The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Want to fight anti-Semitism? Teach people about the Holocaust.

Hundreds of white nationalists and white supremacists carrying torches paraded through the University of Virginia campus in August 2017. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)

Douglas Schoen was a pollster and senior political adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2000. Arielle Confino is a senior vice president at Schoen Consulting, a firm based in New York.

Anti-Semitism has become a national crisis in the United States.

In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents were up nearly 60 percent from the previous year, according to an Anti-Defamation League report. And in the aftermath of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last summer, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 9 percent of Americans believe it is acceptable to hold neo-Nazi views.

These trends suggest there is an active, virulent group of neo-Nazis penetrating our society — with acquiescence from President Trump.

What, then, do we do to change an unsettling and arguably dangerous state of affairs? A new survey conducted by our firm Schoen Consulting on behalf of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany provides clear guidance.

Our survey found that the more Americans know about the Holocaust, the more likely they are to eschew Nazism, intolerance and any vestiges of anti-Semitism. The message is clear: We need a broad-scale — and indeed, international — strategy to educate people about the Holocaust.

The data from our survey goes deeper than the ABC/Post poll, showing that Americans who had never heard of the Holocaust were twice as likely to condone neo-Nazism than those with knowledge of the Holocaust. Twenty percent of those who have never heard of the Holocaust said it was acceptable to hold neo- ­Nazi beliefs, compared with just 10 percent of those aware of the Holocaust.

Simple awareness of the Holocaust, however, is not enough. To reduce anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi attitudes, we need to develop detail-specific knowledge about the Holocaust. Just 3 percent of those with detailed knowledge about the Holocaust — such as the ability to name a concentration camp or ghetto, or knowledge that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust — said it was acceptable to hold neo-Nazi beliefs.

But clear and straightforward as this strategy may be, there was no endorsement of an education campaign at the 6th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, hosted last month in Israel. The need to change course is unambiguous.

While resources such as the ADL Global 100 suggest that general Holocaust awareness in the United States is nearly universal and outright denial is in the single digits, our study shows that many Americans — regardless of their worldviews — are not familiar with critical details of the Holocaust.

About a third of Americans believe that just 2 million Jews or fewer were killed during the Holocaust. And though there were more than 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos during the Holocaust, the survey found that nearly half of respondents could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto.

Millennials are particularly uninformed. More than 4 in 10 millennials believe that just 2 million Jews or fewer were killed during the Holocaust, while nearly half of millennials cannot name a ghetto or concentration camp. This becomes all the more troubling given that our survey found that 17 percent of millennials say it is acceptable to hold neo-Nazi views.

It’s time we make Holocaust education standardized and compulsory across the 50 states. Right now, only eight states have implemented standardized Holocaust education. It is imperative that the remaining 42 take similar action.

More important, we must enhance and expand Holocaust curriculums currently in place — vis-à-vis teacher training and standardized learning plans to ensure that students are learning and retaining the detailed Holocaust knowledge that our survey shows can suppress anti-Semitism.

To be sure, there is no single approach that will ensure that something like the Holocaust never happens again. But the numbers are clear: Despite the range of activities discussed at the conference in Jerusalem last month, or that have been championed by the chattering class and media elites, there is one solution that can be implemented to reduce anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi sentiments: educate people early.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville, it is critical that we take proactive measures to try to eradicate anti-Semitism in our country. We cannot let the lessons of history be forgotten.

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