A new study released today suggests Hoosier adults younger than 40 lack basic Holocaust knowledge including that 6 million Jews were killed.
Their Holocaust knowledge score – 27% – makes Indiana tied for 20th place nationwide, along with Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon and South Carolina, the U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey found.
Scores ranged from Arkansas' 17% to Wisconsin's 42%. They were based on participants' awareness of the Holocaust; ability to name a concentration camp, death camp or ghetto; and knowledge of the Jewish death toll, according to a news release.
The study – the first 50-state survey on Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Generation Z adults – was commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The nonprofit, also known as the Claims Conference, secures material compensation for Holocaust survivors worldwide.
The Pew Research Center defines millennials as those born between 1981 and 1996 and Gen Z as those born from 1997 onward.
Gideon Taylor, president of the Claims Conference, described the results as shocking and saddening.
“They underscore why we must act now while Holocaust survivors are still with us to voice their stories,” Taylor said in a statement. “We need to understand why we aren't doing better in educating a younger generation about the Holocaust and the lessons of the past.”
Holocaust scholar David Lindquist has trained local teachers on how to teach the topic.
He doesn't fault younger generations for not knowing more about the Holocaust. It's an extremely complex topic typically introduced in middle school language arts or high school world history – a class that has much to address in the 180-day academic year, he said.
“If you decide to do seven days on one topic, it's a subtraction because that means you don't have those days for other topics,” Lindquist said.
The survey released today found 46% of Indiana participants couldn't name a concentration camp, and 62% didn't know 6 million Jews were killed.
It's difficult to extract value from such studies because statistics don't reveal much, and they likely overestimate what people know, Lindquist said. For instance, he suspects far fewer respondents, perhaps 5%, could discuss a camp system with any clarity.
Teachers Joshua Smith and Jeff Roberts of New Tech Academy at Wayne High School have used project-based learning to educate students about the Holocaust. Their students' award-winning Instruments of Hope project demonstrated how music offered hope during the Holocaust and explored how music is used to save or persecute.
The educators hoped to spark empathy for those who suffered. To do that, focusing on individual stories is important, Roberts said, recalling a lesson from Lindquist, whom he had as a teacher in college.
“Six million is a hard number to fathom, but one is not,” Roberts said.
Teaching empathy helps students connect the Holocaust with behavior happening today, such as racism or discrimination toward the LGBTQ community, Roberts said. Building empathy can help prevent another horrific event like the Holocaust, he added.
In 2017, South Side High School teacher Denis Knuth participated in a workshop for educators hosted by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Participants shared rationales, strategies and approaches for teaching the Holocaust, Nazi propaganda and anti-Semitism.
Lessons illustrating the Holocaust's systemic nature is the best way for students to understand it – not photographs of mass graves or videos of gas chambers, Knuth said.
“Show students that it wasn't just a few people doing this, but a grand build that anyone, even today (could) fall for, is something I find very important,” Knuth said.
Of those surveyed in Indiana, 52% said they have seen Holocaust denial or distortion online, such as on social media. The study also found 25% of the Hoosier participants believe the Holocaust happened, but the number of Jews who died is exaggerated, the Holocaust is a myth and did not happen, or they are unsure, the study found.
Knuth is thankful he hasn't encountered a student who doubts the Holocaust happened or believes the death toll is exaggerated.
“It shows that at some level of their education they were taught that a devastating event of this level is not something to joke about or play down in history,” he said.
Lindquist recommends people visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's website if they want to learn more about the genocide.
The Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, which offers Holocaust education programs, is a local resource. Its leader said the lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among younger generations is worrisome.
“They know nothing, and it's dangerous that they don't know anything because they're going to be leaders of the world one day,” executive director Jaki Schreier said.
She described a shared hope: “These students and younger adults learn about this and stand up for what is right, and that's the rights of everyone.”
At a glance
The U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey featured a representative sample of 1,000 interviews nationwide and 200 interviews in each state of adults ages 18 to 39.
Findings among Indiana participants include the following:
• 46% of participants couldn't name a concentration camp, death camp or ghetto during World War II.
• 62% didn't know 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
• 52% have seen Holocaust denial or distortion on social media or elsewhere online.
• 65% believe something like the Holocaust could happen again.
• 11% think the Jews caused the Holocaust.
• 34% couldn't identify that the Holocaust was associated with World War II.
• 25% believe the Holocaust happened but the number of Jews who died has been greatly exaggerated, the Holocaust is a myth and did not happen, or are unsure.
• 63% believe there is anti-Semitism in the United States today; 16% believe it is acceptable to hold neo-Nazi views; and 58% have seen Nazi symbols in their community and/or on social media platforms in the last five years.