Millennials React to New Holocaust Survey

A survey released by the Claims Conference found that 41 percent of Americans and 66 percent of millennials did not know what Auschwitz was. | Photo by Mariusz Cieszewski for Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Usually when millennials are in the headlines for something negative, it has to do with avocado toast or ruining chain restaurants.

But last week, the demographic was featured for something a little more important than being solely responsible for the death of bar soap.

A survey released by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (otherwise known as the Claims Conference) on April 12 looked at Holocaust awareness and knowledge among adults in the United States, and found a significant lack thereof — particularly among millennials, which the survey defined as people aged 18 to 34.

Among the key findings were seven out of 10 Americans saying fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than they used to, and 58 percent of Americans believe something like the Holocaust could happen again.

“The issue is not that people deny the Holocaust; the issue is just that it’s receding from memory,” noted Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, in an interview with The New York Times.

It also found that 31 percent of all Americans and 41 percent of millennials believe that 2 million or fewer Jews were killed during the Holocaust, rather than the correct 6 million.

In a more startling statistic, the survey also found that 41 percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, could not identify what Auschwitz was.

And while there were more positive findings from the survey — including that an overwhelming 93 percent of Americans believe all students should learn about the Holocaust in school and 80 percent say it is important to keep teaching about the Holocaust so it does not happen again — the attention to millennials’ limited knowledge of the Holocaust stands out to many, including those in the age group.

“It’s certainly deeply upsetting,” said Jake Markovitz, 32, a Tribe 12 Fellow and chair of the Young Friends of the National Museum of American Jewish History.

However, despite the high percentages, he pointed to the survey’s rather small sampling size.

The data was collected and analyzed by Schoen Consulting with a representative sample of 1,350 American adults by landline, cell phone, and online interviews from Feb. 23 to 27. Millennials made up 31 percent of the sample.

“But it’s kind of crazy that something as significant as the Holocaust is quickly fading from the memories of young people,” Markovitz added.

He was concerned that there could be a link between the gap of knowledge and the increasing behavior among millennials to avoid talking about upsetting subjects rather than embracing and learning from them.

“With safe spaces and everything else going on in institutions, it seems like there’s a reluctance to teach the hard subjects,” he noted, adding that the data was “certainly alarming.”

“It’s part of our history that we need to embrace and even though it’s hard to talk about, it’s something that we need to constantly be aware of and remind the next generation,” he said. “We are pretty much the last generation that will get direct connections and relationships with Holocaust survivors, and that’s an important thing to sort of embrace and be cognizant of.”

For millennials who are descendants of Holocaust survivors, the issue understandably hits closer to home.

Rachel Greenberg’s maternal grandparents were both born in Poland and survived concentration camps. Her grandmother was 15 when she and her sister — who also survived — were sent to Bergen-Belsen. Her grandfather was in Auschwitz.

She found the survey results “unfortunately just not that surprising, but it’s still disappointing.”

Greenberg, 32, who works as assistant director of development for the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia, recalled seeing only a small section about the Holocaust in history books when she was learning about World War II. Even then, she knew that what she was reading wasn’t right.

“I always end up going back to that,” she said, noting the tools the ADL offers for Holocaust education such as its Echoes & Reflections and Bearing Witness programs.

She surmises that the unbelievability that something like the Holocaust could have transpired may have an effect on how educational gaps form.

“It’s really easy to brush that kind of thing over because it does seem like such an outlandish impossibility,” she said, noting her grandmother was interviewed for the Shoah Foundation and said at the end that she still had trouble believing that it happened — and she was there.

“The further out we are from it, the more difficult it will be for people to grasp what really happened,” she added.

Marc Prine, 32, found it “pretty abysmal and pretty scary” that a high percentage of millennials couldn’t identify what Auschwitz was, especially as the grandparents of that age group were affected in some way by the war, he said.

“The whole mantra of Holocaust remembrance has been ‘Never again,’” he said, “and not knowing where the core of the atrocities happened … that’s something I think needs to be remembered and needs to be taught.”

Prine, whose grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, suggested visiting sites like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a means of educating the next generation to fix the inaccuracies found in the survey, such as the correct number of Jews who were killed. The survey had also found that most Americans (80 percent) have not visited a Holocaust museum.

Echoing Greenberg, he noted that the seeming distance from the Holocaust could play a role.

“When you’re sitting in a history class or hearing these stories, it sounds like something that would happen during the Crusades and not something that would happen under 100 years ago,” said Prine, who serves as the outgoing chair of NextGen, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s affinity group for 20-, 30- and 40-somethings. “As time goes on, it’s only going to seem more and more distant, more and more as though that can’t happen today.

“There are plenty of people who would like to see something like this happen again,” he added, “and if we don’t continue to remind people and take the responsibility as the Jewish community, we’re likely to fall victim again.”; 215-832-0740


  1. How can millennials “Never Forget” if they were never taught or if millennials never paid attention in the first place? The average college graduate today tests poorly in comparison to high school graduates from at least two decades ago. You don’t learn if you don’t pay attention. You don’t learn if you get an A for just showing up in class. If millennials have no idea about the Holocaust, parents, teachers and the millennials themselves must be held responsible for falling down on the job.

  2. You also don’t learn history if it is of the “revisionist” school. Gender studies and community organizing studies are also a way to stay stupid about past atrocities. As Mr. Malerman wisely states, college has been dumbed down; we wouldn’t want college kids having to race to their “safe places.”


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