I had just finished showing my history students the short, moving documentary Auschwitz: If You Cried, You Died that chronicles the return of two survivors, David Mandel and Mike Vogel, to the land of the dead, when I saw this story from the Washington Post:
Two-thirds of American millennials surveyed in a recent poll cannot identify what Auschwitz is, according to a study released on Holocaust Remembrance Day that found that knowledge of the genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II is not robust among American adults.
Twenty-two percent of millennials in the poll said they haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are not sure whether they’ve heard of it — twice the percentage of U.S. adults as a whole who said the same.
Asked to identify what Auschwitz is, 41 percent of respondents and 66 percent of millennials could not come up with a correct response identifying it as a concentration camp or extermination camp.
It makes me sick to my stomach to read that – not just because of my job as a history teacher, but more as a citizen who understands the truism that those who forget the injustices of the past are doomed to repeat them.
I’m certainly conscious of the fact that not everyone gets into history and loves to read about and study it. I recognize that there is so much in the era of iPads and YouTube and social media to distract even the most well-intentioned among us. And I know that there is a great deal of misinformation that abounds in these “lessons from history.”
“Hitler banned unions, collective bargaining, workers’ strikes & abortions.”
The source for Fugelsang’s claim regarding Hitler banning abortions is unclear, but what we do know from survivors of the concentration camps is that far from banning them, Heinrich Himmler conducted a forced abortion policy for countless Jewish and minority women thrown into Ravensbrück specifically:
The women suffered in different ways. They suffered not so much by the physical torture but by what happened to their children who were taken from them or brought to the gas chambers. As the camp evolved and more and more women were coming, many of them were pregnant and they had to undergo abortions, they had to undergo mass sterilization in the cruelest circumstances; they were used as guinea-pigs. They felt completely violated.
Whether Fugelsang was intentionally distorting the truth in order to originate another social media meme to increase his own notoriety on the left or not, these types of details about Nazi atrocities are certainly less prominent and understandably less known.
But Auschwitz? Not knowing what Auschwitz was? How can anyone look at that and say that there need not be an immediate re-emphasis on some of the actual facts of history as opposed to what we’re seeing in academia today: the Howard Zinn “history as a social struggle” approach, intentionally formulating bias to create social activism in students.
Because as others have noted, when a larger percentage of your country’s youth can expound upon the meaning of gender fluidity than they can what happened at Auschwitz, the future is imperiled.