Global anti-Semitism demonstrates need for more Holocaust education

Global anti-Semitism demonstrates need for more Holocaust education
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As our nation continues to mourn the tragic shooting at a Chabad House in Poway, California, many in the media have sought to politicize the issue of anti-Semitism, pointing fingers at either the left or the right. But the truth is that this tragedy, which is similar to the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh just over six months ago, reflects a much broader trend of anti-Semitism and xenophobia that is gripping the world.

In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League found that there was a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. Around the world, anti-Semitic incidents are reaching a record high in recent history. To examine these trends, our firm has conducted studies on Holocaust knowledge and awareness in the United States, Canada, and Austria on behalf of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

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In each country, the results have been deeply disquieting. A majority of the respondents from all three countries agree that fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than they used to. Moreover, in each country, there are critical knowledge gaps when it comes to some basic Holocaust knowledge, such as the ability to name a concentration camp or ghetto, or knowledge that six million Jews had been killed.

As Jewish Americans, we were troubled by notions of the prevalence of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism in the United States. Seven in 10 Austrians and more than two-thirds of Americans believe there is anti-Semitism in the United States. Moreover, about half of adults in all three countries believe there are a great deal or many neo-Nazis in the United States.

To put this data into perspective, just about one-third of Austrians believe there are a great deal or many neo-Nazis in Austria, and just 17 percent of Canadians say the same about their own country. When we dived deeper into the data, the primary learning from our studies of the three countries is that the more people know about the Holocaust, the more likely they are to eschew Nazism, intolerance, and any vestiges of anti-Semitism.

Given a global crisis in Holocaust awareness that is coinciding with growing anti-Semitic sentiment, there is a dire need for a broad scale international strategy to educate people about the Holocaust. Popular opinion supports such educational intervention. A vast majority of the respondents in all three countries that we surveyed believe all students should learn about the Holocaust in school. Over three-quarters of the respondents in each country believe such education should be required.

While Holocaust education is already mandatory in Austria and in some states, simple awareness is not enough. We must enhance and expand the Holocaust curriculum with regard to teacher training and standardized learning plans based on facts to provide the historical and geographical context that our studies show can suppress anti-Semitism. Majorities of Americans, Canadians, and Austrians agree that it is important to keep teaching people about the Holocaust so that it never happens again.

The tragedy at the Poway synagogue underscores how critical it is that we take proactive measures to eradicate anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world. Comprehensive factual education is the best way to ensure that we uphold the core pillar of the Holocaust to never forget.

Douglas Schoen is a pollster and the founder of Schoen Consulting. Arielle Confino is the senior vice president of Schoen Consulting. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany commissioned their firm to conduct a study of Holocaust awareness in Austria. Read the study here.