Americans’ awareness of the details of the Holocaust is fading as that historic crime recedes into the past. We cannot accept this.
A survey conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, found that 41 percent of Americans couldn’t identify Auschwitz as one of the concentration camps or death camps where Jews and others unwanted by the Nazis were systematically put to death. Some 31 percent of Americans erroneously think that fewer than 2 million Jews died in the Holocaust, the survey found.
In all cases, the ignorance is greatest for Millennials, that age group between 18 and 34. This also happens to be the group increasingly unlikely to subscribe to a newspaper.
On the positive side, Americans overwhelmingly — 93 percent — believe all students should learn about the Holocaust in school. And 80 percent say it is important to keep teaching about the Holocaust so it does not happen again. (One wonders why there is a 13-percentage-point gap between those two numbers).
This survey should not be taken as the final word on this subject. It was commissioned by a group passionately committed to keeping public awareness of the Holocaust alive, so it is not completely unbiased. And, the survey of 1,350 adults does not disclose much demographic detail, which would have to be disclosed for any political survey to have credibility.
That said, the survey has the ring of truth, and it should prompt re-examination of how American and world history is taught in our high schools and colleges to make sure that the shameful truth of the Holocaust is not diluted or allowed to be explained away.
The Holocaust is one of the most dramatic events of human history and there is constant pressure to deny or minimize it. In Poland, it is now a crime to speak of “Polish death camps,” even though there were hundreds of Nazi death camps in Poland carrying out the Holocaust. Israel’s inability to move toward a peaceful solution with the Palestinians is having the effect of undercutting the worldwide sympathy that the Jewish people had for decades after World War II.
It must not be forgotten that a supposedly highly civilized European country, predominantly Christian, planned and came close to successfully executing the extermination of a religious minority. We in the United States were on the winning side in that war, but it was not a foregone conclusion that we would enter the war, and there were many in this country, bound by the slogan “America First,” who wanted to turn a blind eye.
America didn’t fall for it then. We must not fall for it now.
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