Dwindling Holocaust knowledge is driving global anti-Semitism crisis
This week, the world marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp by the allied forces. However, the Jewish community still finds itself under attack, and anti-Semitism is on the rise acros the world, with levels not seen since the heyday of Nazism.
In the United States, the killing of two Jews in a Kosher supermarket in New Jersey and the stabbing of five Jews at the home of a rabbi in New York are the latest signs of growing anti-Semitism. The attacks targeted Jewish community members, raising alarm bells for those who believe “never again” must truly mean never again. The rise in anti-Semitism is deeply concerning and brings us to the critical issue of “never forget.”
While there is no silver bullet, there is broad consensus that increased Holocaust education is a vital tool in combatting anti-Semitism. However, there are still critical and concerning gaps in Holocaust knowledge and awareness. A recent survey about Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness, which was conducted by our firm in France on behalf of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, shows it is no coincidence that levels of Holocaust knowledge and awareness are at historic lows as anti-Semitism reaches crisis levels across the United States and Europe.
The results of our survey in France highlight a lack of general Holocaust awareness and alarming deficit in detailed and factual knowledge. The French findings are similar to our findings from similar surveys we have conducted in the United States, Canada, and Austria, which also revealed that the more people know about the Holocaust, the less likely they are to condone anti-Semitism. Put another way, when people lack the facts in Holocaust knowledge, they are more susceptible to anti-Semitic beliefs that could potentially intensify and manifest in targeted acts of violence.
This finding is critical. It suggests clearly and unambiguously that we must do a better job at educating people about the Holocaust, especially young people from communities with little interaction with Jewish people, much less survivors. Indeed, our France survey has confirmed that there are vast Holocaust knowledge gaps overall, and particularly among Millennials and Generation Z. A majority at 57 percent of all French people surveyed did not know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. That number rose to an astounding 69 percent among Millennials and Generation Z.
This pervasive lack of knowledge is consistent across all countries that we have previously surveyed. The fact that so much misinformation exists in France, a country where the Holocaust took place, is jarring as is the fact that a majority at 59 percent of French adults surveyed say that people care less about the Holocaust than they used to. Even more alarming is the fact that, as we saw in the United States, more than half of French respondents think “something like the Holocaust could happen again.”
Positively, there is a desire among the French for more robust Holocaust education. Of the respondents, 82 percent believe it is important to teach about the Holocaust in school, in part so it does not happen again, while 75 percent believe Holocaust education should be compulsory. How then do we optimize Holocaust education to combat anti-Semitism and ensure that students all across the world are leaving school equipped to lead the next generation in ensuring that no such travesty ever happens again?
The answer is simple. Countries must expanding teacher training and administer standardized lesson plans that cover the Holocaust in a way that is grounded in dates, facts, names, and geography. With the number of Holocaust survivors declining, firsthand memoirs are not enough. The United States and France are the birthplaces of liberty and freedom, and are also home to the largest Jewish communities in the world outside of Israel. As such, the importance of Holocaust education within these two countries simply cannot be understated, and the current failures of both educational systems needs to be properly corrected before it is too late.
If the slogans “never again” and “never forget” are to be worthy of the weight they carry, educators, governments, and private organizations must step up now and make Holocaust education a centerpiece of the conversation. Only through systemic structural changes to Holocaust education can this dangerous scourge of anti-Semitism be eradicated.
Douglas Schoen is a pollster and founder of Schoen Consulting. Arielle Confino is a senior vice president of Schoen Consulting. Zoe Young is a senior strategist at Schoen Consulting. The France Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study was conducted by Schoen Consulting on behalf of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Read it here.