Monday marks international Holocaust Remembrance Day, which has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly since November 2005 to commemorate and memorialize the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazis’ state-sponsored genocide carried out across Europe during World War II.
The day also marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, which was remembered by world leaders gathered in Jerusalem last week.
75 years ago today over 7,000 prisoners of the German Nazi #Auschwitz camp, including ca. 700 children, were liberated by the soldiers of the Soviet army. 1,689 days of murder, humiliation, suffering, and pain were over. Today we all remember. | #Auschwitz75 #OnThisDay pic.twitter.com/af5m1cs83d— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) January 27, 2020
In 2018, a shocking survey was released by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany revealing that two-thirds of American millennials didn’t know enough about the Holocaust. In fact, 66 percent of those surveyed couldn’t identify Auschwitz correctly as an extermination camp or a concentration camp.
In 2019, Pew Research conducted a similar study and found staggering results. Pew found that only 43 percent of American adults “know that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process.”
Moreover, 45 percent knew that 6 million Jews were killed, and what’s more three in ten said “they are not sure how many Jews died during the Holocaust, while one-in-ten overestimate the death toll, and 15% said that 3 million or fewer Jews were killed.”
These numbers combined with a rise in antisemitic hate crimes begs the question: as we move further away from our history and lose living proof of the atrocity, are we more likely to repeat it.
Many argue that education is the antidote to another Holocaust. I spoke with several university students last week to understand what younger generations, specifically those who are a part of Generation Z, are learning about the atrocities of the Holocaust today and if they believe it could happen again.
The following are some of their answers:
“I have heard that history repeats itself…”
“So far my classes we haven’t talked about that. In all my history classes, we’ve talked about…more like the nineteenth century. What I know about the Holocaust it comes from my parents actually taking me to… I grew up in Mexico, so back in Mexico we have a brand new museum about the Holocaust, but that was actually years ago,” said one student studying International Affairs and Dance.
Her classes, she said, are more “focused on certain topics” and “very condensed into one time period and one topic” citing “American diplomacy” as one of the taught subjects.
She concluded, “I have heard that history repeats itself, definitely. And everyone knows about it – they have the general knowledge of what happened, but they don’t know the specific details, including myself. I can’t say that I know all the details about it, so I just think that being informed is always better, so I would like to see, I guess, more information out there for people who would like to know more about it.”
Could it happen again?….”It’s certainly a possibility”
“It’s not relevant to my major, but I took a United States history class and we definitely touched upon it, but not as much as we could’ve,” said Val, 20, “I’ve been to the museum, but I haven’t really taken a class on it in particular.”
“I think in this day and age, it’s certainly a possibility cause of the political polarization and kind of the demeaning of other human beings that they’re lesser and that’s kind of what our leaders are saying about other human beings and kind of ostracizing people into one group and considering them lesser than another type of person, so I hope it’s not a possibility, but it definitely could be in some way.”
“I don’t think it could happen again…”
“In high school I learned about the Holocaust just through general history. We spent maybe a year on it,” Sebastian, 18, a Business Administration major said.
“I believe the Holocaust is such a widely known event, I don’t think it could happen again maybe something similar but it’s just hard to tell. I think that if people don’t receive the education about the Holocaust that might in the future have people become more susceptible to starting something like that, but I don’t see it happening in the future to come.”
Antisemitic hate crimes are on the rise even “with people talking about the Holocaust now…”
Victoria, 21, a Senior studying political science told me she learned most of what she knows about the Holocaust studying WWII in her courses throughout high school and middle school.
“I know that it was a terrible devastation for the community and it’s definitely something that should still be remembered to this day,” she said.
“I know there’s been a recent surplus in hate crimes. I’m from New York and I actually have a girl that went to my high school that spoke with AP talking about how there’s just been a lot of hate crimes going on and I know there’s a very unfortunate situation where someone was speaking different slurs to her and I believe spit in her face and this is still with people talking about the Holocaust now, so I do think it would only get worse if we don’t keep on remembering it.”
The only student who knew that six million Jews were killed….
“I definitely learned about it in school a lot from history class and I’ve been to the museum a couple times too, so I know a little bit about it, but not like a lot,” said Jin, 19.
Jin was from Korea, so he told me he didn’t have any knowledge of the Holocaust from school. He was, however, the only student that could recall that 6 million Jews were killed in the genocide.
“Nothing to that extent would ever be able to happen again. I have hope.”
Kit, 19, told me he learned about the Holocaust in middle school and high school in various history and anthropology courses. He told me he didn’t think the Holocaust “to that extent” would ever happen again.
He explained, “I think for a number of reasons, I have faith in people… obviously there are antisemitic groups out there, but I just don’t think that with the legislative bodies that we have in place and with the number of good people that I believe are out there. Nothing to that extent would ever be able to happen again. I have hope.”
“I don’t think that we should be outlawing learning about the Holocaust.”
Trenton, 20, learned of the Holocaust in high school and even attended a school trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.
“I don’t think that we should be outlawing learning about the Holocaust. I went to a speaker here about the Rwandan genocide and he talked about this issue too and how he thinks we should be learning about genocides in general and it should be mandatory curriculum and I think that makes a lot of sense.”