Holocaust education needed as half of Canadians can't name a single concentration camp: survey

The Calgary Jewish Federation is calling for more Holocaust education to be added to Alberta's curriculum after a survey found nearly half of Canadians cannot name a single concentration camp.

Calgary Jewish Federation says it's not too late to fix problem

Visitors walk past the gate with the sign 'arbeit macht frei' (work sets you free) at the former concentration camp in Dachau near Munich in 2014. (Michael Dalder/Reuters)

The Calgary Jewish Federation is calling for more Holocaust education to be added to Alberta's curriculum after a survey found nearly half of Canadians cannot name a single concentration camp, and 22 per cent of young Canadians haven't heard of the Holocaust.

Ilana Krygier Lapides, director of programming and Holocaust and human rights education for the Calgary Jewish Federation, described the results as disappointing, but also something that's not too late to fix.

"It's entirely up to the individual teacher how much or how little they're going to touch on the Holocaust and that makes it difficult to be consistent across the board, and I think that we're seeing the results now," she said, adding that the curriculum does include genocide studies, nationalism and anti-racism content.

Alberta is in the midst of revamping its K-12 curriculum.

Alberta Education says the current curriculum addresses human rights, racism, genocide, and related concepts and issues explicitly at various grade levels.

The Holocaust is addressed directly in Grades 11 and 12, while students in younger grades explore it within the context of rights and discrimination. Resources are also made available to teachers who want to discuss the Holocaust and related issues in their classrooms.

Largest gap among 18 to 34-year-olds

The survey, released by the Claims Conference and the Azrieli Foundation found 43 per cent of Canadian adults could not name a concentration camp — not even Auschwitz — and six per cent gave an incorrect response. An earlier survey which targeted Americans found they did only slightly better: 23 per cent weren't sure, and 10 per cent gave an incorrect answer.

The largest gaps in knowledge were seen among Canadians age 18 to 34, of which 22 per cent had never heard of the Holocaust and 62 per cent did not know six million Jews were killed.

"The millennial response was kind of stomach churning," said Abby Robins, the communications manager for the Azrieli Foundation.

The survey also found that nine per cent of individuals thought it was OK to hold neo-Nazi views.

"We saw in the study very clear results, very clear connections between what people knew about the Holocaust and how they viewed neo-Nazi-ism and anti-semitism," Robins said.

Rising problem

An annual audit from B'nai Brith Canada last year found that of 1,752 hate-related complaints across Canada, 206 were in Alberta. The number of hate incidents broke records in both 2016 and 2017, indicating it's a rising problem.

"I do think education is a good inoculation against hate," said Krygier Lapides.

Krygier Lapides works with Mount Royal University to run an annual Holocaust symposium. The symposium was started decades ago in response to an Alberta teacher who had been sharing anti-semitic and Holocaust-denial content with his students.

It's a problem that persists today, as just last year an Alberta Holocaust denier was convicted in Germany for inciting hatred. The symposium welcomes about 3,000 students each year.

She said the Jewish Federation has tried to come up with new ways to teach younger generations about the Holocaust as survivors have gotten older and passed away.

One is a second-generation initiative funded by the Alberta Human Rights Commission, that sees the children and grandchildren of survivors go into classrooms to share video testimony from their family members.

One woman in Calgary shares the story of her mother, who was in the same class as a child as Anne Frank, said Krygier Lapides.

"It's not too late to fix this problem, but if we don't deal with it soon it will be. I think it's important we teach our children about this. Otherwise we're destined to repeat our mistakes," she said.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley issued a statement on Sunday calling International Holocaust Remembrance Day a call to action, "to do what we can to stand up against hate." (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

Premier Rachel Notley issued a statement Sunday to mark Holocaust remembrance day.

"On this day, we mourn the more than six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. We think of the millions of other victims of Nazi atrocities. And we stand with survivors, recognizing the unspeakable horror they endured," she wrote.

"Every new generation has much to learn from this dark history and the stories of survivors. We must do what we can to keep this history alive in our collective memory. 

"International Holocaust Remembrance Day is also a call to action, to do what we can to stand up against hate. We have learned the bitter lessons of unchecked xenophobia and anti-Semitism. These dark human impulses lead to violence, persecution and genocide."

Alberta Education is still working on developing the new curriculum for Grade 5 to 12 students.

"More than six million Jewish people were murdered during the Holocaust. We must do everything we can to ensure this history is remembered — and never repeated," said Education Minister David Eggen in an emailed statement.

"Alberta's curriculum provides many opportunities for students to value the diversity, respect the dignity, and support the equality of all human beings."

The survey interviewed 1,100 Canadian adults between Sept. 1 to 9, 2018, online, by landline and cell phone. Its margin of error is +/-3%.


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