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The first 50-state survey of Holocaust knowledge among Millennials and Generation Z revealed a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge,” including more than one in 10 respondents saying they did not recall ever having heard the word “Holocaust” before.
As noted in the Holocaust Encyclopedia of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:
“The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were ‘racially superior’ and they wanted to create a ‘racially pure’ state. Jews, deemed ‘inferior,’ were considered an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.”
By 1945, using tactics such as gas vans, killing centers at concentration camps (primarily gas chambers) and firing squads, the Germans and their allies and collaborators killed nearly two out of every three European Jews. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire.”
Distressing findings from the survey related to this historical event include the following:
- 63% did not know six million Jewish people were murdered in the Holocaust, and half of those thought the death toll was less than two million.
- Of the 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos established during World War II (such as Auschwitz or Dachau), nearly half of the respondents could not name a single one.
- Only 90% of respondents believed the Holocaust happened—7% were not sure and 3% denied it occurred.
- 11% believed the Jewish people caused the Holocaust.
It doesn’t help that about half of those surveyed have seen Holocaust denial or distortion posts online, and 56% reported having seen Nazi symbols on social media or in their communities.
“The most important lesson is that we can't lose any more time,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), that commissioned the study. “If we let these trends continue for another generation, the crucial lessons from this terrible part of history could be lost.”
The importance of this survey’s findings, and the concerns it raises, merits our full attention. But it also reminds us how quickly foundational knowledge can be lost, not to mention supplanted by terribly skewed and mistaken understandings, on any number of things.
Including the Christian faith.
This was one of my central points in my book Meet Generation Z, where I wrote:
“The most defining characteristic of Generation Z is that it is arguably the first generation in the West (certainly in the United States) that will have been raised in a post-Christian context. As a result, it is the first post-Christian generation…. They are not simply living in and being shaped by a post-Christian cultural context. They do not even have a memory of the gospel.”
As Gideon Taylor, president of the Claims Conference, noted regarding the Holocaust survey findings:
“The results are both shocking and saddening and they underscore why we must act now while Holocaust survivors are still with us to voice their stories. We need to understand why we aren’t doing better in educating a younger generation about the Holocaust and the lessons of the past. This needs to serve as a wake-up call to us all….”
Yes, it does. And not just in relation to the Jewish people who were killed in the Holocaust,
… but in relation to a Jewish man who died 2,000 years earlier.
“First-Ever 50-State Survey on Holocaust Knowledge of American Millennials and Gen Z Reveals Shocking Results,” Claims Conference, September 16, 2020, read online.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website: https://www.ushmm.org/
Kit Ramgopal, “Survey finds 'shocking' lack of Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Gen Z,” NBC News, September 16, 2020, read online.
James Emery White, Meet Generation Z (Baker).
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I Believe,” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast.
Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.