Claims Conference Study Shows ‘Gaps’ in Holocaust Knowledge in France

claims conference
Claims Conference Chairman Julius Berman walking through the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

Days ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a new study was released showing “critical gaps” in Holocaust knowledge among Frenchmen – especially younger people.

The findings were the result of a study conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) as part of its Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey initiative. The organization’s president, Julius Berman, commented that the study mirrored previous ones that showed that, while many responders lack basic facts about the Holocaust, education about it is seen as a high priority.

“Once again, we are seeing a significant lapse in understanding about the Holocaust, a history that is critically important,” he said. “Our current education is not ample; it is failing us, and the disturbing trend of Holocaust ignorance we are seeing globally demands increased education.”

The most striking statistic presented by the survey showed that 57% of French respondents did not know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, a figure that rose to 69% among “millennials,” defined as adults under 38 years of age. Roughly similar numbers said they thought around 2 million Jews had been killed by the Nazis. However, only 19% of those polled, and 28% of millennials, believed that fewer than one million had been murdered.

While 66% said they had heard of Auschwitz, far lower numbers recognized the names of any other concentration camps, or death camps.

Knowledge levels varied when it came to Holocaust history on French soil. Seventy-four percent overall had heard of the Vel d’Hiv roundup – when Nazis, aided by French police, arrested more than 13,000 Jews and held them in a stadium before most were deported to Auschwitz. Only 56% of millennials were familiar with the event. Only 2% of all respondents had ever heard of the Drancy Internment Camp – a temporary holding facility in a Paris suburb used as a transfer point to death camps. The site was run for over a year by French police before being taken over by the SS.

“Much has been done in France for the education of the Shoah, but we all know that education has to be repeated again and again and adapted to speak to each generation,” said Robert Ejnes, Executive Director of CRIF (the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions). “We therefore stress the importance of an always-adjusted education and the necessity of the dedication of every actor to work together to obtain sustainable results in our society.”

The Claims Conference contracted with Schoen Consulting, a New York-based research and strategy firm that has been used by many corporations and politicians, to conduct the study in French and to analyze the data. Schoen conducted 1,100 interviews with French adults over the age of 18, yielding results it claims are within a 3.1% margin of error. Questions were asked via phone and online forums to a randomly selected pool deemed demographically representative of modern-day France.

In past years, the Claims Conference has conducted similar studies in the United States, Canada, and Austria. While findings show that the French have less knowledge about some key Holocaust facts than other countries polled, the difference is not very wide. Only 51% of American respondents knew that 6 million Jews had been killed in the Holocaust.

The study polled responders on issues of current anti-Semitism in France as well. Thirty-five percent felt that anti-Semitism was more widespread in the country than 10 years prior, and 34% responded that there had been no change in sentiments towards Jews; 30% said levels of anti-Semitism had decreased.

One point the Claims Conference presented as an “encouraging note” was that 82% felt Holocaust education was an important means of seeing that such a calamity should not repeat itself. Seventy-five percent felt that such education should be compulsory in schools.

“As we mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is distressing to see a waning level of knowledge about the Holocaust,” Greg Schneider, Claims Conference Executive Vice President remarked. “It is rare to find anything that we can all agree on globally, but this agreement on the need for Holocaust education must be our call to action.”

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