European funded schoolbook distorts lives of Slovak Jews

PRAGUE, June 4 (JTA) — A controversy has erupted over the distribution in Slovak elementary schools of a teacher’s manual that romanticizes the lot of the country’s Jews during World War II. The Slovak Education Ministry, which published and distributed 90,000 copies of the manual earlier this year, and the European Union, which financed the project, have accused each other of being responsible for the undertaking. The manual has raised howls of protest from the Slovak Jewish community, the Slovak Academy of Sciences and other groups. In his manual, “History of Slovakia for Slovaks,” Padua University Professor Milan Durica writes that during school holidays, children detained in an internment camp near Bratislava “could spend a period outside with Jewish families living in freedom” and “Jewish doctors cared for the health of the camp’s residents.” “Dentists were even able to offer gold teeth,” the text states, “which the great majority of the Slovak population could not afford.” Frantisek Alexander, executive director of the Association of Slovak Jewish Communities, called the manual “offensive” and said it “contains a completely outrageous proposition — that the Jews actually enjoyed themselves during World War II.” Dusan Kovac, director of the Institute of History of the Slovak Academy of Science, said the manual represents a “dangerous falsification of history.” Slovak Minister of Education Eva Slavkovska responded that responsibility lies with PHARE, the European Union’s assistance program for Central Europe, which contributed to the project. “I cannot imagine why there is so much agitation over one book,” she said. “It has been financed by PHARE, and I believe that PHARE programs are watched so carefully that something unsuitable could not be published.” She added that PHARE, not the Slovak Education Ministry, approves such publications. The European Union, in turn, said responsibility lies with the Slovak government. Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorff, first secretary of the E.U. delegation in Slovakia, said the Slovak Education Ministry added the manual to a list of books for which it sought funding only three days before the Sept. 30, 1996, deadline. This gave PHARE officials little time to review the controversial publication, he said, and made it “impossible” to determine whether its text “corresponded to the reality.” He added that Slavkovska had personally requested that PHARE finance the manual. Burgsdorff said Monday that the European Union and the Slovak government have asked “independent experts” to review the publication. Burgsdorff added that if the panel of experts decides that the manual distorts facts, PHARE would request that the money it allocated for the manual’s publication and distribution be returned and that the handbook be withdrawn from Slovak schools.

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