(thejc.com) More than two-thirds of secondary school pupils in England are unaware of the meaning of the term “antisemitism”, according to a major new report on Holocaust education.
While the vast majority of pupils thought it important to learn about the Shoah, and most wanted to know more about it, the majority appeared to “lack core knowledge and understanding” of its key features.
The survey of nearly 8,000 school students by University College London’s Centre for Holocaust Education is the largest research of its kind to have been conducted anywhere in the world.
More than 85 per cent of those questioned said that they had learned about the Shoah at school by Year 10 (13 to 14-year-olds), according to the report – What Do Students Know and Understand About the Holocaust?
While 83 per cent believed it was important to study the Holocaust at school, more than 70 per cent of those who had studied it wanted to know more.
Most knew Jews were the primary victims, but also had “little understanding of why they were persecuted and murdered”.
A third “massively underestimated” the scale of the Shoah, with 10 per cent believing that fewer than 100,000 Jews were killed.
Most believed that the mass murder took place in Germany rather than Eastern Europe, and more than half thought that the largest number of Jews murdered came from Germany rather than Poland.
While 71 per cent linked Auschwitz to the Holocaust, fewer than a sixth recognised the names of other camps such as Treblinka or Bergen-Belsen.
More than half of students in the first three years of secondary school believed Adolf Hitler was solely to blame.
Older students knew more about the Nazis, but tended to believe that they were an elite group rather than a political party which enjoyed broad-based support among the German population.
Fewer than 10 per cent suggested that the German people were “complicit in, or responsible for” the persecution of the Jews.
Knowledge of Britain’s role was “very limited and often erroneous”, with more than a third believing Britain entered the war because of the Holocaust.
Around a sixth appeared to believe that Britain drew up rescue plans to save the Jews, while just under a quarter thought that the British did not know about the mass killing until the end of the war.
The report also expressed concern about the impact of fictional accounts of the Holocaust, such as the “historically inaccurate” The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – by a long way “the most-read book and the most-watched film” about the genocide.
The film, the report said, “appears to be propagating the discredited but popular idea that most Germans didn’t know what was happening”.
While many students knew that other groups such as homosexuals, disabled people and Gypsies were victimised by the Nazis, most were unfamiliar with the specific policies targeted at them.
Muslim students “did not appear to differ significantly” in their attitudes from the overall sample, the report noted. According to the eminent Israeli Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer, writing in the introduction, the finings “laid to rest” beliefs that young Muslims are opposed to learning about the Shoah.
More time should be given to the teaching of the Holocaust than the average six hours in school, the report suggested. It also stressed the need for “substantive historical knowledge” and to avoid a “simplistic ‘lessons from’ approach”.
Those who had heard a Holocaust survivor speak found it an “especially powerful educational experience”.
The authors stressed that the report was intended to help improve Shoah education in schools rather than as a criticism of teachers and students.
“Many of our findings are positive, some suprising and others are deeply troubling,” they said.
The Holocaust is currently a compulsory part of the history curriculum for pre-GCSE students.
Trevor Pears, chairman of the Pears Foundation – which co-sponsors the UCL centre with the Department for Education – said: “What struck me personally was the lack of recognition of the term ‘antisemitism’, which is deeply concerning. It leaves young people struggling to understand why the Jews were targeted.”
Source: Jewish Chronicle