As a Jewish woman and as a human being, I was shocked to learn of the massive misinformation and lack of knowledge regarding the Holocaust that’s been making news. Before I knew of my own Jewish heritage – hidden for at least a generation by family members because of fear – I drove by the Dachau Concentration Camp in Bavaria, Germany. Built-in 1933, this was the first concentration camp set up by the Nazis and the remaining evidence on the site is overwhelming, horrifying, and heart-shattering.
The crematoriums and death chambers still stand alongside the gate, along with the barracks where the Jewish prisoners were held.
If I had been alive back then, I could well have been among my people, dying in this horrible place.
At Dachau alone, more than 200,000 people were cataloged as passing through the gates, with inestimable thousands more never registered. Between 1940 and 1945, a minimum of 28,000 people died in the camp. Prior to that, tens of thousands more are likely to have perished on the grounds.
This is just one camp.
There were over 44,000 camps and ghettos during the Holocaust.
Studies Show That 2/3 Of Young Americans Don’t Know What Happened
As the resurgence of Nazis manifest in America more visibly than they have in decades, this study is more relevant than ever.
The belief held by 31-percent of American adults and more than 4-in-10 millennials that substantially fewer than 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust in unconscionable. Those surveyed stated that they believed that less than 2 million Jews were exterminated during WWII.
The fact that 45-percent of Americans cannot name a single one of the 44,000 camps is eye-opening. When presented with the name of perhaps the most infamous camp where more than 1.1 million Jews died – Auschwitz – 41-percent either misidentified it or weren’t sure that it was the name of a camp at all.
In the responses from young adults, 84-percent knew of the Holocaust taking place in Germany, but only 37-percent knew that Poland and other nations were also affected directly by Nazi death camps, forced labor camps, and ghettos. More than half of the Jews exterminated during the Holocaust were Polish Jews – 3.5 million – and 90% of the Jewish population in the Baltic States were killed.
According to a comprehensive list of Holocaust museums and memorials from around the world, America has the highest number, with at least one in 27+ states. Yet 80% of Americans have never visited one.
How Did We Get Here?
Reading the study and reading other commentary on this issue, I’ve seen evidence for three basic theories on how we got to the point that less than 100 years later, so much of our population is this uneducated about the Holocaust.
First, Holocaust denial isn’t the most common issue, but it exists.
In Germany and other European countries, it is illegal for anyone to deny the Holocaust or promote Nazism in any way. These laws protect against anti-Semitism as well as racism and hate speech. Meaning that if what’s happening in the United States were happening in Europe, the folks waving Nazi flags at rallies, lynching Black men and women, and police discriminating against People of Color would be arrested, fined, and/or jailed.
In America, we have no such laws against denying the Holocaust. This lack of legal action against Holocaust deniers could be one of the seeds that have helped to grow this lack of knowledge and ignorance on the matter.
Secondly, there have been assumptions that there is the lack of access to information on the Holocaust. Such theories began decades back to during WWII, but when Time Magazine conducted research, they discovered that there has never been a lack of information on this atrocity. Even during WWII, while the Holocaust was taking place, the information on concentration and death camps was available on a regular basis.
The third theory, and likely the most prevalent culprit, is a lack of Holocaust education in the public and private school districts. I have friends who took Holocaust literature classes in High School, but I have other friends who only read The Diary of Anne Frank because they came across it in the library, not because they had any sort of Holocaust-related reading requirements. My own education was lacking in this area, and if I had not been a voracious reader and frequent patron of the library, I would have far less understanding myself.
Why Does The Holocaust Matter Today?
Some folks may not believe that the Holocaust is relevant today and would like to stuff that dark part of history into a dusty closet, but the reality is that Nazism is alive and kicking in America. During the study that revealed this lack of knowledge, it was also revealed that 80-percent of those surveyed believe that teachings about the Holocaust must take priority to prevent it from ever happening again. 93-percent surveyed believe that students should learn more about the Holocaust in school.
According to Britannica, Nazism is “In almost every respect…an anti-intellectual and atheoretical movement, emphasizing the will of the charismatic dictator as the sole source of inspiration of a people and a nation, as well as a vision of annihilation of all enemies of the Aryan Volk as the one and only goal of Nazi policy.”
The Nazi regime eliminated their enemies through starvation, torture, gas chambers, and similarly horrific means. The “enemies” identified by the Nazi party included Jewish people, people with disabilities, Romani, homosexuals, and those who defended and protected any of the people mentioned.
I fear the same.
What Can We Do?
The reality is that politicians make decisions. We can sign petitions and hold protests all we want, but as long as we’re electing officials who have demonstrated racist, hate-filled actions, we may not have much recourse against genocide. If, however, elected officials are mindful of history and seek to care for their constituents and the immigrants that come to our nation, this atrocity may be prevented.
Organizations exist to raise this awareness and help us work against this ever happening again – and preventing all types of genocide both here in America and across the world. The Early Warning Project, for example, examines the warning signs in nations that resemble past moments that, when left unchecked, led to genocide.
You can make a difference through small but important actions:
- Vote for better politicians
- Study and understand the Holocaust and other genocides
- Support groups like the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide
- Sign petitions
- Participate in peaceful protests when possible
- Share reliable information on social media
- Read interviews with survivors and talk about them
- Visit Holocaust museums
Above all else, we must not remain silent.