Two-thirds of US millennials ‘do not know what Auschwitz was’

An organisation representing Holocaust survivors and their families has said it is “alarmed” by a survey which indicates that young people in the US lack “basic knowledge” about the genocide.

The survey, commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, identified a diminishing grasp of the historical significance of the Holocaust, particularly among the younger generations.

While 11% of Americans adults interviewed said they were unaware or unsure of what the Holocaust was, that figure was double among respondents aged 18 to 34.

And while Auschwitz has long served as a haunting symbol of the genocide and a byword for human suffering, 66% of young people were unaware or unsure of what the death camp was, compared to 41% of the general population.

The respondents themselves seemed aware of this shift in public consciousness. Seven out of ten said fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than in the past.

Despite an apparent fading familiarity with the specifics, Americans of all ages agreed with the importance of education about the atrocities. The vast majority – 93% – said that the Holocaust should be taught in schools.

The survey also found a robust rejection of Holocaust denial among the general public, with only 4% of respondents expressing scepticism about the genocide, in which six million Jews perished.

“The issue is not that people deny the Holocaust,” said Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference. “The issue is just that it’s receding from memory.”

For museums and educators already contemplating how to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive in a future with no living eyewitnesses, the findings lay out the challenges ahead in stark terms, says the New York Times.

Technology could be one answer. An innovative programme at the Illinois Holocaust Museum recorded elderly survivors telling their story in front of greenscreens, transforming them into holograms which now speak to thousands of visitors at the museum. 

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