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Most Americans lack some basic knowledge about Holocaust — poll

AJC survey finds just 53% know 6 million Jews were killed, and more than one in three think Hitler came to power in a violent coup, highlighting gaps in Shoah education

Members of the Auburn Tigers tour the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem on August 3, 2022 (Courtesy/MFA)
Illustrative: Members of the Auburn Tigers tour the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem on August 3, 2022 (Courtesy/MFA)

Just over half of American adults are familiar with the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust, and even fewer know that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler came to power democratically, according to a survey on the state of Holocaust education released Tuesday.

The poll of 1,004 American adults, published by the American Jewish Committee days ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, found that only one in four — twenty-six percent — could correctly answer four basic questions about the Shoah. Thirty percent of respondents answered three questions correctly and another quarter knew two.

While 85% identified Auschwitz as a death camp and 76% were able to place the Holocaust between 1930 and 1950, just 53% knew that 6 million Jews were killed. Another 20% said they did not know how many, while 13% said fewer than 3 million and 11% said over 12 million.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents knew how Hitler came to power, but almost as many (34%) thought he took over Germany via a violent coup.

According to the AJC, the results demonstrated a strong link between general education level and knowledge about the Holocaust, with those with a college or high school degree answering all four questions correctly at a higher rate than those without.

The organization said that among the respondents, only 26% have visited a Holocaust museum or memorial, with that percentage rising among those who graduated college.

“Lacking knowledge can open pathways to trivialization and denial of the Holocaust that also contribute to rising antisemitism,” AJC CEO Ted Deutch said in a statement. “It is imperative that Americans continue to learn about the most documented, planned genocide in modern history – the Nazi extermination of one-third of the Jewish people.”

The survey, which was conducted over a week in October, included 1,004 US general population adults and had a 3.8% margin of error. The AJC said the poll, along with another survey of American Jews, will be included in a report on antisemitism in the US in 2022 that will be released next month.

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