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Survey shows shockingly small knowledge about Holocaust in schools in UK

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Posted October 29, 2015

Even though many people are only interested in the greatest scientific advancement and space exploration, sometimes it is crucial and very interesting to research ourselves. To see how we perceive humanity and how we remember greatest mistakes that people have ever made.

Knowledge about Holocaust appears to be mostly based on misconceptions and myths and only 37% of surveyed kids knew what antisemitism is. Image credit: KEN via Wikimedia, CC-BY-3.0

Knowledge about Holocaust appears to be mostly based on misconceptions and myths and only 37% of surveyed kids knew what antisemitism is. Image credit: KEN via Wikimedia, CC-BY-3.0

This is why scientists at UCL Centre for Holocaust Education has conducted the world’s largest national Holocaust study. It revealed a shocking truth – nearly 2/3 of secondary school children do not know what antisemitism means. Furthermore, scientists note that quite often understanding of the Holocaust of school children is based on inaccurate information or even myths.

Study relied on information collected from over 8,000 11-18 year olds. The basic method was a comprehensive survey and in-depth focus group interviews. Even though findings are very surprising or even shocking, researchers say that this study is extremely helpful as its results are likely to shape Holocaust education for years to come.

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chairman of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, said: “this research offers an unprecedented insight into the depth of understanding of the Holocaust among young people. There is much that is good, but also some very clear and significant challenges if we are to ensure that all our young people truly understand the facts of the Holocaust and are able to reflect on its meanings”.

He also notes that there are already outcomes of this research – results of the study already played a major role informing the recommendations of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission. This means that it is likely to have an effect on future policies about how children should be taught about Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

There was a widespread belief that there is ‘Holocaust fatigue’, but this research shows rather an opposite image. Even 83% of young people said that they believe it is an important subject to study. Furthermore, more than 70% of those who had already studied the Holocaust wanted to learn more. Ono more myth appears to be busted after this research – surveyed Muslim children are as positive about studying the Holocaust as other students across the United Kingdom. These are very positive results, showing that children do in fact attach importance to the Holocaust studies. However, other results are shocking.

Even such scarce knowledge about Holocaust that children appear to have is often based on inaccuracies and myths. Furthermore, only 37% of young people surveyed knew what the term ‘antisemitism’ means. That said, majority did know the basic idea behind Holocaust – they knew that Jews were primary victims of it. But very rarely students could explain motifs behind killing of Jews. Some students knew about other targeted groups, but often explanation why they were being murdered were very vague – children often said that killings of these groups only happened because they were ‘different’.

Responsibility for Holocaust was often attributed to Hitler and ‘the Nazis’, while only less than 10% suggested that the German people bore any responsibility for the genocide. Very few children surveyed had any knowledge about the role of collaborating regimes of participation of ‘ordinary’ people in the killings. When school children acknowledged participation of random people, they often explained that these people had no choice.

When given the question ‘If a member of the military or police refused an instruction to kill Jewish people, what do you think would be the most likely to happen to them?’, vast majority of the participants of the survey said that such people would be shot. However, this is a misconception as there is no historical record of this happening. Most likely such person would be sent to fulfil a different duty, but only 5% of students provided such answer.

Scientists note that idea that people who participated in these mass killings had no choice is very comfortable for society. But also very misleading. History of genocide raises many questions why people agreed to participate in it. In order to address these questions in the future, we must ensure that young generations are ready to learn about Holocaust by facts rather than from myths. Furthermore, even more myths are in the knowledge about role of Great Britain in stopping the Holocaust.

When students were given a question about what happened when the British government knew about the mass murder of the Jews, only 6.7% of students said that the British government never made it a war aim to save the Jews of Europe, even though they knew about the killings. In fact, Britain’s only response was declaration that the perpetrators have to be brought to justice when the war was over.

Meanwhile, more than one third of participant of the survey believed that Britain declared war on Germany when got to know about the genocide, almost one quarter thought that Britain knew nothing of the killings until the end of the war and 17.6% thought that the British government drew up ‘rescue plans to try and do everything to save the Jewish people’. All of these are very inaccurate ideas of what actually happened.

We as a world’s society have to remember such dark historical events as Holocaust. Not only for respect of the victims, but also in order not to repeat such mistakes again. And youth has to learn about it objectively, not considering it a simple process, where Western powers had no instruments to help. There were many ordinary people who participated and many states that chose to ignore it – all of which must be remembered in order to prevent it from happening again.

Source: UCL

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