Major Studies, Corporate Policy Make Strong Case for Better Holocaust Education

Community News, The Jewish Outlook

Nov 23, 2020

By Renee Lafair

In September and October 2020, three major news stories arose about Holocaust education.

The first, the U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, was released in September by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. This first ever survey of Holocaust knowledge by millenials in the United States demonstrated a concerning lack of knowledge of the Holocaust. For example, 63 percent of millenials did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Approximately 20 percent of students surveyed in New York state believe that Jews caused the Holocaust. In addition, almost half of students surveyed have been exposed to Holocaust denial online. The good news is that students want to learn about the Holocaust. Approximately 64 percent of students surveyed thought that Holocaust education should be compulsory in school.

Also in September, the ADL released a striking survey demonstrating that Holocaust education in high school reflects gains in historical knowledge and manifests in cultivating more empathetic, tolerant and engaged students. The results also indicate that exposure to Holocaust survivor testimony is strongly associated with numerous positive outcomes in early adulthood, including higher critical thinking skills and a greater sense of social responsibility.

“What was concerning about the U.S. Holocaust and Millenial Survey was that based on the numbers involved, students have a better chance of seeing Holocaust denial in their daily social media intake than in learning the facts in a classroom. However, when they do learn about it, as demonstrated by the ADL survey, they show higher level critical thinking and empathy, both of which are foundations for building a stronger democratic society,” explained Renee Lafair, ADL Austin regional director.

Facebook announced Oct. 12 that it was updating its hate speech policy to prohibit any content “that denies or distorts the Holocaust.” This comes after nearly a decade of ADL advocating for such changes.

Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO, explained why he thinks Facebook made this change now.

“We believe Facebook is acting now because of external pressure coming from a variety of sources: the Stop Hate for Profit campaign led by ADL and other civil rights organizations; the #NoDenyingIt effort led by the Claims Conference; alarming new polling on Holocaust awareness among young people; regulatory pressure in Europe and America; the recent congressional hearings in Washington D.C. and a hard-hitting letter from 20 state attorneys general,” he said.

“While the path forward is not clear, the combination of these three studies and policy changes point to the need for and societal benefit from greater Holocaust education in the future,” concluded Lafair. ■

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