Less than half of Americans know how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, while also being unaware of how Adolf Hitler and his nationalist Nazi party came to power in Germany ahead of World War II, according to new survey data.
Pew Research Center released the findings on Wednesday, a little less than a week ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous Nazi death camp Auschwitz, which took place on January 27, 1945. The survey asked nearly 13,000 American respondents to answer multiple-choice questions about the Holocaust, finding that only 45 percent correctly said that 6 million Jews were killed during the World War II genocide.
Of the respondents, 29 percent answered that they were not sure or had no answer to how many Jews were killed, while 14 percent underestimated the number. An additional 12 percent overestimated the amount, believing that more than 12 million Jews had been killed.
Most Americans also didn’t know how Hitler came to power, with only 43 percent correctly answering that it was through a democratic political process. Twenty-five percent believed the Nazi leader had violently overthrown the German government, while 28 percent said they were not sure or had no answer.
“It is hardly a surprise to have confirmed the gap in Americans’ understanding of how Nazism came to power and the vastness of their murderous violence,” Rabbi Alissa Wise, acting co-executive director of the progressive group Jewish Voice for Peace, told Newsweek in a statement about the Pew Research data.”
“I imagine that a similar number of Americans are likewise unaware of other historical horrors wrought by white nationalism in this country towards Native Americans and enslaved Africans, or against imprisoned asylum-seekers right now,” Wise said. “As racist ethnonationalism and white supremacy grows across the world, this study is an urgent and unsettling reminder of how little history is informing our understanding of today – and of what happens when we forget our histories.”
“It is extremely disturbing that less than half of Americans can correctly cite the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, or can correctly answer that Adolf Hitler came to power through a democratic political process,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a group that works to counter the defamation of Jewish people, told Newsweek.
Greenblatt noted that the Pew Research data showed that there was a need for better education about the Holocaust. “This is why ADL supports the Never Again Education Act, which would create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to provide teachers across the country with the necessary resources to teach about the Holocaust in their classrooms,” he said.
As the Pew Research report noted, more than half of Americans do know what the Holocaust was, with 84 percent saying it referred to death or persecution of Jews. Sixty-nine percent of respondents also correctly knew that the genocide took place sometime between 1930 and 1950.
Ahead of the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation, world leaders have gathered in Jerusalem for the World Holocaust Forum at the city’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center on Thursday. From the U.S., Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attended. World leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron were also in attendance.
The somber anniversary comes as the world has witnessed a disturbing rise in anti-semitism. According to data released by the FBI in November, nearly 60 percent of hate crimes in 2018 in the U.S. targeted Jews and Jewish institutions.
This article has been updated with comments from the CEO of ADL.