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Study: Two-Thirds of U.S. Millennials Can’t Identify Auschwitz

Nancy Bilyeau

A survey found “significant gaps” in knowledge about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, particularly among millennial-age respondents, according to a statement and survey results released on Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, 2019.

According to the survey, conducted in February 2018 by interviewing 1,350 American adults aged 18 and older, two-thirds of millennials — 66 percent — cannot identify what Auschwitz was. Auschwitz opened in 1940 in southern Poland and was the largest of the Nazi concentration camps.

“Auschwitz, Poland – January 1, 2011: The Auschwitz concentration camp is located about 30 miles (50 km) from Krakow. The picture shows two rows of electrical barbed wire surrounding the camp on winter day.”

“Auschwitz, Poland – January 1, 2011: The Auschwitz concentration camp is located about 30 miles (50 km) from Krakow. The picture shows two rows of electrical barbed wire surrounding the camp on winter day.”

The Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study found that seven-out-of-ten Americans say fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than they used to and a majority — 58 percent — believe something like the Holocaust could happen again, according to the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany, which commissioned the study.

“The survey found there are critical gaps both in awareness of basic facts as well as detailed knowledge of the Holocaust, and there is a broad-based consensus that schools must be responsible for providing comprehensive Holocaust education,” according to a statement released by the Claims Conference.

Still photograph from the Soviet Film of the liberation of Auschwitz

Still photograph from the Soviet Film of the liberation of Auschwitz

In the survey, 11 percent of U.S. adults and over one-fifth of millennials haven’t heard of, or are not sure if they have heard of, the Holocaust.

The ignorance gap widens when it comes to identifying what Auschwitz was. When that question was posed, 41 percent of Americans did not know what the camp was, and 66 percent of the millennials did not know, the survey says.

Other troubling findings were that 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force, when he was elected to office by the German voters.

While 84 percent of U.S. adults know that the Holocaust occurred in Germany, just 37 percent identified Poland as a country where the Holocaust also occurred.

Auschwitz-Birkenau main track. Photo by C.Puisney CC BY-SA 3.0

Auschwitz-Birkenau main track. Photo by C.Puisney CC BY-SA 3.0

The study has attracted some criticism. The website Truth or Fiction said that the study “stated that two-thirds of millennials ‘don’t know what Auschwitz was,’ but the article said two-thirds were ‘unable to explain what Auschwitz was.’ ”

“Not knowing a thing and being unable to explain a thing are vastly different descriptors — without further details in either the post or the article, readers were not necessarily equipped to determine just what purported level of ignorance ‘millennials’ maintained about the events of the Holocaust.”

However, the growth in unawareness about the Holocaust is a widely shared concern, and underscores the need for education.

“Selection” of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Auschwitz-II (Birkenau), May/June 1944

“Selection” of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Auschwitz-II (Birkenau), May/June 1944

A recent CNN poll in Europe revealed that about a third of the 7,000 European respondents across seven countries knew “just a little or nothing at all” about the Holocaust. “In France, nearly 20 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 said they had never heard of the Holocaust,” according to CNN.

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“This study underscores the importance of Holocaust education in our schools,” Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference said in a statement. “There remain troubling gaps in Holocaust awareness while survivors are still with us; imagine when there are no longer survivors here to tell their stories.”

One of the trains that left Bergen-Belsen for Theresienstadt in early April, liberated by American forces

One of the trains that left Bergen-Belsen for Theresienstadt in early April, liberated by American forces

Virtually all of the recently surveyed U.S. adults, or 93 percent, believe all students should learn about the Holocaust in school and 80 percent say it is important to keep teaching about it so it does not happen again, according to the statement accompanying the survey.

Read another story from us: Separated at Birth – How Identical Twin Nazi and Jewish Brothers Found Each Other

“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,” said Matthew Bronfman, a board member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which commissioned the study, said in an interview with 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.”