UK poll finds vast ignorance about the Holocaust

A survey in Britain found that five percent of adults do not believe the Holocaust happened at all and eight percent say the number of victims has been exaggerated.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In preparation for Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday, the British government charity in charge of annually marking the genocide of European Jewry commissioned a poll that discovered widespread ignorance of the Holocaust.

Polling group Opinion Matters surveyed 2,000 adults for Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT). It found that five percent do not believe the Holocaust happened at all, while eight percent say the number of those murdered has been exaggerated. Of those who did believe the mass genocide occurred, 45 percent did not know how many were murdered and 19 percent underestimated the number by two thirds (2 million vs. 6 million).

While hundreds of thousands of Britons are expected to attend some 11,000 activities and memorial events on Sunday, which is the 74th anniversary of the Soviet Army’s liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, this ignorance has the organizers worried.

“The Holocaust threatened the fabric of civilization and has implications for us all,” said HMDT Chief Executive Olivia Marks-Woldman. “Such widespread ignorance and even denial is shocking. Without a basic understanding of this recent history, we are in danger of failing to learn where a lack of respect for difference and hostility to others can ultimately lead.”

The lack of knowledge is even more troubling considering that Holocaust education in England is the only historical event that is a compulsory part of the national history curriculum. It is usually taught to students 13-14 years old. While private academies and independent schools are not obliged to follow the state’s curriculum, many do so nonetheless, according to the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET), a British organization that trains teachers in the subject and brings survivors to speak in classrooms.

The poll’s numbers, however, are consonant with findings by a research team at University College London’s Centre for Holocaust Education. As reported in October in Tablet Magazine, the world’s largest study of its kind included more than 8,000 students, ages 11-18, in England and found that their historical knowledge was partial at best.

The children said that Adolf Hitler was the one responsible for the Holocaust, but they “have significant gaps in their understanding,” said Andy Pearce, who headed the study. For example, he noted, “There was no reference to the Nazi Party as a political movement…. There was no understanding of collaborating regimes.”

Pearce, said the report, believes there are several reasons for the educational failure. The focus in many classes is only on the good the British did — fighting the Germans, liberating concentration camps and taking in 10,000 Jewish children from Germany and other countries before the war in what is known as the Kindertransport. In addition, teachers who lack training rely too much on popular films and books, which not only do not impart depth but also contain historical inaccuracies.

One teacher, Nicola Wetherall, said there is not enough time built into the history curriculum to go into necessary details, and educators rely on a visit by a Holocaust survivor to cover much of the subject. “It is almost lazy in the case of some schools to invite a survivor in and expect them to do the job for them,” Wetherall said in the report. “[But] It is not common practice to brief and debrief children before a meeting like this.”