Photo Credit: Courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
League of German Girls cuties wave Nazi flags in Vienna, Austria, March 1938.

More than half (56%) of Austrains surveyed this year did not know that six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. That number rose to 58% among Millennials and Gen Z.

This bit of amusing news emanated on Thursday from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which commissioned Schoen Consulting to conduct a comprehensive national study of Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness in Austria, in 1,000 interviews with Austrian adults 18 and over between February 22 and March 1, 2019. The margin of error is +-3.1.

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Similar to the April 2018 survey the Claims Conference conducted in the United States, the Austrian study identified gaps in awareness of historical facts and knowledge of the Holocaust. The survey also found an alarming number of Austrians (58%) indicate that something like the Holocaust could happen again in other European countries.

Austrian perceptions of the neo-Nazi movement in the United States are higher than perceptions in their own country, with 36% of respondents saying there are a “great deal” or “many” neo-Nazis in Austria compared to 50% who say there are a “great deal” or “many” neo-Nazis in the United States.

“This is the third survey the Claims Conference has conducted globally in the past year to measure Holocaust knowledge and awareness,” Julius Berman noted. “And here again, we are seeing disturbing trends pointing to the lack of Holocaust knowledge. Without education, we risk the history of the Holocaust being distorted and otherwise denied and those who were murdered being forgotten. Effective education is paramount towards ensuring that what happened in the past does not repeat itself.”

But wait, there’s more, a whole lot more, actually:

  • One of the most startling statistics: One-quarter of Austrian respondents (25%) believe that one million or fewer Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. The number is even higher among Millennials & Gen Z, almost one-third of whom (30%) believe that one million or fewer Jews were murdered.
  • More than one-third (36%) of Austrians overall – and 42% of Millennials and Gen Z in Austria – believe two million Jews or fewer were killed during the Holocaust.
  • A 38% plurality of respondents believe National Socialism/Nazism could come to power again, while 35% totally disagree with the statement, and 27% are neutral or unsure. Belief in the possible resurgence of Nazism is higher among Millennials and Generation Z with 43% believing National Socialism/Nazism could come to power again.
  • Austrians’ complicated relationship with their country’s Holocaust legacy is exemplified by the majority of Austrians (68%) who say that Austria was BOTH a victim and a perpetrator of the Holocaust, while only 13% said they were only perpetrators.
  • There is a general consensus that Austrians did not actively resist the Nazis, with 45% of respondents stating that Austrians took no action when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany, while 32% said the annexation was met with wide support from Austrians. 16% of respondents were unsure, and 7% believed that most Austrians resisted the annexation.
  • 28% of those surveyed believe a “great deal” or “many” Austrians acted to rescue Jewish people, while 11% were unsure how many, if any at all, Austrians acted to rescue Jewish people. For historical context, 109 Austrians are recognized as having acted to help Jews during the Holocaust – according to Yad Vashem’s database of the Righteous Among the Nations.
  • When asked to name a death camp, concentration camp or ghetto they had heard of, 42% of Austrians could not name Austria’s Mauthausen, a death camp which imposed some of the harshest conditions of imprisonment and is located approximately 100 miles from Vienna, Austria’s capital.
  • Even for survey responses indicating substantial awareness of famous Holocaust figures, it is clear that there was a profound lack of geographical or historical knowledge. For example, 80% of respondents were familiar with Anne Frank, however, only 20% were able to identify the Netherlands, the country where she was hidden in a secret annex and ultimately captured by the Gestapo, as a location where the Holocaust took place.
  • While 51% were familiar with Austrian Adolf Eichmann, the administrator and organizer of Hitler’s “Final Solution,” only 14% knew that Eichmann was Austrian.

The claims conference study ends on what they believe is an “encouraging note,” noting that 75% of respondents believed it is important to continue teaching the Holocaust so that it doesn’t happen again, 82% said all students should learn about the Holocaust in school, and 76% believed it should be compulsory in school.

Of course, this means guaranteed jobs for generations of Holocaust studies teachers, but with, let’s face it, the same scary results about Holocaust awareness for as far as the eye can see in the future.

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