Do you know how many Jews died in the Holocaust? Can you name a ghetto or concentration camp from that time period? These are questions that were posed to Millennials and Gen Zers in the United States. The Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study revealed a troubling lack of awareness and outright denial of this tragic event in world history among young people in the U.S.
“Nationally, there is a clear lack of awareness of key historical facts; 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,” a press release from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) states.
Claims Conference commissioned the survey, which questioned people aged 18 to 39 via landline, cell phone, and online interviews between February 26 and March 28, 2020. The representative sample includes 1,000 interviews nationwide and 200 interviews in each of the 50 states.
What the Survey Results Revealed
The survey results were compiled to reveal a “Holocaust knowledge score” which was analyzed by state. The Holocaust knowledge score was calculated by using the percentage of Millennial and Gen Z adults who met all three of these criteria: 1) have “Definitively heard about the Holocaust,” and 2) can name at least one concentration camp, death camp, or ghetto, and 3) know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
The states with the highest Holocaust knowledge scores include Wisconsin, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine, Kansas, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Iowa, and Montana. While the states with the lowest knowledge include Alaska, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Arkansas. In Arkansas, less than 2-in-10 (17 percent) of respondents met the Holocaust knowledge criteria.
Nationally, some disturbing things show up. An incredible 12 percent of respondents said they either “definitely” had not heard about the Holocaust or weren’t sure if they had. Even more concerning, perhaps, is that 10 percent of respondents answered that they didn’t believe the Holocaust happened or that they weren’t sure. Another 23 percent answered they believe the Holocaust was a myth and didn’t actually happen, or they believe it happened but think the numbers of people killed have been exaggerated, or that they weren’t sure. And tragically, some 11 percent of respondents said they believed Jews caused the Holocaust. In New York, the percentage of respondents who said this was a staggering 19 percent.
Less than half of respondents could name a concentration camp or ghetto. “Of the over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust, 48 percent of respondents could not name any. Only 44 percent of U.S. Millennials and Gen Z are familiar with Auschwitz, six percent are familiar with Dachau, and awareness of Bergen-Belsen (three percent), Buchenwald (one percent) and Treblinka (one percent) is virtually nonexistent.”
Another disturbing trend the survey revealed is that Holocaust denial misinformation is prevalent on social media. Forty-nine percent of national respondents say they have personally seen Holocaust denial or distortion on their social media or other places online. Another 56 percent say they have seen Nazi symbols in their community or posted on social media in the last five years.
When looking at the state specific data, the survey found the following: “The state with the greatest proportion respondents who have seen Nazi symbols on social media was Nevada with 70 percent. Other states with high exposure include: New York with 67 percent; Arizona and Texas with 64 percent; and Colorado, South Dakota and Washington with 63 percent.”
This has prompted Claims Conference to launch #NoDenyingIt, a campaign appealing directly to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to remove Holocaust denial from the popular platform. The campaign uses videos of Holocaust survivors telling their stories.
Young People Believe Holocaust Education Is Important
While they may be lacking in knowledge about the Holocaust, the majority of young people in the U.S. agree it’s important to teach on the topic. Eighty percent of respondents agreed with this statement: “It is important to continue to teach about the Holocaust, in part, so it doesn’t happen again” and 64 percent believe Holocaust education should be compulsory in schools. Additionally, 59 percent said they believe something like the Holocaust could happen today.
The majority also hold negative views of neo-Nazis. Seventy percent of national respondents said it is unacceptable for an individual to hold neo-Nazi views while 15 percent said it was acceptable and another 15 percent said they weren’t sure. More than 6-in-10 (64 percent) believe antisemitism is a problem in the United States today.
The timing is critical to debunk the misinformation floating around social media about the Holocaust, Claims Conference says, as “fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors—eyewitnesses to a state-sponsored genocide—are alive to share the lessons of the Holocaust.”
And these lessons are relevant to our current climate today, says Gretchen Skidmore of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “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,” Skidmore says.