The timing was auspicious. The same week that a new poll underscored “critical gaps” in Canadians’ – especially millennials’ – knowledge of the Holocaust, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced the purchase of a Shoah relic detailing the Nazis’ plans for the Jews of North America.
As The CJN’s Alex Rose reports in this week’s edition, the book, titled Statistik, Presse und Organisationen des Judentums in den Vereinigten Staaten und Kanada (Statistics, Media and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada), comprised a study of Jewish populations and Jewish institutions in various communities across the continent. Hitler commissioned the work himself, and the LAC’s copy includes a bookplate with the words “Ex Libris Adolf Hitler,” indicating it belonged to him personally.
Reports of the LAC’s unique acquisition made news in Canada and far beyond, with breathless headlines claiming it mapped a potential Final Solution for North America. In reality, by the time Hitler assigned the project in 1944, after the war had turned decisively against the Axis powers, there was virtually no chance it would ever come to fruition. But if the book nonetheless retains the power to make us shiver a bit, that’s nothing compared to the apparent dearth of Holocaust knowledge in this country.
In this week’s cover story, Ron Csillag dives into the numbers; and they are without doubt alarming: 54 per cent of respondents were unaware that six million Jews died in the Shoah, while 15 per cent of Canadian adults couldn’t be sure that they had ever even heard of the Holocaust. Among millennials in this country, those figures rose to 62 and 22 per cent respectively, while over 50 per cent of millennials couldn’t name even one concentration camp or ghetto.
In addition, close to 60 per cent believe Canadians care less than they used to about the Shoah – perhaps not so surprising when you consider that nearly 90 per cent of respondents have never been to a Holocaust museum. (That last figure may also explain why, though Hitler retains significant name recognition in this country, Canadian millennials are much less familiar with other Nazi kingpins, like Goebbels, Eichmann and Himmler.)
“The findings raise an existential question,” writes Naomi Azrieli, CEO and chair of the Azrieli Foundation, in an accompanying essay. “How can we uphold the promise to ‘Never Forget,’ if our citizens have already forgotten important details?”
For Azrieli the poll proves that Holocaust education in this country is due for a significant rethink. That process should include a more defined curriculum for discussing the Shoah in schools, including Jewish schools. As we move toward a reality where there are no survivors left to tell their stories, there is simply no denying that the task of Holocaust education will fall increasingly to teachers.
The current approach in Shoah education focuses on commemoration, but Azrieli argues that “[r]emembrance is not enough. Reflection is not enough.” Unless it’s paired with effective education, personal stories of tragedy and survival, powerful as they are, are simply not enough. Without the proper historical grounding, misinformation and denial will inevitably rise. And the alarming lack of Holocaust awareness can only get worse.