Nearly a quarter of young Americans believe the Holocaust didn’t happen or has been exaggerated

Survey shows stunning lack of knowledge among Americans aged 18 to 39, with some believing in conspiracy theories shared on social media

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Monday 21 June 2021 15:30
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One in 10 young Americans believes that the Holocaust never happened, while 23 per cent think it’s a myth or that the number of those killed has been exaggerated.

In a 50-state survey of Americans aged between 18 and 39, 12 per cent said they had never heard, or thought they had never heard, the word “Holocaust” before.

Some younger Americans appear to have bought into conspiracy theories being shared on social media and some can’t name a single concentration camp.

Almost half of the survey respondents, 49 per cent, said they had seen Holocaust denial and distortion content on social media, with 11 per cent saying they thought Jews, not the Nazis, were responsible for the Holocaust. That number goes up to 19 per cent in New York state.

New York has the highest share, just over nine per cent, of the US Jewish population, with almost 1.8 million people identifying as Jewish in the state.

More than a third of respondents, 36 per cent, thought fewer than two million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and 63 per cent were unaware that the actual number of Jews killed was six million.

Almost half, 48 per cent, couldn’t name a single one of the 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust.

While most of the killings took place between 1941 and 1945, the persecution of Jews started much earlier, with the first concentration camp, Dachau outside Munich, being built in 1933, initially intended to hold political prisoners.

Only six per cent of respondents said they were familiar with the Dachau camp.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany commissioned the survey. The president of the organisation, Gideon Taylor, said in a statement: “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.”

“We need to understand why we aren’t doing better in educating a younger generation about the Holocaust and the lessons of the past,” Mr Taylor added. “This needs to serve as a wake-up call to us all, and as a road map of where government officials need to act.”

To establish where in the country lack of knowledge was the biggest issue, the survey was done state by state with a “knowledge score” being devised to measure awareness.

The score was calculated by taking the percentage of respondents who had heard of the Holocaust and could name at least one concentration camp, death camp, or ghetto, and was aware that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

Arkansas came at the bottom of the list, with fewer than two in 10 – some 17 per cent – of Millennials and Gen Z individuals meeting the knowledge criteria. Mississippi at 18 per cent and Florida at 20 per cent also came in the bottom three.

Wisconsin was at the top of the list with 42 per cent, Minnesota at 37 per cent and Massachusetts at 35 per cent made up the rest of the top three.

Holocaust denial is thriving on social media, with a study from August last year showing that Facebook’s algorithm was “actively” pushing this kind of content.

Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever told USA Today in January: “We’ve made major progress in fighting Holocaust denial on Facebook by implementing a new policy prohibiting it and enforcing against these hateful lies in every country around the world.”

“It is clear that we must fight this distortion of history and do all we can to ensure that the social media giants stop allowing this harmful content on their platforms,” the executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Greg Schneider, said in a statement.

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