US adults rapidly forgetting the Holocaust | News | DW | 12.04.2018
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US adults rapidly forgetting the Holocaust

One-fifth of millennials do not know what Auschwitz was, according to a new report. And more than half of Americans believe that something like the Holocaust could happen again.

A study published by the Claims Conference on Thursday, Holocaust Remembrance Day, has proven why remembrance culture is ever more necessary as time goes on. According to a comprehensive survey of US adults, there are significant gaps of knowledge about the Holocaust that are even more severe amongst millennials than their parents.

"The Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study found that seven out of 10 Americans (70 percent) 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," wrote the authors of the study, carried out for the Claims Conference by research firm Schoen Consulting.

Read more: Auschwitz-Birkenau: 4 out of 10 German students don't know what it was

Even more damning to the state of Holocaust education was the finding that over one-fifth of millennials, or people born roughly between 1985 and 2000, either didn't know or weren't sure what Auschwitz was.

Nearly half of millennials (49 percent) could not identify a single concentration camp. The number was not much higher for all US adults at 45 percent.

One-third of adults believe less than 2 million Jews perished

But the most disturbing finding of the study concerned the conspiracy theory that the number of victims of the Holocaust is far lower than historical records maintain.

According to the best estimations of historians, based on the copious records kept by Nazi Germany, as well as eyewitness testimony from survivors, locals and high-ranking Nazis themselves, there were 17 million victims of the Holocaust, with the largest single group targeted being the roughly 6 million Jews who perished.

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Questioning the number of victims has long been a character of Holocaust denial. While in this case it could be more due to ignorance than denial, the study found that nearly one third of American adults, 31 percent, believed that fewer than two million Jews were killed, and for millennials the number was 41 percent.

Read more: Auschwitz color photo: 'A 14-year-old girl, not just a statistic'

One hopeful data point in the study was that an overwhelming majority of all Americans (93 percent) agreed that the history of the Holocaust should be taught in schools.

However, they seemed unware of the country's own neo-Nazi problem, and while 68 percent believed anti-Semitism existed in the United States today, only 34 percent thought that there were "many" neo-Nazis in the country. A Washington Post poll conducted in the wake of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer found that 9 percent of Americans thought there was no problem in holding neo-Nazi or white supremacist views – this equates to about 22 million people.

Read more: White supremacy and neo-Nazis in the US: What you need to know

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, was founded in 1951 to ensure that Jewish families and Holocaust survivors received reparations and recovered property from Germany. Today it works with organizations for Holocaust survivors and memorial projects. In the mid-2000s it came under fire for the high salaries paid out to executives and exorbitant management expenses at the expense of welfare assistance for survivors.


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