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Perhaps I live in a bubble, but I saw a lot of chatter about this new survey about Holocaust education this week in my social circles, which are predominantly Jewish. There was a great deal of discussion about anti-Semitism with these results, which signal a deep ignorance about the Holocaust among American young people. The Guardian reports on the findings,
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.
I don’t think these results have much to do with anti-Semitism or Holocaust education. These numbers are a snapshot of a larger issue in American education. Objectively, the Holocaust is one of the most interesting events in human history, especially in modern times. From a sociological perspective, one has to wonder how so many European citizens could be complicit in such horror. From a political perspective, it’s fascinating to discuss why so many other countries stood by, knowing what was happening inside Europe. One could spend an entire year discussing the myriad big questions that arise from the Holocaust and from the Second World War; countless books and documentaries have been devoted to the topic.
And yet, students emerging from American schools know nothing. They don’t just know nothing about the Holocaust, they don’t know anything period. If they know so little about one of the most interesting events in history, there’s no hope they have any grasp on anything else.
This is yet another data point in what should be sending off an alarm on the state of American education, yet we know it won’t. We’ll keep on talking about how stupid 20 and 30-somethings are instead of taking a hard look at how they came to be so ignorant. They may be ignorant of basic history, but the fault for that lies with our society.Published in