Survey: Younger Mainers Lack Basic Knowledge About The Holocaust

Sep 16, 2020

Charles Rotmil, who lost his mother, sister and father in the Holocaust, speaks to students at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center in Augusta, in November of 2018.
Credit Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

Many young people in Maine have large gaps in their basic knowledge of the Holocaust, and more than half say they've recently seen Nazi symbols online or in their communities.

That's according to a recent report from the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany.

The organization surveyed more than 11,000 people under the age of 40 across the country about their knowledge of the Holocaust and antisemitism.

While Maine did comparatively better than most states, the survey found that many Maine respondents didn't know didn't know certain basic facts.  For example, more than 60 percent didn't know that more than 6 million Jews were killed, while a quarter were unable to name any death camps or ghettos.

Claims Conference President Gideon Taylor says that a time when antisemitism is on the rise, and few Holocaust survivors are still living, the results should serve as a wake-up call to local schools and communities to ensure that students are taught about the genocide.

"The Holocaust is the place at which we need to look in order to understand what racial hatred can lead to - to understand what extremism can finally result in," says Taylor.

Shenna Bellows, the executive director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, says that while she was glad to see that a large majority of people felt that it was important to study the Holocaust, the report was a clear sign that more students need to receive education around the state.

"We are glad to see that people think that that's important," Bellows says. "But clearly more work needs to be done to expand education around the Holocaust."

Last year, lawmakers took up a bill that would require education around genocide, including the Holocaust, to be taught in schools across the state. The bill was passed by the House and Senate but remains in limbo on the Appropriations Committee table.

"Schools can do so much to confront bias and prejudice by bringing this education into the classroom, and creating spaces for these conversations so the lessons of the Holocaust are taught," Bellows says, "and students learn that thinking, and are inspired to reflect and act, to confront, and speak back against prejudice and discrimination."