Almost two-thirds of millennials and Gen Zers don’t know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and almost half can’t name a single concentration camp, an alarming new survey on Holocaust knowledge has found.
The survey demonstrated wide gaps in younger American’s knowledge of the genocide while also showing a concerning 15% of millennials and Gen Zers thought holding neo-Nazi views was acceptable.
“How much of that is based on genuine understanding of neo-Nazis principles and how much is based on ignorance is hard to tell. Either of them is very disturbing,” said Gideon Taylor, president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which commissioned the survey.
“If people can’t name Auschwitz … that’s something that’s deeply concerning. I don’t think there is any greater symbol of man’s depravity in recent history than Auschwitz,” he added.
The survey is the fifth in a series that looks at people’s knowledge of Holocaust history worldwide as well as education around the genocide.
The survey of 1,000 18- to 39-year-olds in all 50 states also provided the first state-by-state breakdown of Holocaust knowledge in the U.S. In New York, for example, which ranked among the bottom 10 states in an analysis of Holocaust knowledge, nearly 20% of millennials and Gen Zers incorrectly believe that Jews caused the Holocaust.
That sort of denial and distortion around the causes of the Holocaust “is a form of anti-Semitism,” said Gretchen Skidmore, the director of education initiatives for the Levine Family Institute for Holocaust Education at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The results come amid a rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the U.S. in recent years. The Anti-Defamation League said in May that it had recorded an all-time high of anti-Semitic incidents in 2019 since it tracking of such events began in 1979.
Another concerning finding in the Claims Conference survey: Almost half of respondents had seen social media posts denying or distorting facts about the Holocaust, and more than half said they had seen Nazi symbols in their community or online.
Taylor said these results demonstrate how the internet “has given a voice to and amplified Holocaust denial in a way that was unimaginable just a few years ago.”
Approximately 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust after Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime came to power in Germany in the 1930s. Jews and other groups were targeted by the Nazis and their allies on beliefs of perceived racial inferiority. Millions were sent to ghettos, labor camps and concentration camps and killed in mass shootings, gas chambers and from starvation.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, neo-Nazi groups in the U.S. today share an affinity for Hitler and Nazis fascist political ideology while also focusing on hatred toward Jews and minority groups.
Past surveys from the Claims Conference found similar gaps in knowledge around the Holocaust from Americans of all ages as well as people in other countries like Austria.
In a 2018 survey, almost a third of Americans incorrectly believed 2 million or fewer Jewish people died in the Holocaust. More than 40% of respondents in that survey also could not identify Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp located in German-occupied Poland.
“In order to understand the importance of this history, there are certain fundamental aspects of it that you need to understand,” Skidmore said. Knowing the basic facts allow people to then “go to the next level” and think critically about the causes and other enduring questions, she added.
Taylor said that the state-by-state data in this year’s survey will prove valuable for individual states where there can be more targeted changes to how educators teach Holocaust history.
The survey found that 8 in 10 respondents believe continued Holocaust education is important to prevent it from happening again. That education becomes all the more important, Taylor noted, as fewer Holocaust survivors are still living.
“On the one hand, you have this very worrying lack of knowledge, but on the other hand, you see see this hunger to learn,” Taylor said.
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