The Holocaust: We promise to never forget, but what are we remembering?

The Holocaust: We promise to never forget, but what are we remembering?
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Last April, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) released a study on Holocaust Knowledge in the United States that initiated a global conversation and became a call to action for a number of American lawmakers to examine mandates within their states for Holocaust education.

Last week, just ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, a follow-up study was released in Canada by the Azrieli Foundation in partnership with the Claims Conference.

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The study — which includes the comparative findings about understanding and knowledge of the Holocaust in the U.S. and Canada — again shows critical gaps in awareness of basic historical facts as well as in detailed knowledge of the Holocaust. The Canadian study also reveals certain perceptions our neighbors to the north have of us.

Canadians scored worse in some areas than the U.S. and better in others. However, a major take away in the side-by-side comparison is the near equally poor showing of millennial populations in both countries. An alarming 52 percent of Canadian millennials were unable to name even one concentration camp or ghetto; 49 percent of their U.S. counterparts also were unable to name even one.

As for the overall population, nearly one quarter of all Canadians (23 percent) believe that substantially less than 6 million Jews (2 million or fewer) were killed during the Holocaust, while another near-quarter (24 percent) were unsure of how many were killed.

And, yet, there is a bright side to the findings. Much like the U.S. study, the Canadian survey found that there is broad consensus about the importance of Holocaust education. Eighty-five percent of Canadians questioned say it is important to keep teaching about the Holocaust so that it does not happen again and 82 percent say all students should learn about the Holocaust while in school.

In addition, there seems to be a clear correlation between knowledge about the Holocaust and the likelihood of citizens to reject neo-Nazism and anti-Semitic behaviors. The less Canadians know about the Holocaust, the more likely they are to tolerate neo-Nazism. The correlation between knowledge and the rejection of neo-Nazism and anti-Semitic behaviors further underscores the importance of Holocaust education.

Moreover, the survey indicated that the Canadian perception of the neo-Nazi movement in the United States is far worse than their assessment of the neo-Nazi movement in their own country. Forty-seven percent of Canadian respondents say there are a “great deal” or “many” neo-Nazis in the U.S. compared to only 17 percent who say there are a “great deal” or “many” neo-Nazis in Canada. Statistics Canada reported in December that hate crimes against Jews in Canada spiked 60 percent since the previous year, with the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents rising from 221 in 2016 to 360 in 2017.

With so many leaders, educators and experts in both countries seeing the need and calling for mandatory Holocaust education and the general public in both countries in near complete agreement on the importance of Holocaust education, why has it not yet been implemented?

Holocaust survivors are deeply concerned about how the memory of what happened in the Holocaust will be preserved when they are gone. They offer their stories in schools and elsewhere and share their testimonies with museums and other archives, bearing witness to the appalling experience they endured, all in an effort to ensure that future generations know and do not repeat the atrocities of the past.

They want to know — and deserve an answer — who will ensure that the memories and lessons of the Holocaust are carried forward when they are no longer with us? We need to reassure them that we take this responsibility seriously by making comprehensive Holocaust education a national norm.

In examining these results we need to shine a lens inward and implore our legislators to take action. Holocaust education would go a long way in addressing much of the division, hatred and ignorance that fuels anti-Semitic behaviors and neo-Nazi beliefs.

Education mandates, teacher training and funding is only a policy decision away —  a decision that already has widespread support. We cannot wait for ignorance to spread and anti-Semitic incidents to rise even further. Holocaust survivors are counting on us to take action. Because if not now, when?

Greg Schneider is the executive vice president at The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference).