Around a third of Canadian and American students question whether the Holocaust actually happened, according to a study commissioned by Canadian charity Liberation75.
More than 3,000 students in grades 6 to 12 were surveyed before a two-day virtual conference focused on Holocaust education, and then again after the event, to assess what they know and think about the Holocaust and antisemitism.
“One in three of our respondents stated that they believed that the Holocaust was fabricated or not reported in a way that was accurate to what actually happened,” said Alex Lerner, researcher and assistant professor of political science at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“Of those students that responded, we also found that students weren’t getting information consistently in the classroom, so they were looking elsewhere for that information. Forty per cent were looking at social media, TikTok and Instagram.”
Lerner recalled how some students who were surveyed talked about first encountering the idea of a Nazi from “Marvel Comics, Captain America.”
“The issue is that they don’t have the base of information from the classroom that they’re able to use to assess the information that they’re getting on social media or in video games so they can kind of separate fact from fiction,” she said.
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This is why Liberation75, an organization committed to Holocaust education and remembrance, is calling on provincial governments to mandate Holocaust teaching in all schools.
“Florida has it mandated from kindergarten, and some people gasp when they hear it because they think that what we mean is that we’re going to expose kids to the horrors of the Holocaust from kindergarten. But of course, we don’t do that. What we do is we talk about the Holocaust in age-appropriate ways,” explained Marilyn Sinclair, founder of Liberation75.
“We absolutely need to have Holocaust education mandated on the curriculum for every province and territory in Canada and it needs to be something that’s comprehensive.”
Sinclair said students need to graduate high school in Canada with a thorough understanding of the Holocaust because “the lessons of the Holocaust are not just about what happened to Jews.”
“The lessons are about what happens when we allow hate to go unchecked and we don’t stand up for each other. It’s really about protecting freedom in Canada, for ourselves and for others,” she added.
In Toronto, Canada’s largest school board has provided programming every International Holocaust Remembrance Day for the last 10 years.
That includes the highly acclaimed animated film The Tattooed Torah for grades 4 and up, along with accompanying discussion pieces and lesson plans for teachers.
“We ran this program last year as well and 14,000 teachers across the district downloaded it. In addition, we have events throughout the year and maintain an up-to-date website of resources TDSB teachers can access at any time,” said TDSB spokesperson and Jewish Heritage Committee chair Shari Schwartz-Maltz.
Holocaust survivor Rose Lipscyz, recently appointed to the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honours, has dedicated much of her life to recounting her own experience to others.
“Maybe some of them will have a better idea of life, not to mistreat other people, to treat people properly, to judge him by what they are, not where they come from, or what colour they are,” she said.
Before the pandemic, Lipscyz said she would speak to students sometimes twice a week.
“They used to surround me after with questions and I was bringing my parents back to life,” she said. “I could see that they were listening to me. And it’s so important to give the message not to hate, to try to live with other people.”
Sinclair pointed out some positive news from the survey about students’ desire to know more about the Holocaust.
“When we asked students, ‘Do they want to learn more about the Holocaust?’ Ninety-two per cent say yes, they do. And I would challenge almost any other subject matter to have that kind of a high score. So students do want to learn about the Holocaust. They’re just going to the wrong places because they’re not learning it in schools,” she said.