Study shows Americans are forgetting about the Holocaust

 

In 1945, Sonia Klein walked out of Auschwitz. Every day of the 73 years since she has been haunted by the memory of what happened there, and the fate of the millions of others who never made it out of the Nazi death camps.

But Sonia wonders, once she and the few survivors still alive are gone, who will be left to remember?

"We are not here forever," said Klein, now 92. "Most of us are up in years, and if we're not going to tell what happened, who will?"

Sonia's worries are borne out by a comprehensive study of Holocaust awareness released Thursday, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which suggests that Americans are doing just the opposite.

Schoen Consulting, commissioned by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, conducted more than 1,350 interviews and found that 11 percent of U.S. adults and more than one-fifth of millennials either haven't heard of or are not sure if they have heard of, the Holocaust.

Of those who have heard of the Holocaust, many are fuzzy about the facts of a systematic campaign of murder that killed 12 million people, 6 million of them Jews. One-third — the number rises to 41 percent for millennials — think that two million or fewer people died.

Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel 2018

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March of The Living participants with Israeli (Israel) flags are seen in Auschwitz I Death Camp in Oswiecim, Poland on 12 April 2018 Taking place annually on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - The March of the Living itself is a 3-kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
An original yellow star (not on general display) is seen at the artifacts department of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, ahead of the Israeli annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 10, 2018. Picture taken April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Drivers stop and stand in silence on a street in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on April 12, 2017 as sirens wailed across Israel for two minutes marking the annual day of remembrance for the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide. Israel began marking Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day at sundown on April 11 with a ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem, which commemorates the Jews killed by the Nazi regime during World War II. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the annual Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, April 12, 2018. Debbie Hill/Pool via Reuters
A group of Israeli soldiers visits the Hall of Names in the Holocaust History Museum at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem ahead of the Israeli annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 10, 2018. Picture taken April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Israeli soldiers stand guard during a ceremony marking the annual Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Debbie Hill/Pool via Reuters
Young orthodox Jews sits in front of the gate to Birkenau during the 'March of the Living', a yearly Holocaust remembrance march between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, on April 12, 2018 in Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland. Held for the 30th time, organisers say the annual March of the Living is the world's largest single Holocaust memorial event. Thousands of young Jews from more than 40 nations marched alongside a handful of Holocaust survivors and Polish teenagers in homage to the victims of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau WWII death camp in southern Poland. / AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An original prisoner's coat (not on general display) is seen at the artifacts department of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, ahead of the Israeli annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 10, 2018. Picture taken April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
A youth sits along the railway during the 'March of the Living', a yearly Holocaust remembrance march between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, on April 12, 2018 in Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland. Held for the 30th time, organisers say the annual March of the Living is the world's largest single Holocaust memorial event. Thousands of young Jews from more than 40 nations marched alongside a handful of Holocaust survivors and Polish teenagers in homage to the victims of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau WWII death camp in southern Poland. / AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
March of The Living participants with Israeli (Israel) flags are seen in Auschwitz I Death Camp in Oswiecim, Poland on 12 April 2018 Taking place annually on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - The March of the Living itself is a 3-kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Original artifacts not on general display are seen at the artifacts department of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, ahead of the Israeli annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 10, 2018. Picture taken April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
March of The Living participants with Israeli (Israel) flags are seen in Auschwitz I Death Camp in Oswiecim, Poland on 12 April 2018 Taking place annually on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - The March of the Living itself is a 3-kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
An album containing photographs and signatures of Jews from the Jewish community of Kavala in Greece, before most were killed in the Treblinka extermination camp, as well as other original documents are seen in the archive of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, ahead of the Israeli annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Drivers stop and stand in silence on a highway in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on April 12, 2017 as sirens wailed across Israel for two minutes marking the annual day of remembrance for the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide. Israel began marking Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day at sundown on April 11 with a ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem, which commemorates the Jews killed by the Nazi regime during World War II. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
March of The Living participants with Israeli (Israel) flags are seen in Auschwitz I Death Camp in Oswiecim, Poland on 12 April 2018 Taking place annually on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - The March of the Living itself is a 3-kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Messages are left by visitors on the railway during the 'March of the Living', a yearly Holocaust remembrance march between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, on April 12, 2018 in Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland. Held for the 30th time, organisers say the annual March of the Living is the world's largest single Holocaust memorial event. Thousands of young Jews from more than 40 nations marched alongside a handful of Holocaust survivors and Polish teenagers in homage to the victims of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau WWII death camp in southern Poland. / AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Reuven Rivlin President of Israel and Andrzej Duda President of Poland are seen in Auschwitz I Death Camp in Oswiecim, Poland on 12 April 2018 Taking place annually on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - The March of the Living itself is a 3-kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Reuven Rivlin President of Israel and Andrzej Duda President of Poland are seen in Auschwitz I Death Camp in Oswiecim, Poland on 12 April 2018 Taking place annually on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - The March of the Living itself is a 3-kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Drivers stop and stand in silence on a street in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on April 12, 2017 as sirens wailed across Israel for two minutes marking the annual day of remembrance for the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) Chairman of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attend a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on April 12, 2018. Israelis came to a halt throughout the country to observe two minutes of solemn silence as a siren blared, marking the annual remembrance of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. / AFP PHOTO / DEBBIE HILL (Photo credit should read DEBBIE HILL/AFP/Getty Images)
The Arbeit Macht Frei inscription shadow is seen in Auschwitz I Death Camp in Oswiecim, Poland on 12 April 2018 Taking place annually on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - The March of the Living itself is a 3-kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People stop and stand in silence on a Jerusalem's downtown street on April 12, 2018, as sirens wailed across Israel for two minutes marking the annual day of remembrance for the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide. / AFP PHOTO / Menahem KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Jews from Korea and USA with Israel and United States of America flags are seen in Auschwitz - Birkenau Death Camp in Brzezinka, Poland on 11 April 2018 Taking place annually on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - The March of the Living itself is a 3-kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Birkenau death camp area is seen in Auschwitz - Birkenau Death Camp in Brzezinka, Poland on 11 April 2018 Taking place annually on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - The March of the Living itself is a 3-kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The Death Wall in the Auschwitz Death Camp is seen in Auschwitz I Death Camp in Oswiecim, Poland on 11 April 2018 Taking place annually on Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - The March of the Living itself is a 3-kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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"It's a must for people to remember," said Klein. The millions killed live through the survivors, she said, and "once we are gone they must not be forgotten."

With the youngest survivors now in their mid-seventies, the chance of hearing first-hand stories is rapidly dwindling. Two-thirds of Americans do not personally know or know of a Holocaust survivor.

"We are painfully aware that this is the last generation of Holocaust survivors who can tell their stories," said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. "Transmitting those stories," Schneider continued, "becomes increasingly difficult in a world without survivors."

American citizens are not alone: entire countries are changing the way they remember the Holocaust, also known in Hebrew as the Shoah. The Polish government recently passed a bill making it illegal to blame Poland for any crimes committed during the Holocaust. More than half of the people exterminated by the Nazis were from Poland. Auschwitz, perhaps the most well-known concentration camp and the death site of almost 1 million Jews, is located in southern Poland, where it has been preserved as a memorial.

Related: Simone Veil holocaust survivor and politician

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Simone Veil en discussion avec le nouveau pr�ident du parlement europ�n Emilio Colombo. (Photo by Keystone-France\Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
French Minister of Health Simone Veil launches an anti smoking exhibition at the Ministry of Health. (Photo by Elisabeth Andanson/Sygma via Getty Images)
Undated picture of French Health Minister Simone Veil. / AFP / - (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
FRANCE - JUNE 17: Health Minister Simone Veil In Paris, France On June 17, 1974 - Simone Veil, portrait. (Photo by Jean-Pierre BONNOTTE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
French Health Minister Simone Veil reading a French National Assembly information report in her garden during summer vacation. Simone Veil served as Health Minister in Prime Minister Jacques Chirac's government from May 28, 1974 to August 25, 1976 under the Presidency of Valery Giscard d'Estaing. (Photo by Elisabeth Andanson/Sygma via Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE: Simone Veil health ministry since May 1974 under the presidency of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, makes a speech 26 November 1974 on the abortion law at the French parliament house in Paris. (Photo credit should read AFP/Getty Images)
FRANCE - 1975: Simone Veil, French politician. Years 1975-1980. JAC-11757-15. (Photo by J. Cuinieres/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)
FRANCE - APRIL 14: Simone Veil at home in Paris, France on April 14, 1977. (Photo by Gilbert UZAN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Simone Veil dans un avion du Glam lors des �ections europ�nnes le 31 mai 1979, en France. (Photo by Gilbert UZAN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Simone Veil est �ue pr�idente de l'Assembl� Europ�nne de Strasbourg le 17 juillet 1979, �Strasbourg, France. (Photo by Gilbert UZAN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
FRANCE - 1979: Simone Veil with Judith, the daughter of Simone Veil's son Jean during 1979 in France. (Photo by BOTTI/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Simone Veil servs on the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, and the Committee on Political Affairs. She is also a member of Parliament's delegation. (Photo by Yves Forestier/Sygma via Getty Images)
FRANCE - MAY 27: Simone Veil visits Suburbs Rehabilitated in Seine St.Denis On May 27th, 1994 (Photo by Gilles BASSIGNAC/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
AUSCHWITZ, Poland: (L to R) Former Auschwitz prisoner and former French Health Minister Simone Veil holds a speech ad French President Jacques Chirac listens, 27 January 2005 at the former nazi death camp Birkenau, during the ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the biggest Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than one million people died. World leaders from 44 countries will stand alongside survivors of the camp and soldiers of the Soviet Red Army in a solemn tribute to the victims of Auschwitz. At (R) is French writer Marek Halter. AFP PHOTO PATRICK KOVARIK (Photo credit should read PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)
Natzwiller, FRANCE: French President Jacques Chirac (L) holds former European parliament president Simone Veil's hand during the inauguration of a memorial to European resistance fighters who were deported to their deaths during World War II, 03 November 2005, on the site of the only Nazi concentration camp on French soil in Natzwiller. Some 22,000 men and women perished at the Struthof death camp between May 1941 and November 1944, when it was liberated by US forces. Simone Veil was deported at the age of 17 to Auschwitz death camp. AFP PHOTO POOL PATRICK KOVARIK (Photo credit should read PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)
Simone Veil on the set of TV show 'Cette Annee La'. (Photo by Eric Fougere/VIP Images/Corbis via Getty Images)
Simone Veil, former State Minister and president of the European Parliament, with her family, sons Pierre Francois and Jean (R), her grandson Aurelien and his wife Stephanie, her granddaughters Aurelie (on her knees) and Beatrice (L) and Beatrice's mother Isabelle. (Photo by Micheline Pelletier/Corbis via Getty Images)
PARIS - MARCH 12: President of Israel, Shimon Peres with Simone Veil attends the Gala Dinner hosted by Robert Parienti from the Pasteur Weizmann Institute, to honor the President Shimon Peres, of Israel, at the Opera Garnier, on March 12, 2008 in Paris, France. (Photo by Michel Dufour/WireImage)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) shakes hands with French former minister and European Parliament President Simone Veil after she was awarded with the Grand Officier of the Legion d'Honneur during a ceremony at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, on April 29, 2009. AFP PHOTO POOL PHILIPPE WOJAZER (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)
FRANCE - MARCH 18: French Simone Veil, an Auschwitz survivor and the first elected president of the European parliament, is congratulated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy as she joined today the prestigious French Academy, the guardian of the French language at the Institute of France (French prestigious Arts and Sciences Institution which includes five academies) in Paris. The 82-year-old Veil, a former French minister who ranks among the country's most respected politicians, is only the sixth woman to join the 40 'immortals'. Veil's tattooed Auschwitz prisoner number 78651. Simon Veil in Paris, France on March 18th, 2010. (Photo by Alain BENAINOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
French lawyer, politician and former President of the European Parliament Simone Veil gives a speech during a ceremony organised by France's state-owned rail company SNCF, to launch a project to transform an old railway station into a memory place on January 25, 2011 in Bobigny, outside Paris, to pay respect to the 22.000 Jews of Drancy camp, deported from that place to the gas chambers in Nazi camps. As SNCF has expressed remorse for hauling thousands of Jews to their deaths in Nazi camps, the company insisted it had been forced by France's World War II German occupiers to help deport 75,000 French Jews to the gas chambers, and noted that 2,000 of its own rail workers were executed. AFP PHOTO BORIS HORVAT (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)
(L to R) Paris Police Prefect Michel Gaudin, Paris Police Deputy Prefect Melanie Villiers, French former Minister Simone Veil, and Deputy Minister for Veterans Marc Laffineur attend a ceremony marking the anniversary of infamous Vel D'Hiv round-up of 13,000 French Jews on July 17, 2011 in Paris, in front of the Monument commemorating the victims of racist and anti-semitic persecutions in the French capital. On July 16 and 17, 1942, some 13,000 Jews, mostly of non-French origin, were detained and taken to the Velodrome d'Hiver cycling stadium near the Eiffel Tower, where they spent a week in appalling conditions, before being deported to Nazi concentration camps. AFP PHOTO MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
French Former Health Minister Simone Veil attends on April 6, 2013 the awarding of the Political Book Prize at the National Assemby in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
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Schneider said there has also been an increase in anti-Semitism, and Americans agree, according to the survey. Sixty-eight percent of respondent believe there is anti-Semitism in the U.S. today. Separately, data released by the Anti-Defamation League shows a 57 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. in the past year.

The way to fix this growing problem, said Schneider, is education. Only nine states mandate Holocaust curriculum in schools, and each state offers varying degrees of detail.

While one third of the annual 1.7 million visitors to the Holocaust Museum each year in Washington D.C. are American students, 80 percent of Americans say they have never visited a Holocaust museum.

"Unless you know what happened," said Sonia, "you don't understand what never again means."

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