Poles Apart – by Dr Tessa Chelouche M.D

Poland was once home to a thriving Jewish community who had been there for hundreds of years. During the Holocaust, these communities were decimated.  The  Polish government have recently made moves to pass legislation that abdicates the Poles of any responsibility in their role in carrying out the Final Solution which brought about the murder of over 6 million Jews across Europe. While there were many righteous Poles who saved the lives of Jews and Poles were victims, many, far too many were complicit in aiding the NAZI killing machine. The question we are asking is – should Israeli youth visit Poland and in particular Auschwitz?

Roro’s Rantings is proud to welcome guest blogger, Dr Tessa Chelouche MD, Co-Chair, Department of Bioethics and the Holocaust, UNESCO Chair of Bioethics (Haifa) Co-Director Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust who responds to the following opinion editorial in the New York Times:

Do Israeli studentsneed to visit Auschwitz?

Dr Chelouche’s response:

Poles Apart!

By Dr. Tessa Chelouche

I take issue with Shmuel Rosner’s article in the New York Times of February 14, 2018 questioning the issue – embedded in his title – “Do Israeli Students Need to Visit Auschwitz?”

The trigger to raising this issue is the current conduct of the Polish government in passing a law that would whitewash any frank and open introspection of Polish complicity in the Holocaust. In other words, it’s an all-German issue – Poles were victims like the Jews!

With this new disturbing state position, do we Jews still promote and facilitate our younger generations to visit the Polish sites of our extermination in the Holocaust?

I think so – more than ever.


Firstly, I preface my response by offering some personal background.  I am an Israeli mother of three adult sons, all of whom have served in the army and continue to do so. I am married to a sixth generation Israeli, whose family history is woven closely with the history of the country that precedes the Holocaust and the Second World War by generations. I am a family physician who has developed over the past twenty years a second academic career in studies of Medicine and the Holocaust. I am the co-Chair of the UNESCO Chair of Bioethics’ Department of Bioethics and the Holocaust and am co-director of the Maimonides Institute of Medicine and the Holocaust. I have taught this subject at medical schools and academic institutions in Israel and worldwide for the last twenty years and have published on this subject in academic journals.

I would object to some of Rosner’s statements.

Not “trips”

The new Polish law has nothing to do with the Israel-Holocaust relationship. The debate over the Polish law has no impact on the way that the Holocaust is remembered in Israel today. We certainly do not need a law, Polish or other, to remember the Holocaust. Israel is a living testimony to the Holocaust. The Holocaust survivors are a living testimony and those who did not survive, a testimony to their remembrance.


Each year thousands of Israelis, young and not so young, visit Poland. These are not “TRIPS”. These are educational excursions that are journeys in the real sense of the word. I object to Rosner’s use of the terminology because it is factually wrong and trivializes the visits.

These annual excursions are not the pinnacle of Holocaust education in Israel nor do they resemble any form of” pilgrimage”. It is incorrect that young Israelis process the Holocaust as a crucial part of their religious and/or national identity. These educational excursions to Poland do not contribute to the misconception that the Holocaust is the main manifestation of Judaism. Israelis do not need the Holocaust to remind them of their Jewish roots; they live their Jewish roots daily. Most Israelis today have no roots in the Holocaust.  Are they any less Jewish? Of course not.

Jews do not need to visit Poland to remind them they are Jewish!

It is clear from those who participate on these well-organized visits that they return understanding that their journey was beneficially educational and contributed to their awareness of their responsibility to the country and to their fellow citizens.

They would not describe the experience as defining their persona as Jewish or Israeli.

Life in Israel is sufficient to make them connect with the country or as Rosner writes with “Jerusalem”. Our children in Israel grow up with a sense of identity that no other children in the world have and which they form long before they make the excursion to Poland. However, participants will often confide that the program made them acutely more aware of the importance of serving their country and community. It makes them ask more questions and reflect more critically.


Contrasting with Israeli youth, I can understand how their diaspora peers may perceive the Holocaust and the “March of the Living” as the basis for their Jewish identity. The Israeli excursions are far less about flag-waving ceremonies and far more about education and entail a great deal of self-reflection and critical discussion. However, this is all more of a reason to encourage the youth from the diaspora to visit Poland because in many ways it provides the only connection that they have to their Jewishness – unfortunately!

What the diaspora does not achieve due to lack of proper Jewish education, the excursions can make up for.

Regarding Rosner’s contention that the excursions perpetuate the myth that Israel was born in the ashes of the Holocaust, I regret that there is not enough space here for detailed refutation. There is some clear validity to the argument that the modern State of Israel came into being – at least in part – due to the events of the Holocaust. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, announced the formation of the state of Israel, declaring, “The Nazi Holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew the urgency of the reestablishment of the Jewish State, which would solve the problem of Jewish homelessness by opening the gates to all Jews and lifting the Jewish people to equality in the family of nations.”

Whatever the dimensions of the dispute, the excursions to Poland as an educational instrument, serve to enlighten the participants and not brainwash them about historical “myths.”

I find Rosner’s assertions on memory troubling.  A healthy society is always defined by memory however we may try to deny it. Memory does not diminish the significance of our current values and sense of identity. In fact, the exact opposite is true. We are all products of our past and our collective memory. Israeli children are brought up with memory – memory of the Holocaust, memory of wars, and memory of terror attacks. This is our reality, not only our memory. George Santanyana is well known for his statement: “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” In my opinion, and why I take issue with Rosner’s position on memory is that in today’s world there are many parallels with the origins of the Holocaust and we would be better people, and a better world, if we learnt some of these lessons. One of the ways to learn these lessons (and of course not the only one) is to take people to Poland. “Auschwitz” is not “sacred” as Rosner cynically postulates but is the symbolic icon of the evil of humanity. Educational visits to Auschwitz, and other related places to the Holocaust, allow for informing and relating past events to people in the present and serve to remind us all of our own moral vulnerability.

About Dr Tessa Chelouche:



Dr Chelouche was born in South Africa and made Aliyah to Israel in 1977.

She graduated from the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University Medical School in 1984. She subsequently specialized in Family Medicine at Tel Aviv University and has been practicing as the director of Primary Care Medical Practices since 1987. She has teaches Family Medicine residents for the Family Medicine Program at Tel Aviv University.

For the past 17 years Dr Chelouche has been teaching and lecturing on the subject of “Medicine and the Holocaust.” She has published numerous articles on the subject in international medical and law peer-reviewed journals, and has presented many presentations and lectures at national and international medical ( and other) conferences on various aspects of the involvement of medicine and the Third Reich. Dr Chelouche has participated in conferences involving the three major Holocaust memorial institutions in Israel: Yad Vashem, The Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, and Beit Terezin.

Since 2004 Dr Chelouche has been a lecturer and co-director for an annual undergraduate semestrial course on “Medicine and the Holocaust” for second to third year medical students at the Technion Institute Medical School in Haifa.

In 2013 Dr Chelouche co-edited the publication of “Casebook on Bioethics and the Holocaust” which was published under the auspices of UNESCO Chair of Bioethics in Israel.

Dr Chelouche firmly believes in the promotion of medicine and the Holocaust as an academic discipline in medical centers throughout the world. She is affiliated to The International Center for Medicine, Law and Ethics at Haifa University. She is a champion of the Center for Medicine After the Holocaust, Houston, founded by Dr Sheldon Rubenfeld and participated at the First International Scholars Workshop on Medicine After the Holocaust organized by the center in 2015. Since 2015 Dr Chelouche has been the Co-director of the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust, founded by Dr Stacy Galin. Dr Chelouche serves on the scientific committee of the Second International Scholars Workshop on Medicine After the Holocaust which will be held in Israel in 2017.


Ringmaster in the theatre of the absurd

This post is currently  featured on HonestReporting.com

South Africa – Ringmaster in the theatre of the absurd

South Africa is the “ground zero” of the BDS movement. It is no coincidence that that BDS sprung into the global conscience at the 2001 UN Conference against Racism in Durban. This was hugely symbolic because if you are going to launch a movement with the accusation of Apartheid as the central charge, then where better than South Africa?

Relations between Pretoria and Jerusalem have been steadily cooling over the last decade or so. The ANC-led government has firmly sided with the Palestinians, effectively removing the Rainbow Nation as any kind of affective and honest mediator in a lasting peace agreement between Israel and her neighbours. This comes at a time when bilateral relations between the State of Israel and many African countries are opening up and flourishing.

South Africa has adopted an increasingly hard line against the Jewish state, with the ruling ANC party adopting a resolution last month at their conference to downgrade the country’s embassy in Tel Aviv to that of a “liaison office”.

The same ANC conference that included a delegation of Hamas representatives. Hamas is recognized internationally as a terror organization and not the representatives of the Palestinian people. South Africa faces many domestic challenges such as state capture scandals, economic woes and a crippling water crisis in Cape Town which will soon become the first dry city in the world. Why all the focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Is it a means to detract from their own problems?


Capetonians line up for water

Last week we saw further evidence of this when the African state used their opportunity to address the United Nations Human Rights Council to excoriate Israel. South African diplomat, Clinton Swemmer, told the Council, “Israel is the only state in the world that can be called an apartheid state. We remain deeply concerned at the denial of the right of self-determination to the Palestinian people, in the absence of which no other human right can be exercised or enjoyed.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council with its obsessive focus on Israel at the expense of other conflicts and human rights violations has in short become the theatre of the absurd.

Calling Israel an “apartheid state” is a fallacious statement to say the least. Is there racism in Israel? Yes. Racism is abhorrent in Israel just like anywhere else in the world and it needs to be fought whenever it rears its ugly head. The fundamental difference is that the apartheid was a system of state legislated laws that deemed the country’s white population as racially superior to any other population group. The apartheid laws governed every aspect of a person’s life, from where they could live, work and receive and education to the use of transport and ablution facilities. Every aspect of apartheid was designed to humiliate and discriminate against South Africa’s non-white population, and comparing Israel to that racist regime denigrates the suffering of the victims of apartheid and belittles them yet again. Apartheid is unique to the South African experience.

There is a danger of South Africa calling Israel an apartheid state. While we know that this is completely false narrative, designed to give a tailwind to the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement and other detractors of the Jewish state, it does have impact. The apartheid analogy is the central charge around which BDS has built their campaign to de-legitimise the State of Israel. They are well aware that by comparing the Jewish state to apartheid South Africa, the former will be treated like a pariah in the family of nations. South Africa, by giving the stamp of approval to their accusations, allows this false narrative to flourish the greater global consciousness.

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Discrimination in South Africa during the Apartheid years

The enormous tragedy here is that South Africa and Israel share a lot in common and the Jewish state is perfectly poised to help combat some of the great challenges the country is facing. Both countries have overcome tragic histories; both countries are mosaics of multi-culturalism and both countries face challenges posed by water shortages. As Israel is lauded over ground-breaking advances in water technology, so South Africa is committing water suicide by refusing the help offered. It would appear that many in the South African government would rather their constituents suffer than accept the help available.

Despite all of this, there is a massive groundswell of support for Israel in South Africa. King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu nation spoke out about the importance of bilateral ties between the two countries and how South Africans could benefit. A sentiment echoed by the African Christian Democratic Party’s, Rev Kenneth Meshoe and many others who advocate for closer ties and have excoriated the ANC-led government for its short-sightedness and downright venom.


South Africans show their support for Israel

It would be in South Africa’s best interest to retire from its role as ringleader in the theatre of the absurd and get down to the serious business of contributing towards a more positive future. For both countries.

Rolene Marks is a broadcast and print journalist who serves on the executive of World WIZO and is a member of Truth be Told, a rapid response team to biased media and can be heard daily on Your Afternoon with Howard Feldman on Chai FM, a Johannesburg based radio station.