Never forget: Americans’ ignorance about the Holocaust is a dangerous development

A new survey has revealed that Americans, particularly millennials, are gravely ignorant of the Holocaust.
A new survey has revealed that Americans, particularly millennials, are gravely ignorant of the Holocaust. AP

As a nation, Americans have done a grave disservice to survivors of the Holocaust.

Many people assumed that retelling the stories of the evils of anti-Semitism were primarily survivors’ to tell. A new study shows the shortcomings of that approach.

Americans now know far too little about the genocide of the Jews, the survey found. Too many have missed essential lessons from this horrific chapter in history: Hitler did not rise to power through the military force of Nazis. He gained strength by playing off of people’s fears and insecurities, their willingness to believe that the Jewish people were the cause of economic struggles. Hitler orchestrated the murder of six million Jews, thousands of gays and lesbians, gypsies, the mentally disabled and more, because he was able to convince people that their fellow human beings deserved banishment, even death.

The study found that 52 percent of Americans polled thought Hitler rose through military strength. Miss that, and you could unwittingly play into such political evil again.

Nothing could be more pertinent today with strains of nativism preached from the mouths of far too many politicians and acts of anti-Semitism multiplying in the U.S. and across Europe.

Perhaps most disturbingly, a full 41 percent of Americans who took the survey didn’t recognize Auschwitz as the concentration camp where so many were sent to their deaths.

Felice Azorsky’s father and uncle survived Auschwitz. Aged 92 and 90 now, the two Los Angeles men are unique in that regard, brothers who suffered and survived together.

Azorsky is manager of donor relations and events for the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park.

She knows and respects how reticent her father, Josef Sands, has been to discuss the Holocaust. “It was just too painful for him,” she said.

The reluctance is not uncommon among survivors, said Jean Zeldin of the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education. And the 50 Jewish survivors in the Greater Kansas City area are increasingly frail.

Azorsky organized the high school talent contest at the Jewish Community Center that drew a deranged anti-Semite to the parking lot four years ago. He shot and killed three people: Reat Underwood, his grandfather William Corporon and Terri LaManno.

Their lives are honored with annual SevenDays events, which conclude Monday.

Azorsky knows what Holocaust survivors can never forget, even if many are hesitant to discuss it: Anti-Semitism is an ever-present concern. Increasingly, it will be up to all of us to continue learning and to be their voices going forward.