Holocaust Knowledge Steeply Drops among Younger Americans

two-thirds of millennials and Gen Zers are unaware that six million jews died in the holocaust

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A recent survey found that Holocaust knowledge is declining in 18- to 39-year-olds, USA Today reported. Among 1,000 people surveyed, two-thirds were unaware that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, while over half had reported seeing Nazi symbolism locally or online. The Holocaust began more subtly than most people think.

Holocaust victims
A recent survey that found two-thirds of younger Americans are unaware of the history of the Holocaust also found that eight in ten respondents are eager to learn about it to prevent it from happening again. Photo by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

According to a USA Today article, a survey, fifth in a series, found that knowledge of the Holocaust is dipping to surprising lows. “Almost two-thirds of millennials and Gen Zers don’t know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and almost half can’t name a single concentration camp,” the article said.

“The survey demonstrated wide gaps in younger Americans’ knowledge of the genocide while also showing a concerning 15% of millennials and Gen Zers thought holding neo-Nazi views was acceptable. Almost half of respondents had seen social media posts denying or distorting facts about the Holocaust, and more than half said they had seen Nazi symbols in their community or online.”

Ignorance of the Holocaust isn’t solely a youth problem. Many people of all ages believe that it began much later and much less subtly than it really did.

Before Hitler Was Hitler

The Holocaust didn’t spring fully formed from a speech by Adolf Hitler. Anti-Semitism plagued the world for centuries and was popular until far too recently.

“By the beginning of the 20th century, anti-Semitism was still considered perfectly respectable in many circles,” said Dr. Robert Bucholz, Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago. “On the one hand, Jews had been emancipated and granted full civil rights in most European countries during the 19th century—this enabled them to participate in politics as representatives and ministers and in the Industrial Revolution as financiers and factory owners.”

On the other hand, Dr. Bucholz said, old stereotypes of Jews and their newfound prominence led to a rediscovery of anti-Semitism. An Italian Jesuit journal, called Civilta Catolica, spread anti-Semitic propaganda throughout Europe, while some anti-Semites in Russia forged a “secret Jewish plan to take over the world” called Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, which many still take as authentic.

How Hitler Propagated Anti-Semitism

As Adolf Hitler rose to power, he continued to make a case for anti-Semitism. First, Dr. Bucholz said, Hitler linked anti-Semitism “to German nationalism and the post-war situation, the famous ‘stab-in-the-back’ idea, that Jewish bankers had somehow plotted Germany’s downfall in World War I, then coordinated her humiliation at Versailles.”

Hitler also linked anti-Semitism to race-based pseudoscience. For example, he said Jews had “bad genes” as opposed to “good genes” in order to create an “us vs. them” mentality in Germany and perpetuate a falsified version of Darwinism—that Jews were bad for anthropology itself.

“Finally, Hitler was not alone in recognizing that many of the leaders of the successful Communist revolution in Russia were Jews,” Dr. Bucholz said. “Members of the middle class on both sides of the Atlantic frequently associated Judaism with Communism. An American example is Henry Ford, who believed that the so-called ‘international Jew’ was the greatest threat to the Anglo-Saxon race, responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution, World War I, gang warfare, and bootleg liquor in the United States in the 1920s.”

Not only did Hitler praise a book that Ford wrote on the subject, but he also awarded Ford the Nazi Order of the German Eagle in 1938.

So, Hitler had a three-pronged racial attack against the Jews that he convinced enough of Germany to believe. He blamed them for Germany’s fall from greatness, he touted gene theory that divided Germany into “good genes” versus “bad genes,” and he scared his populace into believing Jews would make Germany a Communist nation. We also know from his endorsement of Henry Ford’s book that Hitler wasn’t opposed to blaming Jews for gang violence and dealing illicit substances.

This nationalistic frenzy he whipped up played a major role in leading up to the Holocaust.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Dr. Robert Bucholz contributed to this article. Dr. Bucholz is Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago, where he has taught since 1988. He earned his B.A. in History from Cornell University and his D.Phil. in Modern History from Oxford University.