During the Holocaust Remembrance Day, a study claiming that more than one-fifth of millennials have never heard of the holocaust was released. The survey, conducted by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, interviewed 1,350 American adults and found that there ‘significant gaps’ in the learnings of the details of the Holocaust. The survey was created as a close collaboration among Holocaust survivors, educational institutions such as Vad Yashem, museums, and various nonprofits spearheading Holocaust education. Interviews were conducted through phone or online survey. The study defined millennials as participants aged between 18-34.
The results showed that four-in-ten millennials believe that only two million Jews were killed during the Holocaust versus the actual figures of approximately six million. More than half of the casualties were from Poland but only 37 percent of adults considered Poland as another country where the Holocaust occurred. There were over 40,000 known concentration camps across Europe during the Holocaust, yet roughly more than half of millennials with 51 percent of them were able to identify at least one. 66 percent or two-thirds of millennials are unable to identify what Auschwitz was.
Matthew Bronfman, a board member on the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, expressed concern for the growing number of knowledge gaps in Holocaust education among the newer generations. “As we get farther away from the actual events, 70-plus years now, it becomes less forefront of what people are talking about or thinking about or discussing or learning,” he said in an article from the New York Times. “If we wait another generation before you start trying to take remedial action, I think we’re really going to be behind the eight ball.”
While the lack of detailed knowledge of the Holocaust has been an alarming issue among millennials, Peter A. Schulman, historian and associate professor of History in Case Western Reserve University, as told in an article from Smithsonian believes that Holocaust is not fading from memory. Comparing survey results dating back to the eighties and nineties, recent statistics actually show an improvement in knowledge of Holocaust history.
32 percent of respondents in a survey taken in 1985 did not know what the Holocaust was compared to 11 percent of adults today. This year’s survey resulted to 93 percent of adults believing that Holocaust should be an important lesson to be taught in schools compared to only 87 percent in 1994.
Schulman though does not completely dismiss the need for improvement on Holocaust education among US schools but instead emphasizes that closeness in time is not the underlying problem. In a tweet, he mentions that ‘the framing here is troubling — that historical knowledge and care about the Holocaust is dependent on closeness in time, and that as survivors and memories slip away, we are doomed. That’s just not true.’
In fact, it wasn’t until the eighties that schools in the US included the study of Holocaust in their schools. Among the states who passed bills requiring Holocaust and genocide education among high schools were New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Florida, California and recently in 2016 Michigan and Rhode Island.
Majority of Americans, with 52 percent of them, also believe that lessons about the Holocaust are mostly accurate but could be better. These results are promising for preserving knowledge about the Holocaust. Education should not just discuss the highlights of one of history’s most atrocious crimes, but most importantly the details should also be put into account. And there’s no better way for individuals to learn of the Holocaust than hearing it from the survivors themselves.
Approximately 400,000 Holocaust survivors are still alive, and most of them are already in their 80s and 90s. “One of the things we’re most concerned about is, if there’s this lack of knowledge while there are still survivors alive to tell their stories, what will it be like in 20 or 50 years?” Greg Schneider, Claims Conference vice president, exclaims. “There’s no time to waste.”
However, even if experts are worried that the decline in Holocaust survivors will affect how Holocaust knowledge will be passed on to future generations, advocates have pushed for more awareness through an interactive experience in museums dedicated to the Holocaust with over 60 of them across the US. At the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, holograms of survivors can answer questions in actual time after recounting their own experiences.
With the rise of anti-Semitism and racial disputes across the world particularly in Europe, learning about the Holocaust, how and why it happened, is one way to tackle and combat the growing issues of Neo-Nazism in today’s society. Based on the survey, a staggering two-thirds of adults believing that there is antisemitism in the world today. 15 percent of adult respondents also believe that people should be allowed to use Nazi slogans and symbols, while only 11 percent agree that it is acceptable for an individual to hold Neo-Nazi views. A thorough knowledge of the Holocaust could be a crucial element towards building awareness and eradicating racism especially among the generations to come.
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