Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany, German-occupied Europe, and collaborators systematically murdered six million Jews, eliminating two-thirds of the continent’s Jewish population. The Second World War genocide was the most tragic event of the 20th century. Despite its eternal imprint on world history, Millennials and Generation Z possess a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge,” according to a first-ever 50-state survey of Americans under 40, titled the “U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey.” What did the research find?
A Shocking Survey of Holocaust Awareness
How many Jews were murdered during the Holocaust? How many ghettos and death camps were installed across Europe? Who was responsible for the systematic death of European Jews? These are the basic questions that a concerning number of Millennials and Generation Zers cannot answer.
The study revealed that 63% of survey participants were unaware that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Thirty-six percent of participants who maintained knowledge of the Holocaust thought two million or fewer Jews were murdered. Despite 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos, close to half of polling respondents could not name any.
Moreover, 19% thought it happened in the First World War, 2% believed it occurred in Vietnam, and 1% said it unfolded in the Civil War.
In what may be the most surprising revelation from the study, nearly 20% of Millennials and Gen Z in New York think the Jews caused the Holocaust. The state that scored the highest in Holocaust awareness was Wisconsin, while Arkansas scored the lowest.
In the end, 59% of U.S. Millennials and Gen Z think something like the Holocaust could transpire again.
Gideon Taylor, the president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), which commissioned the survey, said in a news release:
“The results are both shocking and saddening and they underscore why we must act now while Holocaust survivors are still with us to voice their stories. We need to understand why we aren’t doing better in educating a younger generation about the Holocaust and the lessons of the past. This needs to serve as a wake-up call to us all, and as a road map of where government officials need to act.”
But it was not all bad news. Although 70% say fewer people care about the Holocaust today than they used to, the poll found that 80% of all respondents said it was important to continue teaching about the Holocaust. Sixty-four percent of Millennials and Gen Z think Holocaust education should be mandatory in school.
The Holocaust: A Primer
The Holocaust officially started in 1941, but Adolf Hitler initiated the process nearly a decade earlier. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum differentiates between these periods: The Holocaust (1941 to 1945) and the Era of the Holocaust (1933 to 1945).
When Hitler rose to power in the early 1930s, he established concentration camps to imprison political adversaries and so-called undesirables. The very first was Dachau, which was installed in March 1933. Hitler complemented this directive with policies that alienated Jews from society, beginning with boycotts of Jewish businesses and following up with the Night of Broken Glass, also known as Kristallnacht. Ghettos became prevalent across Europe. By 1939, after Germany conquered Poland, Berlin established thousands of camps throughout Europe, with the most prominent ones being Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Warsaw.
German officials agreed to the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” an official state policy of exterminating Jews. The tools varied: killed by disease, gassed in chambers, beaten or worked to death, and shot in pogroms (a massacre of Jews). These lethal campaigns involved other groups, including religious dissidents, ethnic Poles, and the disabled.
To this date, it is estimated that six million Jews were murdered. When you factor in the other victims, the Nazis’ systematic campaigns killed more than 11 million people.
Will We Learn from History?
Concentration camps will always be synonymous with the Nazis’ death camps and the Soviet Union’s Gulags. Unfortunately, concentration camps are still alive today. Communist China has imprisoned the Uighurs, North Korea has erected dozens of re-education centers throughout the country, and Sri Lanka has placed tens of thousands of Tamils in detention camps. Will the world learn from history? Or is the planet doomed to repeat the tragedies of the past?