Poll Finds 1 Out of 3 Americans Open to Doubt There Was a Holocaust


Just three days before the dedication of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a survey released Monday revealed that one in three Americans is open to the possibility that the Holocaust never occurred at all.

The survey by the Roper Organization, done for the American Jewish Committee, also found that more than one-third of American adults and half of all high school students do not know that the term “Holocaust” refers to Nazi Germany’s extermination of 6 million Jews.

“The numbers of people who will look at the title (of the Holocaust museum) and have no idea what is inside that building demonstrates the level of ignorance that we have to combat,” said Dr. David Singer, director of research and publications for the committee. “It is appalling and shocking to find substantial percentages of both adults and youths open to the possibility that the Holocaust never happened.”

In the first study of its kind, the Roper Organization surveyed 992 adults and 506 high school students last fall, asking both open-ended and multiple-choice questions to discover the extent of knowledge about the Holocaust. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points for adults and plus or minus 5 percentage points for high school students.


Among the survey’s findings:

* 34% of adults and 37% of high school students said that it was “possible” the Holocaust had never occurred.

* 65% of adults and 72% of high school students could not identify 6 million as the commonly accepted number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

* Only 42% of both groups knew that the symbol that Jews were forced to wear on their clothes during World War II was a yellow star.


“Depressingly, it turns out that people know very little,” Singer said. “Even for the most basic information, there is a serious knowledge gap.”

But others, including Holocaust survivors and scholars, said they were not surprised by the lack of knowledge.

“We did some focus groups when we were planning the museum and discovered that a lot of people do not know very much about the Holocaust or even have much interest in it,” said Bill Lowenberg, vice chairman of the Holocaust museum council and a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“Lots of our students just don’t know about the Holocaust,” agreed Stephen Berk, a history professor at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and a specialist on the Holocaust. “People are not history conscious . . . and each generation has its own formative events.”


What did surprise Berk and others was the lack of knowledge among older Americans who were alive during World War II and the Holocaust.

The survey found that knowledge about the Holocaust depends more on education than age.

The Holocaust museum is to be dedicated Thursday by President Clinton and will open next week.

Organizers said they believe it will attract more than 1 million visitors a year because of its location near the major Washington monuments and the Smithsonian museums.