Survey reveals gaps in Holocaust knowledge

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Maryland ranks in bottom 10 states for Holocaust knowledge among young adults

By Carolyn Conte, Eric Schucht and Ben Sales

Buchenwald
A view of the former Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany, Jan. 26, 2018. (Jens Schlueter/Getty Images via JTA)

More than one in 10 American adults under 40 believes that Jews caused the Holocaust.


That’s one finding from a national survey of 1,000 respondents ages 18-39 across 50 states on knowledge of the Holocaust. The survey was published Sept. 16 and commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference).

The study calculated a Holocaust knowledge score for each state by using the percentage of respondents who met all three of the following criteria: 1) have “Definitively heard about the Holocaust,” 2) can name at least one concentration camp, death camp or ghetto, and 3) know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Maryland’s score was 22%. Wisconsin had the highest knowledge score at 42%, while Arkansas had the lowest at 17%. Notably, Holocaust knowledge was also low in New York at 22%, despite the state having the largest population of Jews in the country. Most respondents there could not name a single Nazi camp or ghetto, and 28% said they believed the Holocaust was a myth or has been exaggerated.

“It is sad but unfortunately not surprising,” said Felicia Graber, a Holocaust survivor in Baltimore. “For millennials, the Holocaust is ancient history, and the majority have no personal connection to it. For them it is another event that is far removed from their consciousness.”

Respondents were also asked who caused the Holocaust, and 13% of respondents in Maryland answered that Jews caused the Holocaust. Fifteen percent in Maryland said it is acceptable to hold neo-Nazi views. And about half of respondents said they have witnessed Holocaust denial.

“Anytime you see gaps in Holocaust knowledge, that’s cause for concern,” said Gretchen Skidmore, a subject matter expert who advised on the study. “But most alarming is the high percentage of respondents saying that the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust or that the Holocaust is a myth or exaggerated. And this kind of Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism. And to see and confirm that it’s on the rise, it’s dangerous.”

In total, the study found approximately half of Americans under 40 have seen Holocaust denial or distortion posts on social media or elsewhere online.

“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,” Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, said in a statement. “Survivors lost their families, friends, homes and communities; we cannot deny their history.”

Jeanette Parmigiani, Baltimore Jewish Council director of Holocaust programs, was particularly disappointed about the results after the BJC’s efforts and success in expanding Holocaust education in Maryland. She said she has seen, though, that students who do meet survivors are incredibly impacted and will remember the experience.

“It’s very important to get these firsthand testaments,” she said. “Of course, we’re losing survivors. It’s like losing family for me. But the second generations are taking up the responsibility.”.

The survey found that respondents had a desire for Holocaust education. Sixty-four percent believe Holocaust education should be compulsory in school, and 80% believe that it is important to continue teaching about the Holocaust.

Graber agreed that education is extremely useful and effective, especially firsthand accounts.

“We need to reach out to more children and grandchildren of survivors and encourage them to get more involved in reaching out and speaking to schools, colleges and any other organization that will be interested,” Graber said.

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