The Holocaust and the Failure of the US Education System

hall of names at Yad Vashem
The Hall of Names at Yad Vashem – David Shankbone / CC BY-SA from Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, I saw that the Holocaust was trending on Twitter. It turns out that it was because of new survey results. Claims Conference released the results of its U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, which surveyed 18 to 39-year-olds in 50 American states.

Some of the disturbing results from the survey were:

  • 63% (69% in Arkansas) were unaware that 6 million Jews were killed; 36% thought it was 2 million or fewer
  • 48% of respondents couldn’t name a single concentration camp; that figure was 60% in Texas
  • 11% (19% in New York) believed that Jews caused the Holocaust
  • 49% have seen Holocaust denial/distortion posts on social media or elsewhere online

In 2019, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust released the results of a poll of adults in the UK. These were some of their findings:

  • 5% didn’t believe the Holocaust happened
  • 8% believed the scale of the Holocaust was greatly exaggerated
  • only 36% believed that more than 2 million Jews were killed

This is really sickening. We’ll talk more about Holocaust denial towards the end of this post, but let’s do a quick history lesson, since apparently, the education system has dropped the ball and far too many need a basic lesson.

The Final Solution

During World War II, Hitler moved ahead with his plan to wipe as many Jews off the face of the planet as possible. This really coalesced with a 1942 plan for the Final Solution. By the end of the war in 1945, the Nazis had called around 6 million Jews, which was about 2/3 of the European Jewish population. An astounding 90% of Polish Jews were killed.

The extermination camps really got going around 1942, but things weren’t very nice before that, either. Jews were ghettoized in occupied cities across Europe, crammed into small areas and allowed very little food. In the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941, the daily ration was 184 Calories.

Arbeit macht frei sign at the gate to Auschwitz
Dnalor 01 / CC BY-SA 3.0 from Wikimedia Commons


Auschwitz was an extermination camp in occupied Poland, near the town of Oświęcim. It was one of six extermination camps (and over 40 concentration camps) run by the Nazis. The sign “arbeit macht frei” gave the absurd message that work would make prisoners free.

In 1942, trains delivered Jews from across Europe to be exterminated as part of the Final Solution. There were 1.3 million prisoners sent to Auschwitz, and 1.1 million of them were killed. Of these, 960,000 were Jews, including 865,000 who were sent to the gas chamber immediately upon arrival.

In 1942, Crematorium I had three ovens that could burn 340 bodies in 24 hours. That was small potatoes; in the next two years, capacity increased to 8000 bodies per day. Between 1942 and 1944, an average of 1000 bodies were burned per day.

One of the things that I found most chilling when visiting Auschwitz was the items that had been taken from prisoners on arrival, including shoes, eyeglasses, and suitcases. The two images below are from Auschwitz.

pile of victims' shoes at Auschwitz
Oleg Yunakov / CC BY-SA from Wikimedia Commons
Auschwitz victims glasses
DIMSFIKAS / CC BY-SA from Wikimedia Commons


The Nazis performed human experiments on Jewish and various other prisoners at Auschwitz and other extermination camps. Experimental operations were performed without anaesthesia. Experiments were performed on twins, including sewing them together to try to make conjoined twins. Some people were deliberately infected with diseases or given untested vaccines. Experiments were also conducted to find quick and easy ways of performing mass sterilizations.

Looking for justice

The film Nazi Concentration Camps, available on Netflix, was made by the Americans in 1945 to document the atrocities in the Nazi concentration camps they liberated. The footage was used at the Nuremberg trials. Their motivation was clearly to capture what the Nazis had done, so the images shown are very graphic and often sickening, to match the reality of what was found.

The Nuremberg trials, carried out from 1945-1946, preserved a large amount of evidence of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. The Nuremberg Trials Project, created by the Harvard Law School Library, has 650,000 pages of transcripts, legal briefs, and evidence presented during the trials.

Holocaust deniers

There are a number of different targets for Holocaust denial, including denial that Jews were specifically targeted and denial that large number of Jews were killed. Some of it seems to be fuelled by antisemitism, while others just seem happy to hop on the conspiracy theory bandwagon. is a hotbed of ignorance to begin with, and its commenters certainly don’t hesitate to bring the bizarre on this issue. Here are some of the arguments, all with the original spelling and grammar (this debate is partially archived on Wayback Machine):

  • “Well if we take a look at what the jews got out of the holocauser we clearly see that the jews clearly on another layer of lies every year too keep the money flowing and this my ladies and gents is the holohoax theory. Let’s not forget that the number 6 million was used by jews as early as the 1920’s”
  • “The holocaust is based on one thing, Jewish eye witness testimony. There is nothing else, Only anecdotes. Claims are not verified scientifically when cremains could easily be dug up in core samples. One group of people benefit and it is Zionists from this hoax. Other people were in camps but none report the atrocities, Only Jews.”
  • “Real events do not suppress investigation. Why is it illegal to deny the holocaust in so many European countries? Why does Germany and Poland make it illegal to investigate the holocaust happenings? Real events do not fear the truth. The JFK assassination is the most researched murder in human history, and we know Lee Harvey Oswald did it; but if the holocaust occurred, why not allow it to be investigated?”
  • “The holocaust was not nearly as severe as Jews say it was. Jew victims are more likely under 10, 000. . . And they were war prisoners 1. 6 million is a recurring number is Jewish lore, They picked this number because it fits their fairy tale about moving back to Israel. 2. The Nazis did not have the tech to round up and identify 6 million Jews in the 1930’s. 3. Simple math disproves their claims. The facilities were incapable of killing that many people.”
  • “The holahoax is the biggest scam in world history. It is essentially an industry within itself. Museums. Films. Books. Israel. Even if it did happen (which it didnt) it is essentially a blessing for the living Jews that make si much money off of this guilt tripping industry. Also Auschwitz never had the ability to “gas” 40000 people in one day. Also the stories about the holocaust are just that. Stories. Unsupported by any evidence and pictures other than 3 pictures of random people who look malnourished.”

It’s interesting how these wingnuts spout off as though they’re great authority figures, like the guy pulling the 10,000 figure out of his ass. And “3 pictures of random people who look malnourished”? What kind of stupid rock has that person been hiding under? These people really don’t seem qualified to be part of humanity.

Never forget

Clearly, the educational status quo isn’t good enough. As we draw closer to a time when we’re not going to have survivors around anymore, it’s all that much more important to do something now. And clearly, the hate that the Nazis directed at not only Jews, but Slavs, Roma, mentally ill, etc., is still alive and kicking in the world, as is the tyranny that enabled it.

We need a whole lot more critical thinking and compassion. Sadly, I’m not feeling particularly encouraged.

Quotes from Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in the window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that’s being dead.

Action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.

More information

37 thoughts on “The Holocaust and the Failure of the US Education System”

  1. By some sort of weird luck my grandfather escaped the working camps during the war as a little boy. Some priest took his place. They were waiting for transport…
    It’s all true what we see and what we know about this gruesome part of our history.
    Maybe it’s too ugly for people to really understand what they are denying.

    1. The commenters on that site obviously are representative of all Holocaust deniers, but it didn’t seem like they were coming from a place of thinking something that horrible couldn’t have happened. They seem to be choosing to believe their own warped narrative rather than reality.

      1. I see. What I wanted to say is, that when people could feel or truly understand what they are denying, there wouldn’t be a choice to deny it.
        My words are not working with me today, ugh…😞

  2. Thank you for posting this. The denial is scary. I read somewhere (can’t remember where off the top of my head) that the Holocaust is the most researched event in human history, so it’s shocking that people can say it’s just known from hearsay.

    Where did you get the forty death camps figure? I thought there were only six actual death camps (see here) although there were many more concentration camps.

  3. I worked in a Jewish charity for over seven years educating people about the Holocaust and promoting the Jewish people and Israel in a positive light.
    Every year on Holocaust memorial day, tears would stream down my face as I watched some of the harrowing films on what the Jewish people suffered, under the tyranny of a maniac, with a moustache.
    It made me even more determined to speak up and be counted against anything so evil ever happening to the Jewish people again.
    The thought of it not being taught in schools is abhorrent.
    A powerful post, thank you for sharing.

  4. Conspiracy theories are rife at the moment, I can understand people wanting to question certain topics but holocaust denial is sickening. It’s a strange world when people believe what they read on social media more than actual evidence. Very saddening.

  5. I don’t understand how they can deny the Holocaust. Yet, somehow I am not surprised.
    People would rather believe a conspiracy theory then to face the truth of facts.
    I probably should ask my own grandchildren what they know about the subject. So I wonder how well the Canadian schools would do if surveyed?
    The best book I ever read was from Corrie Ten Boom. She was a survivor of the Holocaust.

  6. I toured Dachau when I was about 21 and visiting a friend in Munich. There was something really creepy about that place I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Like the air was still thick with evil and suffering. I was glad when we were done and could leave. I’d say it’s amazing both how the world can ignore horrible things when they are happening and how they can deny them after the fact, but we’re living through one of those moments now. Never underestimate the power of people being willfully ignorant.

  7. Again, in my view, it is the educated vs. the non-educated, basically. There are far more educated people who understand what has happened in the world and what is happening still. And, you can be on the right side of history or on the wrong side of history.

  8. Denial and misinformation is pretty bad all round at the moment, but this is particular horrific. I’m not sure that teaching facts in schools is going to help though as one of the draws of this kind of thinking is that the establishment is lying but I’m smarter than them and figured it out – despite their point of view being in some cases down right illogical. We need to teach thinking skills, how to assess information sources and emotional intelligence to deal with hard truths

  9. Thanks for putting this together Ashley – I’ve never seen for real what the deniers say – it’s absurd! I think history is repeating itself in many parts of the world with the rise of fascism and people aren’t recognising it because they’ve forgotten history or misunderstand that it wasn’t a peculiarly German thing. I read yesterday that Mexican women in camps in USA are being given hysterectomies without true consent – It’s more important than ever to remind people what this leads to xx😘😘

    1. That’s terrifying. This was also the first I’d heard what deniers were actually saying, and it’s really disturbing. We need to learn from the past, not repeat it. ❤️❤️

  10. A tragic time in American history and one that must be remembered. I agree, we continue to need compassion and better critical thinking regarding our history, what it has taught us (ideally) and moving forward.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: