Like Americans, Austrians are forgetting the Holocaust. These are the shocking numbers

A year after finding that American’s knowledge of the Holocaust was waning and less than a week after another shooting inside a synagogue, a new survey says Austrians might also be forgetting the genocide.

More than half of Austrians surveyed didn’t know six million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust, with nearly 60% of millennials and Generation Z not knowing the death toll, either. Furthermore, a quarter of Austrians and almost a third of its millennials and Gen Z-ers thought one million or fewer Jews were killed.

“The results were deeply disturbing because it reflects really a distortion of historical events as time goes on,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Last year, a similar survey in the United States found almost a third of Americans and 41% of millennials incorrectly believed two million or fewer Jewish people died. In Austria, those numbers were slightly higher: 36% of all Austrians and 42% of millennials and Gen Z-ers thought two million or fewer Jews were killed.

The results come as anti-Semitism continues to rise around the world. In 2017, the United States saw a 57% spike from the year before in incidents motivated by anti-Jewish bias, according to the Anti-Defamation League. And on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, warned that “this centuries-old hatred is not only still strong – it is getting worse.”

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Just over the weekend, a gunman opened fire at Chabad of Poway during Passover services, killing one person and injuring three others on the six month anniversary of the deadly Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh.

“The problem is without really understanding things like the Holocaust … you don’t understand the possibility of unchecked hatred,” Schneider said.

‘Frightening’ findings

The survey on Austrians’ knowledge of the Holocaust was published Thursday on Yom HaShoah, Israel’s day of remembrance for the Holocaust observed by many Jews around the world.

It’s the third in a series by the Claims Conference that has shown shortcomings in public knowledge on Holocaust history. The previous surveys found similar gaps in the United States and Canada.

Among the other findings in Austria: 42% of people couldn’t name Mauthausen concentration camp when asked to list death camps, concentration camps or ghettoes. 

Mauthausen – just 100 miles from Austria’s capital Vienna – was a concentration camp that the Nazi’s themselves thought was among their most brutal concentration camps, said Yariv Lapid, director of the Levine Institute for Holocaust Education at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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Lapid called the finding “pretty frightening” and one that highlights the “ambivalence” toward deeper understandings of Holocaust history in the country.

“Of course we assume that people in Austria would know just off the top of their head about a concentration camp in Austria,” Schneider added. “To not know it really reflects the fact that it is not part of the national conversation.”

In March 1938, German troops entered Austria and the country was incorporated into Germany. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, most Austrians supported the union, known as the Anschluss. In the 1990s, Austrian leaders began to formally acknowledge the role the country played in the genocide.

However, the survey found that 68% of Austrians think the country was both a victim and a perpetrator of the Holocaust, which Schneider described as “a flipping perception among Austrians of what really happened.” While 12% still said they thought Austria was only a victim, Lapid said that number is much lower than it might have been 20 years ago.

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“Imagine how difficult it is to understand that your own father or grandfather was a mass murderer,” Lapid said. “It is a history that is really difficult to imagine. … You want to turn your head away.”

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