The first-ever 50-state survey on Holocaust knowledge among Millennials and Gen Z was released by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
According to the Claims Conference, the results of the Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study showed a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge” among the respondents. Some 63% of the sample were unaware that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and 36% thought that number to be “two million or fewer.” At least nine states reported more than 60% of respondents were unaware that six million Jews were killed. Eight states had more than 30% of respondents claim they believed less than two million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
“We came to realize that, although a number of states already mandate Holocaust education which is an excellent first step, for the mandates to have a significant effect in classrooms there must be state funding to support the mandates,” said Claims Conference Holocaust task force leader Matthew Bronfman. “The Holocaust is a broad topic. Specialized teacher training and a thoughtfully developed curriculum is needed for students to benefit.”
Nearly half of respondents (48%) were unable to name a single ghetto, death or concentration camp involved in the mass murder. Some 56% were unable to identify the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, while only 6% were familiar with the Dachau camp. Belsen garnered 3%, Treblinka (1%) and Buchenwald (1%).
The numbers state-by-state show that 60% of respondents in Texas, 58% in New York and 57% in South Carolina, were unable to name a camp or ghetto.
More importantly, around 20% of the young sample in New York “feel” as though the Jews caused the Holocaust. Out of the nationwide sample, 11% believe 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,” said the Conference Claims president Gideon Taylor. “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.”
In line with the report, around half of the respondents (49%) have been exposed to Holocaust denial claims on social media or elsewhere. Some 56% report seeing Nazi imagery plastered across their social media feeds, and the states who reported this the most were Nevada, New York, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota and Washington (all above 60%).
Keeping in mind the atrocities of war-torn Europe, 59% of respondents indicated they believe a Holocaust could happen again. Some 80% of respondents believe it’s important to continue Holocaust education, building off the famous phrase, “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Some 64% believe that this education should be compulsory.
“Quality Holocaust educations helps students think critically about how and why the Holocaust happened,” said task force member and director for Education Initiatives at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum Gretchen Skidmore. “The study of the Holocaust engages students in understanding the fragility of societies, the dangers of antisemitism and hatred and the importance of promoting human dignity. This history can inform our understanding of our own roles and responsibilities in the decisions we face today.”
There were some building blocks to work upon within the survey. Wisconsin scored the highest in Holocaust Awareness when dissecting the information state-by-state, with most of the respondents meeting the Holocaust knowledge criteria. This could mean that the educational approach of the state with regard to the Holocaust could be adopted in other states to improve scores countrywide.
“Not only was their overall lack of Holocaust knowledge troubling, but combined with the number of Millennials and Gen Z who have seen Holocaust denial on social media, it is clear that we must fight this distortion of history and do all we can to ensure that the social media giants stop allowing this harmful content on their platforms. Survivors lost their families, friends, homes and communities; we cannot deny their history,” said Claims Conference executive vice president Greg Schneider.
The survey interviewed 1,000 respondents in-person across the United States, and conducted two hundred interviews within each state either over the phone or online.