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Fewer than half of Americans know 6 million Jews were killed in Holocaust: Pew

A few days before the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a newly released survey from the Pew Research Center illustrated what Americans know about the Holocaust — and what they don’t.

More than 80% of Americans adults know that the Holocaust was a campaign to exterminate Jews; asked to describe it in their own words, they demonstrated familiarity with topics like concentration camps, ghettos and the Nazi party.

However, only 43% of respondents know that Hitler came to power through democratic means. Similarly, only 45% could state the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust — about 6 million. About 15% of respondents underestimated the death toll, estimating that 3 million or fewer Jews were killed.

While it’s not possible to determine if respondents underestimated the death toll out of anti-Semitic bias, according to a Pew Center press release “the data does suggest that relatively few people in this group express strongly negative feelings towards Jews.” Asked to rate their attitudes towards Jews on a “feeling thermometer,” nine tenths of those who underestimated Holocaust deaths reported “neutral or warm feelings towards Jews.”

To test factual knowledge of the Holocaust, the Pew Center asked respondents to answer one open-ended and four multiple-choice questions. The questions were part of a larger survey gauging understanding of various religious topics, including key tenets of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and atheism. Overall, the survey found that most American adults are familiar Bible and core Christian beliefs, but are less informed about other religions.

The Pew Center also included the five questions about the Holocaust in a separate survey of teenagers, who demonstrated less knowledge about the Holocaust than adults, with only one-third of respondents aware that Hitler was elected democratically.

Americans do seem to know more about the Holocaust than the French, however. The Conference of Jewish Material Claims against Germany conducted a similar survey in France and found that 69% of those respondents did not know how many Jews died in the Holocaust, and 10% of respondents believed the Holocaust was a myth.

Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at [email protected].

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