A Stunning Number Of Young Americans Lack “Basic Holocaust Knowledge,” Survey Finds

A 50-state survey found nearly 11% of Millennials and Gen Z respondents thought that Jews caused the Holocaust.

Watchtowers of former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex are pictured in Oswiecim. | REUTERS/AXEL SCHMIDT
Watchtowers of former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex are pictured in Oswiecim. | REUTERS/AXEL SCHMIDT

A survey of 11,000 young Americans found that an alarming number of them lacked basic knowledge about the Holocaust.

The U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey was commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, also known as the Claims Conference, an organization that seeks justice and care for Jewish Holocaust victims. American firm Schoen Cooperman Research conducted the survey.

According to the commissioner, it is the first 50-state survey on Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Gen Z.

State-by-state results found a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge,” exacerbated by a shrinking number of living survivors available to give firsthand accounts of the World War II genocide.

“The results are both shocking and saddening, and they underscore why we must act now while Holocaust survivors are still with us to voice their stories,” said Claims Conference president Gideon Taylor. “We need to understand why we aren’t doing better in educating a younger generation about the Holocaust and the lessons of the past. This needs to serve as a wake-up call to us all, and as a road map of where government officials need to act.”

The survey interviewed 200 adults ages 18 to 39 via landline phone with a representative sample of 1,000 interviews nationwide.

Its “Holocaust knowledge score” was calculated based on the percentage of respondents who met all three criteria: having “definitively heard about the Holocaust,” being able to name at least one concentration camp, death camp, or ghetto, and knowing that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

The states with the highest survey scores included Wisconsin, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine, Kansas, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Iowa, and Montana; the states with the lowest scores were Alaska, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

The survey also found that 48% of millennial and Gen Z respondents in the U.S. could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto that was established during World War II. According to the organization’s breakdown of the survey results, more than 4,000 were established during that period.

When asked how many Jews were killed during the Holocaust, 63% of respondents didn’t know six million were killed, and 36% answered that two million or fewer were killed.

In one of the most stark takeaways, 11% of respondents responded that Jews started the Holocaust, with the peak response reaching 19% in New York. Nearly half (49%) of respondents also said that they had been exposed to some form on Holocaust denial on social media or elsewhere online.

However, the survey also found that 64% said that Holocaust education should be compulsory in school, and that 80% said it was important to continue educating people about the Holocaust so that it does not happen again.

“We came to realize that, although a number of states already mandate Holocaust education which is an excellent first step...for the mandates to have a significant effect in classrooms there must be state funding to support the mandates,” Claims Conference Holocaust task force leader Matthew Bronfman said. “The Holocaust is a broad topic. Specialized teacher training and thoughtfully developed curriculum are needed for students to benefit.”

During an event commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day — at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp — survivors cautioned that incidents of anti-Semitism have been rising worldwide in recent years. The event coincided with the 75th anniversary of the death camp’s liberation.

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said at the event that at the end of World War II, “the world finally saw pictures of gas chambers, nobody in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Nazis.”

“But now I see something I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” he continued, “the open and brazen spread of anti-Jewish hatred.”