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History of the Holocaust is Being Erased in the U.S.

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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

If there’s any truth to George Santayana’s words, the future of the U.S. is remarkably bleak. 

According to a new study commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, young adults in the U.S. are woefully ignorant to basic historical facts of the Holocaust, which ended just 75 years ago and resulted in the brutal deaths of an estimated six million European Jews — that death toll does not include loss of life among other groups targeted by Nazis, including the Gypsy/Roma, Polish and Soviet peoples and others outed as being gay.

Nazi soldiers turn guns on people in Warsaw ghetto during World War II.

The study found that among U.S. adults aged 18 to 39, nearly two-thirds of respondents were unaware that six million Jews were slaughtered during the Third Reich in World War II. Considering the lack of knowledge discovered in the study, it’s questionable many of America’s young adults understand the term “reich” at all. 

The most alarming finding was not in the ignorance of truth but in the prevalence of misinformation — almost a quarter of those surveyed said they believed Holocaust claims are an exaggeration or a full-blown myth. The statistic is frighteningly understandable when you consider that half of the respondents reported seeing Holocaust denial and distortion content on social media platforms. 

Surprisingly, Holocaust education is required cirriculum in only 15 U.S. states, and the study found that even some of those states scored poorly in overall awareness the topic. 

Train tracks leading to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where Nazis murdered nearly one million Jews and many other prisoners of Polish, Roma and Soviet descent.

If about half of the country’s young adults cannot name a single concentration camp or ghetto, it would be far fetched to think our society is largely aware of some of the lesser discussed facts about the U.S. role in the war. How many Millennials know when the U.S. joined the Allied troops? How many of the Gen Z group know that we turned away ships of Jewish refugees, sending them back to near certain death?

Do many young adults know that Operation Paperclip is not just a comic book storyline played out in the “Hunters”, that the U.S. actually harbored members of the former Nazi Party and used them to bolster our science programs? 

It’s difficult to say whether the rise of antisemitic hate groups in recent years is a cause or an effect of the educational failure — either way, the lack of knowledge and real reckoning of the genocide helps those groups take hold and flourish. It’s said the devil finds work for idle hands, but an ignorant and pliable mind is a far more potent playground for evil intentions, regardless of religious belief. 

A Nazi flag is seen among the far-right group who terrorized Charlottesville, North Carolina during the 2017 Unite the Right rally. (Photo by Anthony Crider)

People often ridicule pundits and other historical observers when they highlight similar approaches taken by both Adolf Hitler and Donald J. Trump. Though Trump’s intellectual prowess is never really measured alongside Hitler’s, there are notable likenesses in the use of fear, propaganda and blatantly identical language. Trump may not be capable of anything as evil as Hitler accomplished, but we have allowed rhetoric that made Nazis successful to infiltrate our society. This study proves that our education system has failed to prepare us for any potential repetition of that history.

Given that something as historically enormous and deadly as the Holocaust is being erased from our social consciousness less than 100 years later, it’s not likely today’s young adults will recognize patterns and warning signs of a dangerous dictator or tyrant that will make Trump look like child’s play.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.