This isn’t surprising:
For seven decades, “never forget” has been a rallying cry of the Holocaust remembrance movement.
But a survey released Thursday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, found that many adults lack basic knowledge of what happened — and this lack of knowledge is more pronounced among millennials, whom the survey defined as people ages 18 to 34.
Thirty-one percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.
There’s a reason for this, but I think part of it might have been missed:
“As we get farther away from the actual events, 70-plus years now, it becomes less forefront of what people are talking about or thinking about or discussing or learning,” said Matthew Bronfman, a board member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which commissioned the study. “If we wait another generation before you start trying to take remedial action, I think we’re really going to be behind the eight ball.”
Bronfman is right that 70 years ago is a long time: I was born in 1977 and WWII ended a mere 32 years previously, but I’m no more connected to that event than a millennial is. Where he’s going wrong is thinking “remedial action” is required, which will no doubt consist of reminding everyone what Auschwitz was along with harrowing pictures and dark warnings of a rise in antisemitism. But it’s not Auschwitz or the Holocaust that needs to be remembered so much as what brought them about. Alas, it’s not difficult to see why those lessons have been forgotten. For example:
And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.
Well, yes. When people are told incessantly that democratically elected governments are by definition virtuous, it might be hard to imagine someone like Hitler could come to power peacefully. Rather than warning of the dangers of an overly powerful head of state, we have elected presidents ruling by Executive Order, deliberately bypassing Congress as his supporters cheer and the media explains it’s best for the country. Instead of a Supreme Court ruling on the law as it stands, we have them making overtly political decisions which the people in power say is what the people want. As the federal government gets its tentacles into every nook and cranny of public life and branches of the state security apparatus attempt to thwart the election and then the presidency of Donald Trump, few seem interested in pointing out that the Holocaust was first and foremost an abuse of state power which cared little for due process or individual rights.
At the site of the Monument to Six Million Jewish Martyrs, the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation has been developing an interactive memorial plaza, scheduled to open in October. Visitors will use a new app that will, among other things, feature survivors’ recorded testimonies.
In one part of the plaza, train tracks that carried prisoners to the Treblinka death camp will be embedded in the pavement. When visitors step onto the tracks, the app, using geocaching technology, will pull up videos of Philadelphia residents “who were on those very trains that led to Treblinka,” said Eszter Kutas, the remembrance foundation’s acting director.
I’m sure this is very interesting from a historical perspective, but wasn’t the whole point of “never forget” to ensure the Holocaust was never repeated? I’m a lot less concerned that the population is slowly forgetting a terrible event which occurred over half a century before they were born than their being unaware of the importance of things like limited government, freedom of speech, and individual rights in preventing another.