A survey released on Holocaust Remembrance Day Thursday found that many Americans, especially millennials, lack basic knowledge of the Holocaust, the mass extermination of Jews in the mid-20th century. More than one-fifth of millennials surveyed said they were unsure if they'd ever heard of the Holocaust, while many millennials and adults drastically understated the number of Jews killed in Nazi Germany's campaign of genocide.
The poll was conducted by Schoen Consulting at the behest of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. In the survey, 31 percent of all Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, incorrectly claimed that 2 million Jews at most were killed in the Holocaust. In reality, the extermination campaign killed approximately 6 million Jews, or one-third of the global Jewish population at the time.
In addition, the majority of Americans of all ages were unable to properly identify any countries, other than Germany, in which the Holocaust took place. For instance, although 3 million Polish Jews were killed by Nazi Germany, only 37 percent of adults knew that the Holocaust took place in Poland at all. Likewise, over 90 percent of Americans were unaware that the Holocaust extended into the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, when in fact 90 percent of those countries' Jewish populations were killed.
On a slightly more encouraging note, most of the Americans surveyed did seem to grasp the significance of the Holocaust in a more general sense. Over 90 percent of the respondents said that the Holocaust should be taught in all schools, while 80 percent said that it's important to continue teaching it so that it doesn't happen again. Moreover, the vast majority of respondents, 89 percent, said that it was unacceptable to hold neo-Nazi views — although of course, this also means that 148 of the 1,350 adults surveyed think that neo-Nazi views are acceptable.
Moreover, 68 percent of adults recognized that anti-Semitism still exists in the United States, while 34 percent acknowledged that there are "many neo-Nazis in the U.S." today. Under President Trump, anti-Semitic hate crimes in the United States have risen 57 percent to their highest levels in 20 years, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League.
Nevertheless, several other data points in the survey highlighted Americans' lack of knowledge about the Holocaust. For instance, 41 percent of adults couldn't identify Auschwitz, the notorious extermination camp in Poland in which over a million Jews were killed. The majority of millennials — 66 percent — didn't know what Auschwitz was. Forty-five percent of adults and 49 percent of millennials weren't able to name a single concentration camp or ghetto that was used to kill Jews during the Holocaust.
The misinformation surrounding the Holocaust could in part be due to the lack of personal connections many Americans have to the Holocaust. In the survey, 80 percent of Americans said they'd never visited a Holocaust museum, while 66 percent reported that they neither knew, nor knew of, a Holocaust survivor.
Fittingly, 52 percent of adults surveyed agreed with the statement that "lessons about the Holocaust are mostly historically accurate, but could be better" — a notable finding, given how uninformed many of those same respondents were.
Americans aren't the only ones who don't know fundamental facts about the deadliest genocide in history. A 2014 survey of over 100 countries found that only 54 percent of respondents had ever heard of the Holocaust. Out of them, one-third claimed either that the magnitude of the genocide has been "greatly exaggerated," or that the Holocaust itself is a myth. That same survey found that only 48 percent of millennials had heard about the Holocaust.