A recent survey released by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) revealed that historical ignorance regarding the Holocaust is growing among Millennials and Generation Z.
During protests this summer throughout the United States, people were trying to topple various statues of historical figures like Christopher Columbus, George Washington, General Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln and others. It was a sign that general historical ignorance among Americans is increasing, but the latest survey from the Claims Conference demonstrates a new low.
Focusing on Millennials and Generation Z in 50 states, the survey showed a shocking lack of knowledge regarding some of the most basic aspects of Holocaust history.
The report shows that “63 percent of all national survey respondents do not know that six million Jews were murdered, and 36 percent thought that ‘two million or fewer Jews’ were killed during the Holocaust. Additionally, although there were more than 40,000 camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust, 48 percent of national survey respondents cannot name a single one.”
When it comes to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most deadly and infamous of all the camps where more than one million people lost their lives, 56% of those surveyed were unable to identify it.
Perhaps what’s most disquieting is that nearly 20% believed that Jews were responsible for the Holocaust.
“The results are both shocking and saddening and they underscore why we must act now while Holocaust survivors are still with us to voice their stories,” Gideon Taylor, president of the Claims Conference, said. “We need to understand why we aren’t doing better in educating a younger generation about the Holocaust and the lessons of the past. This needs to serve as a wake-up call to us all, and as a road map of where government officials need to act.”
It’s not just Millennials and Gen Z. A survey published in 2019 by the Claims Conference yielded similar results, with 45% of American adults being unable to identify a single concentration camp.
Considering that the Holocaust is one of the most definable events of the 20th century, it’s difficult to understand how this knowledge has been so lost within American school systems.
For me, the Holocaust is why I became interested in history in the first place. I would read books on the Holocaust extensively in middle school and once begged my parents for an encyclopedia on it, which I still own. I studied the Holocaust in grad school and still, slightly, regret that it wasn’t the focus of my thesis in one way or another.
As much of education is moving online this year, parents have a unique opportunity to help fill in this lack of knowledge on the genocide of the Jews in Europe.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Since visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum currently isn’t an option, a great alternative would be to visit the website, which has a section called “Introduction to the Holocaust” and “Resources for Educators.”
- Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel, also has a webpage for educators and has video testimonies of survivors.
- The BBC documentary entitled Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’ is excellent and gives a good overview of the Holocaust as a whole, along with the camp itself. Though no longer officially available through Netflix, it can be found on YouTube here. (As expected, the series covers difficult and disturbing subject matter that may be disturbing to young and older viewers.)
- For books, The Diary of Anne Frank has become a go-to book for students who are in middle and high school. For parents looking to learn more themselves, there’s Peter Longerich’s Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann and Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder, which covers the Holocaust and the Ukrainian famine and genocide a decade earlier.
On the first day of my course on the Holocaust, my professor said that it was one of the most difficult classes that he had to teach so he could only do it once a year at most. For parents, teachers and students, the Holocaust is a challenging and difficult chapter in history to study because it’s overwhelming to imagine that? humanity could be that brutal and evil on such a massive scale. That educators are ignoring it or not presenting it properly is a detriment to us all.
As the saying goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Photo from Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com
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