By Jason Marsh
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York
In the fall of 1992, a poll, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee and carried out by the Roper Organization, attempted to determine American awareness of the Holocaust. Its results were shocking: approximately one out of every three Americans was open to doubt that the Holocaust had ever existed, and twenty-two percent of those surveyed said they believed that the Holocaust may never have happened at all.
Fourteen months later, another survey was conducted, by the same groups on the same subject matter, and its findings were drastically different from those of its predecessor. The second poll found that ninety-one percent of those surveyed were certain that the Holocaust had happened, while only one percent thought that it was possible that the Holocaust didn't occur.
There are a number of plausible reasons for the significant discrepancies between the poll results. The most glaring reason may have simply been how each survey's thematic question was worded. The first poll has been bombarded with criticism for basing its analysis on the question, "Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened?"
According to the retired former chairman of the Roper polling organization, Burns W. Roper, this double-negative question is believed to have thoroughly confused people who, because of the roundabout nature of the question, "may have given an answer just the opposite of what they meant." The revised question of the 1994 poll read, "Does it seem possible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened, or do you feel certain that it happened?" The objectives of this question are believed to have been much clearer and allowed those surveyed to make an easier choice, which provided more accurate data.
There are other potential explanations for the errors between the polls. In the period between the two surveys, the level of Holocaust awareness and education in America increased at an unprecedented rate. The results of the first poll were released three days before the dedication of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. This museum, which has become one of the featured exhibits in Washington, is an indication of America's growing readiness to learn more about the Holocaust. Also in the time between the two polls, the motion picture Schindler's List was released. This film did a great deal to educate movie audiences and was accepted by audiences and critics alike as it won the 1994 Academy Award for Best Picture.
Schindler's List and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum are both educational "tools" of pervasive solid information about the Holocaust. Recent Holocaust awareness has been successful at contesting the lunatic fringe that proclaims the Holocaust to be a myth, and may very well have convinced many of those polled by Roper to accept the Holocaust as a fact.
Although many of the concerns aroused by the first poll have since been assuaged, the new study did uncover a few new problems. For instance, Americans were less knowledgeable about the Holocaust than the British, French, or Germans surveyed in similar polls. Also, the second Roper poll found that fifty-five percent of those with less than a high school education knew little of what the Holocaust was, compared with eighty-seven percent of college graduates; consequently, it appears that people who are not in school long enough to learn about the Holocaust maintain an ignorance towards the Holocaust as they go through life.
This is why work being done in schools throughout the world to promote education about the Holocaust is so important. A plethora of students have dedicated themselves to the Holocaust/Genocide telecommunication project (HGP) through I*EARN (International Education and Resource Network). Student awareness of the Holocaust continues to expand at different rates but is growing through the use of telecommunications as more countries take part.
Jasmin Shackleton, a student from Broadford Secondary College in Australia, first learned about the Holocaust in school two years ago, when she was in ninth grade. When first presented with information about the Holocaust, Jasmin "was totally shocked" and wondered "why hadn't anyone told [her] about this [the Holocaust] sooner?" Although she has recently noticed that more attention is being paid to the Holocaust in her school, Jasmin believes that this awareness is "not as widely spread as it should be." Jasmin became interested and now is a student facilitator of the HGP at Broadford Secondary College.
At Spokane Valley High School in Washington, students are taught early on about the Holocaust and are very well-informed about it. A student there, Danielle Lean, thinks "that almost [her] whole school has a great interest in the Holocaust." A fellow student, Travis Bruchman, believes that "by educating people about these crimes", one is ensuring that an incident such as the Holocaust "could be prevented in the future." Such attitudes shed light onto this issue as they make it apparent that there is a global movement to inform the world about what happened during the Holocaust so that, one day, a poll will find that one-hundred percent of all Americans, and those people elsewhere, are aware of the atrocities and realities of the Holocaust.
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Access the HGP's An End to Intolerance Web page.
Access the Holocaust/Genocide Project's Home Page.