues above all. It turns out that much material is better and more thoroughly presented in some textbooks for elementary schools than in those for secondary schools.

A Polish-Israeli agreement was signed in June 1996 concerning the contents of school textbooks. The majority of current textbooks were published before the agreement was signed, and thus the document was unknown to the authors; yet it has become a point of departure for broad discussions and exchanges of views among historians as well as history teachers. The results are visible in the work undertaken by the Ministry of National Education, which recommended the Jewish Historical Institute as a consultant for the evaluation of the depiction of the history of the Jews and the Holocaust in Polish history textbooks. This evaluation was published in the most recent issue of Biuletyn ¨ydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego [The Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Institute] (3-4, 1997). The Institute has organized courses for secondary-school teachers for several years in which basic issues of Jewish religion, history, and culture are discussed. Participants in the courses are recruited from throughout Poland. Teachers from three public secondary schools (in Warsaw, Cracow, and Poznan), in which Hebrew is taught together with an obligatory curriculum on the history and culture of the Jews, constitute a regular group of participants in these courses.

Yet all these activities are insufficient. There is an obvious need for publishing a coherent compendium of information about the history of the Jews and Judaism, which teachers could then use as a teaching aid.

The following list of companies is composed of two categories: companies that requisitioned forced and slave labor during the Third Reich and companies today with names and locations so similar that the assumption can be made that they are the same firms. The American Jewish Committee does not claim any legal connection between the historical and actual list of companies. The AJC wishes to stress that this list is meant as a public service, broadening discussion about the labor system during the Nazi era. It is not intended as a judgment of individual companies.

The source for the historical data is the book Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and the German-Occupied Territories, published in July 1949 by the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Arolsen, Germany and reissued in 1990 by Martin Weinmann under the title Das nationalsozialistische Lagersystem Verlag Zweitausendeins: Frankfurt 1990. The sources for companies currently in operation are two major registers of German companies, Mittelstaendische Unternehmen 1999, Vol. 1 - 3, Darmstadt Hoppenstedt: 1999 and Handbuch der Grossunternehmen 1999, Vol. 1-2, Darmstadt Hoppenstedt: 1999.

The research of the ITS in Arolsen was for the purposes of locating missing persons. The intention was not to provide a complete historical document of all work sites where forced labor was employed. For this reason, this list should only be considered a beginning in the compilation of a register of German companies still in operation that used forced labor and slave labor.

The figures used in the next to last column are merely a sampling, based on available information, of the numbers of slave or forced laborers in specific camps at any given time. Almost every firm on the list had more than one camp and, therefore, the number of laborers listed is only a tiny fraction of the total number that a company used.

For example, Blohm & Voss (number 15 on the list) used 60,000 forced and slave laborers, according to Professor Ulrich Herbert, Germany's preeminent expert on slave and forced labor during the Nazi era, though only 700 are on the AJC list.

Slave laborers were concentration camp prisoners requisitioned by German companies from the SS, and a high percentage of them died as a result of the intolerable, subhuman working conditions. Forced laborers were workers brought from Nazi-occupied territories to work in German industry.

Professor Herbert also points out that the firms identified on the AJC list account for less than 30 percent of all German companies that used slave or forced labor.

The American Jewish Committee urges all companies on this list to join the central compensation fund for forced and slave laborers. In addition, we call on all companies, regardless of their founding date or their activities during the Third Reich, to join the fund, which the German government has called an historical, ethical and moral responsibility for itself and German industry.

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