On a cold day in January 75 years ago, troops from Soviet Union liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp and its many sub-camps. That day — today, Jan. 27 — is now solemnly observed as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day we memorialize the 1 million people, most of them Jews, who died at Auschwitz, the 6 million Jews the Nazis processed through their machinery of death and the millions of other “undesirables” they deemed not fit to live — gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally or physically disabled.
You would think that in our modern world, with the collected wisdom and history and science of the ages available at the click of a computer mouse, the dark truths of the Holocaust would be part of our human consciousness, that the facts of what the Nazi regime tried to inflict on the world would be accepted truths.
You would be wrong.
Last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a nationwide survey of adults in America, quizzing 11,000 people on their knowledge of the Holocaust. The finds are shocking and deeply disturbing.
Fewer than half of those surveyed — 45 percent — knew how many Jews the Nazis eliminated in their death camps. Twelve percent said the toll was 3 million; 2 percent said fewer than 1 million. Twenty-nine percent said they didn’t know.
And when did the Holocaust occur? Sixty-nine percent said between 1930 and 1950, 10 percent between 1910 and 1930 while 2 percent said between 1890 and 1910. One percent of the respondents said between 1950 and 1970. Shockingly, 18 percent didn’t know.
The ignorance of so many of our fellow Americans revealed in “What Americans Know About the Holocaust” is maddening and deeply disturbing.
In tallying the responses and delving into the data, Pew researchers found correlations between the answers given and the attitudes of the non-Jewish respondents toward Jews. Those who answered three of the four questions correctly, on average, had “warmer feelings” for the Jewish people. Conversely, those who gave fewer correct answers — or none at all — well, we’ll just leave it there.
The Anti-Defamation League, in its annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, reports that 2018 was the third-highest total since the organization began publishing the data 40 years ago. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University reports that anti-Semitic hate crimes in the three largest U.S. cities — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — are at an 18-year high.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the world pledged “Never again!” Never again would we let fear and anger fester to the point of the near-extermination of an entire ethnic group. But we’ve failed … because we don’t seem to care, because we don’t seem to think it’s that big of a problem, because we’ve forgotten.
Never again! Really?