Survey: 52% of U.K. Residents Don’t Know Toll of Holocaust

For years, advocates and scholars have contended that continual education and remembrance of past large-scale killings are the best approaches to avoiding them in the future. Yet despite efforts to educate populations about global atrocities that have occurred before and since the Holocaust — the genocide of European Jews during World War II — many of today’s citizens are lacking even basic knowledge.

The killing fields of Cambodia, the genocides in Darfur and Rwanda, and the 1990s ethnic cleansing across the former Yugoslavia are among atrocities that occurred since WWII. And today, Myanmar‘s ruling junta faces charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice over its crackdown on the ethnic Rohingya.

In this atmosphere, a newly released survey shows that fewer than half of British residents could cite the number of victims killed in the Holocaust, with 56% believing similar atrocities could happen again.

The survey was released on Wednesday by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, a U.S.-based organization that says it represents the world’s Jews for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs.

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The survey comes on the anniversary of a massive pogrom against Jews by Nazi paramilitary forces and civilians in the run-up to WWII. The so-called Kristallnacht (literally translates as “Crystal Night”), or the Night of the Broken Glass, occurred on Nov. 9-10, 1938, across Nazi Germany, when Jewish homes, schools and hospitals were ransacked. More than 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses in the country were destroyed, and an estimated 30,000 Jewish men were eventually arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The Claims Conference survey was conducted Sept. 29-Oct. 17, 2021, and polled 2,000 British residents, primarily across England. Among some of the survey’s major findings:

— Approximately 89% of respondents said they had heard of the Holocaust.

— Three-quarters of respondents said the Holocaust referred to the extermination of Jewish people.

— Approximately 52% of respondents did not know the Holocaust claimed the lives of 6 million Jews.

— Another 56% of respondents said they believe an atrocity on the scale of the Holocaust could happen again.

— Another 67% of respondents wrongly said their government allowed all or some Jewish immigration during WWII when the U.K. closed that door during the outbreak of the war.

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“We are very concerned to see the profound gaps in knowledge of the Holocaust in this and in previous studies including about events connected to the U.K.,” Claims Conference President Gideon Taylor said in a prepared statement. He noted, however, that 80% of the British survey respondents said it is important to teach about the Holocaust. “This is where we need to focus our energy. Education will not only fill the gaps in Holocaust knowledge, but it will also make for better, more empathetic citizens.”

Wednesday’s survey findings build on earlier polls released by the Claims Conference. The organization has conducted research on Holocaust knowledge in Austria, Canada, France and the United States. Last year, the group released results from a survey that showed nearly two-thirds of young U.S. adults were unaware of the 6 million killed during the Holocaust.

Back in the U.K., a separate body of research from University College London has shown that many teachers in England lack the basic knowledge to refute misinformation about the Holocaust, the BBC reported.

Wednesday’s findings come amid a climate of rising far-right politics in democracies, particularly in Europe. In the U.S., the FBI announced in August that hate crimes in the country hit a 12-year high in 2020.

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