Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. It’s Not Bad Holocaust Education… It’s Bad Education

 

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.

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  1. Django Member

    I can’t prove it, but I believe that if you control the perceptions of and knowledge of the past, you control the present and future.

    • #1
    • September 18, 2020, at 12:29 PM PDT
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  2. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk andJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’m skeptical of the reporting on this survey. I’d like to know how the question was presented. Was it a multiple-choice question with several different figures for how many Jews were murdered in the holocaust, and some of the people who answered incorrectly actually guessed a figure that was too high?

    Even if it wasn’t multiple-choice, I’m not 100% certain I personally would have answered such a question correctly. Like, if a pollster asked me how many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust I think my gut answer would have been 8 million.

    As for the names of concentration camps or ghettos I can only answer that question correctly because I was in the “gifted program” in middle school (1989) and we did an entire unit on the Holocaust. I do not recall it ever being covered in any of the regular history classes in middle school or high school, and even if it was covered it would surely have been a small section of a single history class. Probably a single day’s lesson. Why should the average person be expected to remember that particular datapoint from a single history class taken decades in the past?

    How much does anybody remember from their high school history classes? I was a history nerd who took lots of elective history classes (and got As in all of ’em, thank you very much) and I’d still be afraid to retake any of my high school history tests today without first being given at least some opportunity to study the material.

    • #2
    • September 18, 2020, at 12:51 PM PDT
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  3. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Bethany Mandel: almost half (48%) could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto established during the second world war.

    Does that mean that 52% could name a concentration camp? That seems to indicate that half of young adults have a deep education, while the other half have a poor (mis)education. Surprising different. I wonder what percent would identify The Holocaust as the tyranny of democratically elected government. This should be a prime example of the dangers of pure democracy and taught in high school government class. Precede it with Jim Crow and follow with the Holodomor and you have a powerful lesson in why our Constitution is makes it hard for a majority to persecute a minority. 

    • #3
    • September 18, 2020, at 1:15 PM PDT
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  4. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk andJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    I wonder what percent would identify The Holocaust as the tyranny of democratically elected government. This should be a prime example of the dangers of pure democracy and taught in high school government class.

    Quibble. The Nazi Party never held a majority of the seats in the Reichstag, even after Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenberg and despite waging a campaign of violence and terror during the election. The vote to pass the Enabling Act was clearly out-of-order according to the German constitution, and then Hitler banned all parties other than the Nazi Party. I don’t see how it serves as an example of “pure democracy” whatsoever. It only serves an an example of how constitutional democracy can be usurped by a party with zero qualms about using violence to achieve power.

    • #4
    • September 18, 2020, at 1:39 PM PDT
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  5. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    I wonder what percent would identify The Holocaust as the tyranny of democratically elected government. This should be a prime example of the dangers of pure democracy and taught in high school government class.

    Quibble. The Nazi Party never held a majority of the seats in the Reichstag, even after Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenberg and despite waging a campaign of violence and terror during the election. The vote to pass the Enabling Act was clearly out-of-order according to the German constitution, and then Hitler banned all parties other than the Nazi Party. I don’t see how it serves as an example of “pure democracy” whatsoever. It only serves an an example of how constitutional democracy can be usurped by a party with zero qualms about using violence to achieve power.

    I don’t agree with some of this. You are correct that the Nazis never won a majority, but then, neither has Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats. The Germans have a parliamentary system.

    The Nazis won 18.3% in 1930 (2nd place), 37.3% in July 1932 (1st place), 33.1% in November 1932 (1st place), and 43.9% in March 1933 (1st place). These were all competitive. Both the Nazis and the Communists engaged in a lot of violence, though my suspicion is that the Communists started it.

    Merkel’s party won 35.2% in 2005, 33.8% in 2009, 41.5% in 2013, and 32.9% in 2017 (1st in all 4 of these). This is about the same percentage that the Nazis received.

    I think that this history demonstrates one of the weaknesses of a parliamentary system, which creates quite a mess if no one can form a ruling coalition.

    Of course, the Nazis were quite odious. So were the Communists, and I think that the Nazi movement was principally a reaction to the earlier rise of the Communists in Germany.

     

    • #5
    • September 18, 2020, at 2:09 PM PDT
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  6. Stad Thatcher

    Bethany Mandel: Objectively, the Holocaust is one of the most interesting events in human history, especially in modern times.

    I would go further and say objectively, it was one of the most horrific events in human history. It’s sad our educational systen doesn’t go into detail about The Holocaust because our children won’t learn how a civilized people could elect a government that would implement such a vile system of killing innocent people. I look at every riot these days as a Kristallnacht in plain sight. Without the knowledge of the past, I worry we’re doomed to repeat it . . .

    • #6
    • September 18, 2020, at 2:09 PM PDT
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  7. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    I wonder what percent would identify The Holocaust as the tyranny of democratically elected government. This should be a prime example of the dangers of pure democracy and taught in high school government class.

    Quibble. The Nazi Party never held a majority of the seats in the Reichstag, even after Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenberg and despite waging a campaign of violence and terror during the election. The vote to pass the Enabling Act was clearly out-of-order according to the German constitution, and then Hitler banned all parties other than the Nazi Party. I don’t see how it serves as an example of “pure democracy” whatsoever. It only serves an an example of how constitutional democracy can be usurped by a party with zero qualms about using violence to achieve power.

    I think that example is a better analogy to our present circumstance. How many governors have pushed through their Covid-1984 restrictions autocratically?

    • #7
    • September 18, 2020, at 2:14 PM PDT
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  8. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Good post, Bethany. I think that you’re quite right. I suspect that young people are equally ignorant — or more ignorant — of the other death tolls in the 20th Century, including several that were much higher than the horrific number of Holocaust deaths (Russians killed by Hitler’s forces, Chinese killed by the Japanese, Russians killed by Stalin, Chinese killed by Mao) and some of which are comparable (probably the Ukranians in the Holodomor).

    Bethany Mandel: From a political perspective, it’s fascinating to discuss why so many other countries stood by, knowing what was happening inside Europe.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Who “stood by”? As I understand it, the killings in the Holocaust didn’t start, in significant numbers, until 1942. At that time, Britain had been at war — and losing — for more than 2 years; Russia was being badly beaten at that time; and the US had just entered the war in December 1941. How was anyone supposed to react any faster? The Allies — including the odious Soviets — were doing everything humanly possible to defeat the Nazis, at appalling cost. 

    You may not have implied this, but I think that it is unfair to allocate any responsibility for the Holocaust to either the US or Britain.

    • #8
    • September 18, 2020, at 2:27 PM PDT
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  9. Stina Member

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):
    Like, if a pollster asked me how many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust I think my gut answer would have been 8 million.

    Which is a gross over-estimation, but definitely reflects the trend since the 1950s of revising the number ever upwards. I think 6M is the current “consensus” number and is a rounding of the actual number, but that the number has historically been reported anywhere between 3 – 5+M.

    • #9
    • September 18, 2020, at 6:05 PM PDT
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  10. KevinKrisher Coolidge

    Part of the problem is that such profound evil is difficult for many people to accept as real. That’s why Dwight Eisenhower ordered that the death camps be documented on film as soon as they were liberated: so that future generations would have a harder time dismissing them as mere fiction or exaggeration.

    • #10
    • September 18, 2020, at 6:49 PM PDT
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  11. Django Member

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):

    Part of the problem is that such profound evil is difficult for many people to accept as real. That’s why Dwight Eisenhower ordered that the death camps be documented on film as soon as they were liberated: so that future generations would have a harder time dismissing them as mere fiction or exaggeration.

    In my ROTC class we were shown the films and told that Eisenhower directed that those doing the filming do the filming continuously so they could not be accused of editing for effect. 

    • #11
    • September 18, 2020, at 7:29 PM PDT
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  12. GrannyDude Member

    As it happens, I was brought in to several schools, back in the late 90s and early 2000s to teach about the Holocaust—or rather, was the “guest speaker” talking to kids already studying the subject, about the rescue of the Danish Jews. One group was in sixth grade, and the other were high schoolers.

    I agree that it ought to be taught, in depth, for a number of reasons. First, simply because it happened, it is part of American history as well as European and World History, and people should know about their history. Next, because that historical epoch is used (and misused) as reference point and parable for Americans in the present day (e.g. “Is It Okay To Punch A Nazi?”).

    And mostly because it represents an unusual historical example of human evil in that it is contained within a specific and relatively short time and place. It can thus be told as a story with a beginning, middle and end, all encompassed more or less within a twelve year period. Since the time is relatively brief, the characters are relatively few —Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Goring, Chamberlain, Churchill etc. Since the time is relatively recent, these characters operate in a recognizable technological world—they have cars, airplanes, phones, radio and movies; work in medicine, science, engineering or pop music. All of this is available to us in visual media. You can watch a YouTube video of Eva Braun, showing off her fitness routine beside a lake, dressed more or less as modern young women are dressed.

    All of this makes it easy for young Americans (or old ones) to attempt to locate themselves in the story, to wonder “okay…what would I do? Who would I be, in that situation?”
    I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but when I did my presentation on the rescue of the Danish Jews to a group of sixth graders back in 1999 or so, there was one little boy who was especially rapt. At last, he burst out: “I could do that! I could fill my Dad’s lobster boat with all kinds of Jews and hide them out on Matinicus!”

    He, in other words, located himself in the story as a rescuer, a hero. (That kid is now an adult, and serves as a police officer in South Portland, Maine).

    • #12
    • September 19, 2020, at 2:43 PM PDT
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  13. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/many-britons-think-gandhi-never-existed-churchill-was-a-fictional-character/articleshow/2756814.cms

    • #13
    • September 20, 2020, at 9:48 AM PDT
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  14. Stina Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/many-britons-think-gandhi-never-existed-churchill-was-a-fictional-character/articleshow/2756814.cms

    This seems more of a trust thing than an education thing.

    • #14
    • September 20, 2020, at 10:20 AM PDT
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