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Thursday, January 7, 1999


WE REPRODUCE with acknowledgements this article from
The Wire: News from the Associated Press
January 5, 1999

Tourism News

Israel Sued Over Auschwitz Trips


By The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Hoping to force Poland to remove a church at the Auschwitz death camp, a U.S. Jewish group asked the Supreme Court today to order the Israeli government to stop sending high school students on tours of the site.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, who heads the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, a New York-based advocacy group, said he hopes the court will rule to block the trips of Israeli high school students until the church is dismantled.

Weiss said that by withholding hundreds of thousands of dollars in tourism revenue from the student trips, Israel might succeed in pressuring the Polish government to remove the church, which he called an affront to the memory of the Holocaust.

"The revenue is very important to the Polish government and we very much want Jewish students to visit the camps," Weiss said. "But my sense is that the only language the Poles understand is this kind of pressure."#1


 The church was established in a former Nazi headquarters building in 1983 in the Birkenau section of the camp. Weiss said the establishment of the church violates a 1972 U.N. declaration ordering the camp to be left intact

In addition to the church, dozens of crosses have been erected in memory of Christians killed in Auschwitz. More than 1.1. million people perished in the camp, 90 percent of them Jews. The crosses have also angered Jewish groups.

The Israeli Education Ministry said it would only comment on the case once court proceedings begin.

Joanna Topinska of Poland's Education Ministry said today the government had no reaction to the lawsuit. She said the ministry was working with the Israeli government on a new program of youth visits that would be "more centered on the future and less centered on the past."

Polish officials have criticized the Israeli trips in the past for focusing exclusively on the death camps and the Holocaust, while ignoring what they term more positive points in the history of the Jews in Poland.

Weiss said he was compelled to file the suit as part of his efforts to ensure the Holocaust would not fade from the world's memory. Six million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis during World War II as part of a systematic plan of extermination.   

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.
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