'Adolf Hitler killed 100,000 Jews': new study reveals pupils' lack of Holocaust knowledge

Adi Bloom

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One in 10 secondary pupils believes that no more than 100,000 people were killed during the Holocaust, a new survey reveals.

Most have also not heard of Treblinka or Bergen-Belsen. And more than half of younger teenagers believe that the Holocaust was solely attributable to Adolf Hitler, according to a survey conducted by the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education.

More than 8,000 pupils between the ages of 11 and 18 were surveyed for the study. It reveals that significant misunderstandings about the Holocaust are prevalent in secondary schools.

Even after studying the Holocaust, only 37 per cent of pupils knew the meaning of the term “anti-Semitism”. Instead of discussing where anti-Jewish ideas came from, teenagers tended to talk about the numbers of Jews living in Germany, their social status and their religious beliefs.

Overwhelmingly, the pupils believed that the Holocaust was perpetrated by Hitler and the Nazis alone. Fewer than 10 per cent suggested that the German people bore any responsibility for the genocide. 

In Years 7-9, 56 per cent of pupils believed that the Holocaust was solely attributable to Adolf Hitler. As they grew older, teenagers recognised that the Nazis played a significant role as well. But most saw the Nazis as an elite group loyal to Hitler, rather than as a political party enjoying widespread support among the German people.

And, the report states, very few students showed an awareness of the role played in the Holocaust by other, collaborating regimes, such as fascist Italy or Vichy France.

Misunderstanding of the chronology of the Holocaust was also common. Forty per cent of pupils incorrectly believed that mass killings began immediately after Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor, in January 1933. Only 7 per cent knew that the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 triggered the genocide.

There were also gaps in pupils’ geographical knowledge. Fifty-five per cent thought that the mass murders took place in Germany rather than Poland. And 51 per cent said that most of the Jewish victims came from Germany.

While 71 per cent explicitly connected Auschwitz with the Holocaust, only 15 per cent were able to recognise the names Treblinka or Bergen-Belsen.

Fewer than half – 46 per cent – knew that Allied liberation brought about the end of the Holocaust. Misunderstandings about Britain’s role were rife: 34.4 per cent incorrectly believed that the Holocaust triggered Britain’s entry into the war. And 24 per cent mistakenly believed that the British did not know about the mass killings until the end of the war.

Commenting on the study, Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “It is clear from this report that, despite the great work that is already going on across the country, there are still areas where students are receiving inadequate Holocaust education and where teachers have inadequate training.”



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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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