History

New Survey on Public Ignorance About the Holocaust

The poll shows extensive ignorance among millenials and Generation Z, and is consistent with many previous studies showing widespread ignorance about politics and history. But one of its findings may be less bad than it looks.

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Yad Vashem archives.

 

A recent survey conducted on behalf of the Conference on Material Jewish Claims Against Germany has attracted widespread  attention, because it finds extensive ignorance about the Holocaust among millennials and members of "Generation Z." Here is an excerpt from the Claims Conference's summary of its findings:

Gideon Taylor, President of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), today announced the release of the U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, the first-ever 50-state survey on Holocaust knowledge among Millennials and Gen Z. The surprising state-by-state results highlight a worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge….

Nationally, there is a clear lack of awareness of key historical facts; 63 percent of all national survey respondents do not know that six million Jews were murdered and 36 percent thought that "two million or fewer Jews" were killed during the Holocaust. Additionally, although there were more than 40,000 camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust, 48 percent of national survey respondents cannot name a single one…

56 percent of U.S. Millennial and Gen Z were unable to identify Auschwitz-Birkenau, and there was virtually no awareness of concentration camps and ghettos overall. Only six percent of respondents are familiar with the infamous Dachau camp, while awareness of Bergen-Belsen (three percent), Buchenwald (one percent) and Treblinka (one percent) is virtually nonexistent…..

When asked how many Jews were killed during the Holocaust, 63 percent of Millennials and Gen Z did not know six million Jews were murdered. The states with the lowest scores for this question are Arkansas with 69 percent, followed by Delaware with 68 percent, Arizona with 67 percent, Mississippi and Tennessee with 66 percent, and Hawaii, Iowa, Vermont, and West Virginia with 65 percent.

When broken down further, 36 percent of Millennials and Gen Z thought that two million or fewer Jews were murdered. Arkansas ranks as the state with the lowest awareness of this widely known data point, with 37 percent believing two million or fewer were murdered, followed by 36 percent in Georgia, Indiana and Ohio; 35 percent in Minnesota; and 34 percent in Arizona, Iowa, Kentucky and New Hampshire….

In perhaps one of the most disturbing revelations of this survey, 11 percent of U.S. Millennial and Gen Z respondents believe Jews caused the Holocaust.

The findings were more disturbing in New York where an astounding 19 percent of respondents felt Jews caused the Holocaust; followed by 16 percent in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Montana and 15 percent in Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Nevada and New Mexico.

These results are consistent with previous studies finding widespread public ignorance about the Holocaust, particularly among younger survey respondents. Such ignorance is unfortunate, and commentators are right to worry about its potential implications.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that public ignorance about the Holocaust is part of a much broader pattern of widespread ignorance about history, science, politics, and even the basic structure of government. In a world where a majority of Americans cannot name the three branches of government, don't know when the Civil War happened, and support mandatory labeling of food containing DNA, it isn't surprising that many do not know how many Jews died in the Holocaust and cannot name a single ghetto or concentration camp.

Ignorance about the Holocaust is not a unique phenomenon driven by anti-Semitism or by some desire on the part of educators to cover up the truth about this specific event. It is one of many manifestations of a more general problem of public ignorance. Indeed, I suspect that more systematic analysis would find that public ignorance about the Holocaust is actually less severe than that about many other historical events. For example, it is likely that many more Americans know what the Holocaust was than have heard of Mao  Zedong's Great Leap Forward, the  largest mass murder in the entire history of the world, with a death toll several times greater than the Holocaust.

The point here is not to suggest that ignorance about the Holocaust is unimportant, or that the Great Leap Forward and other similar communist atrocities were necessarily worse than the Holocaust. Any comparison of the latter type cannot focus solely on numbers alone; and in any event, there is no doubt that the Holocaust was a massive atrocity of world-historical scale that only a few other events can even begin to be compared to. I lost several relatives in the Holocaust myself, and have no desire to somehow downgrade its importance.

Rather, the point is that ignorance about the Holocaust is part of a broader pattern. Any solution to the problem probably cannot focus on the Holocaust alone, but must consider the broader issue of historical and political ignorance, as well. For reasons elaborated in my book, Democracy and Political Ignorance, increasing public knowledge of politics and history is likely to prove a much tougher challenge than some imagine it to be. In the meantime, public ignorance about the Holocaust, communist mass murders, and other historical events makes it more likely that we will fail to learn the lessons of these tragic events, and thus be at greater risk of repeating them.

While many of the findings of the Claims Conference survey are indeed troubling (even if unsurprising), one has been overblown: the result that 11 percent of millennial and Gen Z respondents believe that Jews "caused" the Holocaust. The Conference calls this"one of its most disturbing revelations." But in fact, it is a poorly worded question. The full wording asks respondents to say "Who or what do you think caused the Holocaust?" It also allows them to give multiple answers. For example, 72% said "Hitler," 62% said "Germany" and 13% indicated "World War I." Thus, it is likely that many of those who listed "the Jews" also indicated other causes.

In addition, the word "caused" has multiple meanings. In some situations, it indicates moral responsibility for the even in question. In others, it might merely indicate that X "caused" Y in the purely empirical sense that Y could not have happened without it, even if X doesn't bear any moral responsibility. This understanding of "caused" is likely in play for those respondents who indicated World War I as a cause (since an event is not a moral agent that can be assigned moral blame).

Similarly, one can say that Jews "caused" the Holocaust in an nonblameworthy sense of that term. For example, the mere existence of Jews as a distinct ethnic and religious group in Europe was a causal prerequisite to the Holocaust (and other anti-Semitic persecutions). In the same way, the relative success of Jews in some economic and cultural endeavors sparked envy and hatred that might have contributed to anti-Semitism, even though it is wrong to assign moral blame to the Jews for that state of affairs.

It is likely that some of those who said the Jews "caused" the Holocaust really do buy into anti-Semitic tropes to the effect that the Jews were morally blameworthy for their own persecution. But we should not assume that all or even the majority of respondents who referenced the Jews necessarily had that idea in mind. The designers of the survey should have done a better job of wording this question.

At the same time, there are plenty of disturbing findings in the survey even if we discount this particular question. And better-designed questions do sometimes find large numbers of respondents endorsing anti-Semitic tropes. For example, a 2009 study found that some 25% of Americans believed that "the Jews" deserved at least "a moderate" amount of "blame" for the 2008 financial crisis (note the use of the  morally loaded word "blame" rather than "cause").

The relatively "good" news is that public ignorance about the Holocaust is not a special case, and that one of the most disturbing findings in the Claims Conference survey may be the result of poor question wording. The bad news is that this is just the tip of a much larger iceberg of dangerous public ignorance about politics and history.

NEXT: "UCLA Reinstates Professor Suspended for Email on Why He Wouldn’t Change Exam, Grading for Black Students"

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  1. The ISI has been making an issue of this since 2006
    See: https://www.americancivicliteracy.org/summary-2/

    And when you realize that some incredibly high percentage (half?) didn’t know that we’d ever fought a war with Germany, ignorance of the Holocaust is not surprising. Most TEACHERS don’t know this stuff.

    But you better be sure they know their microaggressions…..

    I do fear for the future of the Republic.

    1. Similar ignorance has always been a fact of life and has nothing to do with the staying power of the Republic. I have no doubt that Plato was bemoaning the ignorance of kids those days.

      1. And with reason, because they killed his teacher.

        1. What?!? Kenny was a teacher?

          1. OMG, they Killed Kenny? The bastards.

      2. No. Plato presumed they’d all be chained facing a wall, only seeing the enlightened wisdom reflected into the cave.

        We trust these kids with voting….

  2. Even lower numbers have working knowledge of our form of constitutional government.

    1. • 71% of Americans failed the civics knowledge test;
      • 51% of Americans could not name the three branches of government;
      • The average score for college seniors on the civics knowledge test was 54.2% (an “F” by any standard);
      • The average student’s test score improved only 3.8 points from freshman to senior year;
      • Freshmen at Cornell, Yale, Princeton, and Duke scored better than seniors on the civics knowledge test.
      • 79% of elected officials that took the civics knowledge quiz did not know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the government from establishing a religion.
      • 30% of office holders did not know that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence.
      • 27% of politicians could not name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.
      • 43% did not know the purpose of the Electoral College.
      • 39% of lawmakers believe the power of declaring war belongs to the president.
      • >The average score for college professors who took the civics knowledge quiz was 55%.

      1. • 27% of politicians could not name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

        “Guaranteed” is way to optimistic. Rights are inalienable, and protected from government interference.

      2. “• The average score for college seniors on the civics knowledge test was 54.2% (an “F” by any standard)”

        54.2% is a passing score on several tests. For example, the multistate legal ethics exam generally requires a score in the top 85% of candidates (your state may vary).
        Air Force basic military training rifle training in the 1980’s had a passing score of 0 hits (with no range safety violations). At the other end of the scale, I passed with 57 hits out of 40 rounds. The guy next to me misadjusted his sights and kept hitting my target, costing me the sharpshooter medal. I couldn’t convince the range marshal who was scoring my target that the hits clustered on the center of the target were mine, and the ones scattered all over the target were from the guy who couldn’t hit his own target.

        1. In the 2017 Putnam Competition (a grueling test targeting elite college math students), the most common score was 0 out of 120. Over half of the participants scored 2 or less. 90th percentile was 32, 99th was 61, and the highest score out of 3493 participants was 90.

    2. You don’t have to know how the government works to be elected President. You just blame the Deep State for it not working when you run it.

  3. SIX MILLION? Seriously? C’mon. Any citations for six million? Propaganda.

    Newsflash: The official jewish number was revised to 2.4 million. Holohoax is so full of errors it is just fraud. Young people today don’t know a lot of history. There is a lot of history to chose from. Why jewish history? Who cares? More jewish mandates to teach the joy the fabricated suffering of a white privileged minority falsely claiming ancestry to an ancient religion of dark and tanned skin folks? These Ashkenazi jews are a nightmare.

    The jews have been tossed out of 109 countries for a reason.

    1. It was actually TWELVE MILLION, half of whom were Jews.

      And the reason we know this is because the Nazis kept meticulous records.

      1. It could be as high as 20 million murdered people, half of whom were Jews. But, considering how unpopular Judaism and Israel are on modern campuses, most millenials probably just think this is just a bunch of old news about a bunch of dead Jews that they couldn’t care less about.

    2. Well that was quick. Only Twenty-Eight minutes between the post and a comment with rabid antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

      1. It wouldn’t be a comments section without holocaust denial and our good Reverend Kirkland making offensive comments.

        1. Bigots find me offensive.

          I am content.

          1. I find you offensive because you lack intellectual value. You used to sometimes offer interesting insights, now you just regurgitate the same trite insults. Sad to say but you’ve become rather tiresome.

            1. It has to do with expectations. If you actually knew he was a Border Collie who posts when his master is at work, you would find him impressive.

            2. “I find you offensive because you lack intellectual value.”

              Whereas your every comment is a delight of whimsy and applied wit.

          2. How do you feel about evangelical Christians, Reverend?

      2. He thinks if its only 2.4 million we should ignore it like that is just routine.

    3. Must be a Ukranian. Like the Poles, they have a bug up their ass when they’re called out for having collaborated with the Nazis in murdering Jews. You can tell that certain people are really, really sorry for all that murder, but also wish that it had been more successful so that they could be sorry in peace without the inconvenience of Jews still being around.

      1. Yeah, I can see why the ex-Soviet states take exception to Holocaust history. The Jews they killed were not necessarily singled out for their religion, so they don’t have the meticulous records the Reich did. The Jews in their countries died of starvation or in the gulags with the other 40 million+ that collectivization and the purges killed. They want to believe they killed more Jews, but they just can’t prove it.

        1. they don’t have the meticulous records the Reich did. The Jews in their countries died of starvation or in the gulags with the other 40 million+ that collectivization and the purges killed. They want to believe they killed more Jews, but they just can’t prove it.

          It’s true they didn’t keep records the way the Germans did, but they killed plenty of Jews during – and after – the war for no other reason than that they were Jews.

          Some Jews of course were sent to gulags and the like, but not many, only because there were not many left.

          1. for no other reason than that they were Jews

            I didn’t mean to imply that they didn’t. The Russian and Ukrainian pogroms predated the war by 30-50 years and were probably an inspiration to the Germans.

        2. Poles and Ukranians were killing Jews for 700 years before Hitler was born.

          1. And they kept it up when Hitler came along.

            Indeed, they were glad of the help.

      2. “Must be a Ukranian. Like the Poles, they have a bug up their ass when they’re called out for having collaborated with the Nazis in murdering Jews.”

        “They”? Sounds like a broad generalization.

        Incidentally, “called out” sounds like criticizing someone for using “the wrong pronouns.”

        1. Sounds like a broad generalization.

          But not an inaccurate one.

    4. At least the Russian bots are giving themselves Russian names these days.

      1. Good point. That was considerate of them/it. 🙂

  4. Well, you can teach Holocaust, or you can teach all white men are evil.
    There isn’t time for both, you know.

  5. If it makes you feel better, compared to other atrocities, people are actually very aware of the Holocaust and Nazis if only in a vague sense enough to use as an insult in a twitter spat. OTOH take the communist mass murders or the supposed genocide of indians which people are almost completely unaware of or have such a warped understanding of they might as well be thinking of fictional events.

    1. Marxists are common enough on campuses. Makes me wretch to think of it. Of course, prior Marxists weren’t true Marxists.

  6. If you grew up believing global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, or that the Sandy Hook victims were crisis actors, you’re a lot more likely to believe that the Holocaust was just another hoax.

    1. Because millennial are famed for their conservative beliefs and subscription to ‘rightwing’ conspiracy theories.

      1. As we see from the survey, it’s only a small percentage. Still disturbing though.

        1. Unlike Progs I think a degree of dissent is a sign of a healthy society. For instance, even though I am generally supportive of centrist (or socalled rightwing) policies. I would be skeptical of the viability of a society where everybody was a centrist. There is space for leftwingers to provide some balancing perspective. Ideally not enough to do any damage and far from the dominant position they have today but a bit of room and maybe even for a few people whose views are far from the mainstream in either direction.

          1. ” I would be skeptical of the viability of a society where everybody was a centrist.”

            Why do you hate America?

  7. If ignorance is bliss, why are so many Millennials so unhappy?

    1. “If ignorance is bliss, why are so many Millennials so unhappy?”

      turns out money can buy happiness, and they don’t have any.

      1. That is the most amusing thing you’ve ever written. I disagree with much of what you say but I must give credit where credit is due.

        Cheers.

        1. Gee, thanks, I guess.

  8. I’m not too worried.

    There’s enough Holocaust deniers to remind us that something happened.

    Same goes for Anti-vacciners, Climate-change hoaxers, Flat earthers, and Christians / Muslims / Jews; they continuously bring up their fantasies which forces us to continuously debuke.

    1. All those darn Christians rioting and killing police officers and canceling anybody with contrary beliefs and blatantly discriminating against students based solely on the color of their skin and mutilating young children with hormonal drugs and manipulating video footage to try to frame a completely innocent atheist boy who was accosted by a fanatical Christian protestor with drums. Those rascally Christians that have all the power controlling all major institutions in society from colleges to Hollywood to the media and have all the major corporations bow down to them proclaiming the need to obey Christ on their Twitter and Instagram accounts. This totally accurate perception of current society totally shows how noninsane you are.

    2. “forces us to continuously debuke”

      I don’t know what debuking is, but it sounds unpleasant.

    3. Also not worried. “Rounding up the Jews” doesn’t crack the top 500 problems of today. Name one person of influence today who is in any way anti-semitic. Farukan doesn’t count and nor does Jesse Jackson, they are fringe actors these days.

      1. How about, off the top of my head:

        Ilhan Omar
        Rashida Tlaib
        Linda Sarsour

        Obviously, I am limiting myself to Americans. There are also right-wing creeps like Richard Spencer and David Duke, but I don’t see that they have much actual influence these days.

        1. You hear those people saying they’ll round up the Jews?

          1. “in any way antisemitic”

  9. I’m always grateful that I took a class on the Holocaust in undergrad taught by a historian of Jews in Germany. But even that is still barely scratching the surface of this immense topic.

  10. Best to keep people ignorant of history. Makes it that much easier to repeat it

  11. For my generation the Holocaust is very much seen as something boomer and completely remote from our current times. Which make sense no one cares about the Bataan death march anymore either. And i doubt anyone cared about Andersonville prison in the 1940s either.

    1. Those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat the same mistakes that were made then

      1. Describe, please, the American mistakes that led to the Holocaust.

        1. While this wasn’t the entire cause of the holocaust, it of course, didn’t help.

          https://www.history.com/news/wwii-jewish-refugee-ship-st-louis-1939

          1. Describe, please, the American mistakes that led to the Holocaust.

            1. You know, instead of things that “didn’t help”.

  12. I cannot look at WWII, Jew/gypsy/homo victimization, and holocaust films; they show our capacity for evil, whether factually or theoretically.

    On the other hand, to finally realize that much of our news and history are rigged or fabricated will remain problematic forever. It has nothing to do whether one is “for or against.” Can I remain convinced great evil occurred last mid-century and that our government-media may have possibly framed the horrors of WWII for other purposes? I’ve no ideas as to such purposes.

    1. The single most unappreciated human value is our ability to treat each other shamefully. The US army used to (and may still) have training where where half a platoon would be POW’s and the other half guards. After two days they would reverse roles. The first half guards would treat their prisoners like crap even though they knew full well they’d be prisoners two days later.

      1. This is a variant of the Stanford Prison Experiment,which was itself partly funded by the Navy.

        Another fun psychology experiment is the one where the subject of the test is tasked operating a control that they believe is inflicting electric shock on another person. The idea is to see how hard it is to get the test subject to inflict more and more serious shocks, even as the supposed victim pretends to be suffering more and more.

  13. While many of the findings of the Claims Conference survey are indeed troubling (even if unsurprising), one has been overblown: the result that 11 percent of millennial and Gen Z respondents believe that Jews “caused” the Holocaust. The Conference calls this”one of its most disturbing revelations.” But in fact, it is a poorly worded question. The full wording asks respondents to say “Who or what do you think caused the Holocaust?” It also allows them to give multiple answers. For example, 72% said “Hitler,” 62% said “Germany” and 13% indicated “World War I.” Thus, it is likely that many of those who listed “the Jews” also indicated other causes.

    Yeah, I don’t think that helps very much. It’s like saying, “72% blamed the rapist, 62% said inept policing was a problem, and only 13% also mentioned that a hot girl like that shouldn’t have been wearing those fuck me heels.”

    1. or like saying blacks caused slavery

    2. I would argue that the result doesn’t necessarily evince anti-semitism for a different reason. Believing that Jews caused the Holocaust would indeed be anti-semitic. But who said the respondents believed that? That particular question was not asked only of those with actual knowledge of the Holocaust; it was asked of anyone who answered yes to “Have you ever seen or heard the word Holocaust before?” (Emphasis added.) So it included a lot of people who knew nothing about the topic. If you ask someone, “Who or what caused the Interregnum?” and give them a list of choices, and they—not wanting to admit they are clueless—pick one, that doesn’t mean that they’re actually accusing their answer of something. It just reflects ignorance.

      Not that ignorance about the Holocaust is good, but it’s different than anti-semitism.

      1. That’s a much better argument, but I still don’t think it explains away “the Jews did it,” regardless of what question the respondents thought they were answering.

      2. “Not that ignorance about the Holocaust is good, but it’s different than anti-semitism.”

        There’s an argument to be made that the two are related, but it’s tenuous at best and requires conspiracy-theory levels of paranoia.

        The Jews should remember the Holocaust along with the Roman oppression in Judea.
        “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”
        Present-day Germans should remember the Holocaust because there are pieces of it still lying around the landscape. Others may or may not remember, depending on how they share experiences that are relevant.
        Purging the Jews from Germany is how Hitler made sure the United States got the atom bomb first. The Jewish scientists fled to us, and we put them to work.

  14. Of course, when asked the question “why should American non-Jews have any, much less, extensive, knowledge of the Holocaust, the answer is… not compelling.

    Now, the facts of the Holocaust are significant for German citizens,and Jews of any nationality for sure. Much of the rest of Europe, less so. For Americans, barely any. It didn’t happen here.

    It’s necessary context to understand the X-Men movies, and, to a lesser extent, to understand American support of Israel in present-day.

    1. Looking at the survey its amazing how little the respondents knew about the holocost outside Germany.

    2. Of course, when asked the question “why should American non-Jews have any, much less, extensive, knowledge of the Holocaust, the answer is… not compelling.

      The answer was given by Santayana.

      1. Santayana would have made so much fun of the holocaust museum.

      2. “The answer was given by Santayana.”

        As I said, not compelling.

        1. it’s still not OUR history. America is only involved as it was Allied soldiers who liberated the camps.

          1. It’s human history.
            We’re human.
            Therefore it’s OUR history.

            1. That’s a better try.

              It’s just a tiny bit of the story of human history, no more important than any other. If it gets lost in the shuffle because a student is more interested in other aspects of human history which are closer to his or her own experience(s), why is that a problem? Leave Santayana out of it this time.

        2. You confuse your subjective refusal to be compelled with the objective compellingness of the argument.

          1. that also is not a compelling argument.

  15. But even if they’re vague of the specifics of what Hitler did, they still get to call people Hitler, right?

  16. Yes, well, young people today know even less about the Crimes committed in the name of Communism.

    1. “I have in my hand the names of 50 communists who have infiltrated the State Department”

  17. What caught me about the first time I saw that survey was the 6 million number. My immediate though was that they asked random people to name how many jews died in the holocaust and people guessed the wrong number. I’d like to see that question and the answer section in particular because it sound like people failed a trivia question, not that they didn’t realize the holocaust happened.

  18. I expect there to be a good amount of ignorance about any particular bit of history; hard to incentivize info retention. Most of the posters here have the luxury to spend some time on intellectual pursuits.

    On the other hand a bunch of these questions seems like set-ups tailor made to result in some clickbaity eye-opening bad numbers.

  19. I am moderately surprised that an article flirting with holocaust denial, rationalizing anti-semitism, and arguing against historical education on the holocaust would appear on this blog. The surprise is tempered by the fact that the blog’s far-left blogger is the one making this post.

    1. The Liberal Conspiracy strikes again!

    2. And have you seen him? He’s the spitting image of Julius Rosenberg! Or is it FDR? Now I’m not sure. I just know it’s a famous communist Jew.

    3. I don’t think it’s possible to describe the incredulity that emerges when someone refers to Ilya Somin as far-left.

      1. If everybody else is far enough to the right, then anyone can be far-left by taking a centrist position or two.

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