I have written many articles on this topic over the last two decades, and if I am again compelled to write another one, it is because of the importance of the topic, especially at this time in our history. What really compelled me to sound the alarm one more time, is the recent publishing of a survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, which is the first-ever 50-state survey on Holocaust knowledge among Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z. (born between 1997 and 2012), yielded some terrifying results. Additionally, that same survey gave us some insight on the rest of the adult generation.
This is the very first survey that was done for all 50 states of the union and as such, is much more comprehensive that the previous ones. Frankly, I was hoping for results that would show some hope as to the knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust, since I, along with many other organizations have worked tirelessly at exposing the gruesome details of this somber part of human history. I was shocked with exactly the opposite…things are getting much worse. To be sure, historical revisionism and Holocaust denial have been very problematic way before the “Cancel Culture” movement was a thing. We all should remember the 1996 law suit filed against historian and Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt by David Irving. She “dared” to call him [rightfully] a Holocaust denier who among other things, claimed that Auschwitz did not have any gas chambers. She and her publisher won the case, but the battle was far from over!
The remaining generation of Holocaust survivors is rapidly dying off, leaving behind them whatever testimony they can. Much has been put on audio and video tapes by the Steven Spielberg “ USC Survivors of the Shoah Foundation.” It includes my father’s testimony recorded in 1997. Then, there is the powerful and visually stunning, on-going work of the “Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation” based in New Zealand. That is just two of the great organizations dedicating time and resources to educate their audience about this part of history that we all wish we could forget but absolutely cannot afford to. We must also acknowledge groups like Maccabee Task Force and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, dedicated on exposing the lies of the BDS (Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions) movement.
So, now we need to take a look at the results of that survey. According to their website, “The Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study was commissioned by the Claims Conference. Data was collected in the United States and analyzed by Schoen Cooperman Research, with a representative sample of 1,000 interviews nationwide and 200 interviews in each state with adults ages 18 to 39 via landline, cell phone and online interviews. Respondents were selected at random and constituted a demographically representative sample of the Millennial population across each state. ” Their website provides a lot of details about the survey state by state with answers to several related questions. Here are some of the questions that were asked to an audience of mostly millennials and Gen. Z, making the group 39 years of age or younger. The results are extremely alarming.
• Can you name one concentration camp or one ghetto?
Nationally, 48% couldn’t name one camp or ghetto out of 40,000 of them in Europe and North Africa. In some states the number was as high as 60%.
• What is Auschwitz?
56% of all millennials were unable to identify the most known death camp: Auschwitz-Birkenau. As to the other less known but still historically relevant such as Dachau, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald, only 1-3% could identify them.
• How many Jews died in the Holocaust?
It is important to remember that overall, a total of 12 million people died in the Holocaust. Additionally, the number of millennials who didn’t know that six million Jews died in the Holocaust was a scary 63% nationally, as high as 67% in some states. Most respondents thought that two million or less died.
• Jews caused the Holocaust?
I cannot fathom why such a question would even be on the survey, and yet, 10%-19% of respondent believed that the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust.
• Should we continue teaching about the Holocaust?
64% of all millennials and Gen. Z believed that Holocaust education should be mandatory in school and 80% believed that the Holocaust should still be taught to prevent it from happening again.
• Have you noticed Holocaust denial on the social networks?
While most respondents didn’t blatantly deny the Holocaust, many of them (49%) have witnessed it on the social networks. As high as 70% have also seen Nazi symbols on the networks and in their own communities.
These statistics are frightening! But, at the end of the day, if nothing is said or done about them, they remain numbers. Even the six million Jews murdered in the camps have been transformed into an impersonal large number of casualties with no names. That is a contributing factor in the “Holocaust fatigue” and the indifference shown by many.
If a global catastrophe such as the Holocaust can become such a parenthetical event in the chronicles of human history, what is to happen to all other important events of the modern era? If such an indelible stain on the human psyche can be slowly but increasingly erased from history, what is to happen to other negative milestones on the spectrum of the human race? When you compound ignorance of the Holocaust and its peripheral history with the current push for denial, revisionism and antisemitism, the damage is much greater. Think about it, how can one debunk a lie or defend factual truth if one has very little if any, knowledge of what really happened?
As I already mentioned, Holocaust survivors are dwindling down. Today, they are in their eighties and nineties, many of them not in very good health. Within the next decade, survivors will be hard to find, and at the rate of disinformation and denial, the Holocaust will have become a myth. How tragic! But when it comes to education, it is never too late. Here are some ways it can be accomplished.
• Visit a Holocaust memorial/museum
The most comprehensive is probably Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. But, even in the United Sates, many major cities have their own Holocaust museum. The one in Washington D.C. is undoubtedly the most comprehensive of the US based ones. You can find one to visit in 31 of the 50 US states. You can also visit one in many other countries besides Israel.
• Visit a Camp
While this involves traveling is will be a bit more costly, but I recommend that people visit a camp like Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland or Dachau in Germany. I went to Auschwitz in the winter of 2010. This is where my grandfather died. I was a defining moment for me. The place is eerily quiet, and the air is thick with memories and visual clues of so much unnecessary death. A visit to the remains of a camp will sear the truth and the dark legacy of the Holocaust into your memory for the rest of your life.
• Watch a movie or program
Many movies have been produced in the last 75 years on the topic of the Holocaust. Those that are well researched, documented and narrated are well worth your time and will powerfully supplement or replace your visit to a camp or museum. . Schindler’s List (1993), remains a solid and well researched piece of work that many people should watch. Another less known worthy documentary is the 1955 work by French Director Alain Resnais, Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard), powerfully documenting the horrors of the Nazi murder factories. It was made only 10 years after the Holocaust and should be required viewing in American schools.
• Read a book
Even more books have been written on the topic, and many of them have become classics that should also be required reading in schools. An absolute must read is Night, the autobiographical book by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Additionally, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” also sheds great light on the horrors of that era. I would also recommend the classic scholarly work by Lucy Dawidowicz The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945, documenting Hitler’s obsession with the complete destruction of European Jewry. For a more in depth overview of antisemitism with great insight on the Holocaust, few have surpassed Robert Wistrich massive volume A Lethal Obsession.
None of us can do it all, but all of us can do something. We must educate ourselves and share what we learn with our younger generation. Most of them have no frame of reference by which to gauge the information they are being fed on campuses, in the media and on the social networks. Millennials great hunger for social justice often blinds them to the facts. At the end of the day, the best platform for unbiased education is in the home. Holocaust awareness starts as a family unit discusses the horrors of that era and exposes their children to the truth as graphic and disturbing as it maybe, with respect to various age groups, evidently. By the way, this is a fight that Jews and Evangelicals need too fight together against a common enemy.
One of the main reasons for such frightening statistics on the Holocaust and the Jewish people is because the topic is avoided or greatly watered down. But it is not just about the Holocaust, it is about human nature and our propensity to inflict pain and suffering to others if it can further our own selfish agendas. Not everybody will support this kind of violent hatred of other people, but by ignoring its power and its reach, we all are paving the way for history to repeat itself. My commentaries on the Holocaust might sound like a broken record to some, but as long as we get statistics like these, you will keep hearing my concerned voice.