There are some things you’d think would just be common knowledge. You don’t eat something that says it’s poisonous. You don’t drink gasoline. Fire is hot. Ice is cold. You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.
And that Jewish people didn’t cause the Holocaust.
If for no other reason than popular culture, you’d think that most people, no matter their age, would know there was a World War II, the Nazis were the bad guys and the biggest victims in the war were Jewish people. But no.
A group called called Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study did a survey. It was commissioned by the nonprofit The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany which was founded in 1951 by 23 international Jewish organizations to negotiate reparations for Holocaust survivors and return of property stolen by Nazis. The group is commonly known as the Claims Conference.
They surveyed a bunch of 18-39 year olds, born between 1981-2002, 200 in each state, or 10,000 total. In New York, where 55,000 Holocaust survivors live in New York City, 19% thought Jews caused the Holocaust. Nationally, 11% believe Jews caused the Holocaust. In Tennessee, 15% thought so.
Even more surprisingly, 48% of New Yorkers didn’t know the Holocaust and World War II had anything to do with each other.
If you’re over a certain age, you may wonder how in the world anybody could not know what World War II was about. In terms of time, 1939-1945 wasn’t that long ago. A lot of people who were around then are still around. If you’re 39 years old, there’s a good chance you have, or had, a grandparent who was around then.
Is it a failure of the education system? Could be. I was in school when World War II wasn’t even 40 years old yet and I don’t recall hearing that much about it in the classroom, though I had a bad habit of tuning out at times.
A more modern reason might be the Holocaust deniers. They’ve always been around, spreading the theory that the Holocaust, and maybe the war as a whole, was completely made up. Why anybody would make up such a thing is beyond me, but conspiracy theories tend to not make sense.
For most of time, people who believed such a thing were kept on the fringes of society, using pamphlets or low wattage radio stations to get their message out there. Now, with the internet, they can reach a lot of people for little or no money. And while the huge majority of us still don’t take them seriously, some people apparently are.
But the most likely reason for young people not really knowing what World War II was about is that time simply goes on. A lot of things that once seemed mightily important fade into the past and one day you get a fully grown adult not knowing, or caring, what happened 40 years before they were born.
I can already see it starting to happen with the Vietnam War. Once upon a time, even years after it ended, that war dominated the American landscape. Everything bad that happened could somehow be traced back to that time in the ’60s and ’70s. But now? A lot of people don’t even have the most rudimentary knowledge of it.
And even the War on Terror is starting to fade. Mention Iraq or Afghanistan and most people aren’t sure if they’re still happening or ended or were put on pause by the coronavirus.
And what about the coronavirus/COVID-19? Eventually a vaccine will come along and it’ll be brought under control and the world will get back to what passes for normal. How much time will pass before it starts to fade in our memory?
If the majority of the population is vaccinated sometime in 2022, will we even think about the virus in 2024? How long before somebody starts saying the virus never actually happened and it was just a way to bring us all under control, or something along those line? 2025? Or will enough time pass and we’ll hit a new decade before somebody starts saying such things?
People won’t forget that fast, you say? Well, within our own lifetimes, there was a war that nearly tore the world in half and now some think the victims from that war caused it.
Never underestimate your fellow man’s ability to get things completely wrong.