Nearly Two-Thirds of US Young Adults Unaware 6m Jews Killed in the Holocaust
Almost two-thirds of young American adults do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and more than one in 10 believe Jews caused the Holocaust, a new survey has found, revealing shocking levels of ignorance about the greatest crime of the 20th century.
According to the study of millennial and Gen Z adults aged between 18 and 39, almost half (48%) could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto established during the second world war.
Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, or had been exaggerated, or they weren’t sure. One in eight (12%) said they had definitely not heard, or didn’t think they had heard, about the Holocaust.
More than half (56%) said they had seen Nazi symbols on their social media platforms and/or in their communities, and almost half (49%) had seen Holocaust denial or distortion posts on social media or elsewhere online.
“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,” said Gideon Taylor, president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) which commissioned the survey.
Taylor added: “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.”
The survey, the first to drill down to state level in the US, ranks states according to a score based on three criteria: whether young people have definitely heard about the Holocaust; whether they can name one concentration camp, death camp or ghetto; and whether they know 6 million Jews were killed.
The top-scoring state was Wisconsin, where 42% of millennial and Gen Z adults met all three criteria, followed by Minnesota at 37% and Massachusetts at 35%. The lowest-scoring states were Florida at 20%, Mississippi at 18% and Arkansas at 17%.
Nationally, 63% of respondents did not know 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and more than one in three (36%) thought 2 million or fewer had been killed.
Eleven per cent of respondents across the US believed that Jews had caused the Holocaust, with the proportion in New York state at 19%, followed by 16% in Louisiana, Tennessee and Montana, and 15% in Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Nevada and New Mexico.
Nationally, 44% of those questioned were able to identify Auschwitz-Birkenau, and only 3% were familiar with Bergen-Belsen. Six out of 10 respondents in Texas could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto.
However, almost two-thirds (64%) of American millennial and Gen Z adults believe Holocaust education should be compulsory in schools. Seven out of 10 said it was not acceptable for an individual to hold neo-Nazi views.
The Claims Conference, whose mission is “to provide a measure of justice for Jewish Holocaust victims”, set up a taskforce to oversee the survey. It included Holocaust survivors, historians and experts from Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Data was collected from 1,000 interviews nationwide and 200 interviews in each state with young adults aged 18 to 39 selected at random.
Harriet Sherwood writes about religion and social issues for the Guardian and the Observer. She was previously Jerusalem correspondent, foreign editor and home editor.