Survey shows lack of Holocaust awareness in the Netherlands

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King Willem-Alexander

FILE – King Willem-Alexander puts a stone in an act of remembrance when unveiling a new monument in the heart of Amsterdam’s historic Jewish Quarter on Sept. 19, 2021, honoring the 102,000 Dutch victims of the Holocaust. A Jewish group that commissioned a survey on Holocaust awareness in the Netherlands said Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023 that the results show “a disturbing lack of awareness of key historical facts about the Holocaust,” prompting calls for better education in the nation that was home to diarist Anne Frank and her family. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Jewish group that commissioned a survey on Holocaust awareness in the Netherlands said Wednesday that the results showed “a disturbing lack of awareness of key historical facts about the Holocaust,” prompting calls for better education in the nation that was home to diarist Anne Frank and her family.

The survey commissioned by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that the number of respondents who believe the Holocaust is a myth was higher than in any of the other five nations previously surveyed.

In the survey, 23% of adults under age 40 and 12% of all respondents indicated they believed the Holocaust was a myth or that the number of Jews killed has been greatly exaggerated.

“Not only is this downright shocking, it’s very serious,” Dutch Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius said on Twitter. “Almost a quarter of the Dutch people born after 1980 think that the Holocaust is a ‘myth’ or that it is heavily ‘exaggerated.’ As a society, we have a lot of work to do. And fast, too.”

The survey also found that 54% of all respondents — and 59% of those under age 40 — do not know that 6 million Jews were murdered. Some 29 percent believe that the figure is 2 million or fewer.

“It’s terrible,” Max Arpels Lezer, a Dutch survivor whose mother was murdered at Auschwitz, told The Associated Press.

“They should know their own national history — that so many Jewish people were murdered during the Holocaust and I think it’s a shame,” he added.

Of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands before World War II, 102,000 were killed during the Holocaust. Another 2,000 Jewish refugees in the country also were killed in the genocide.

Despite that grim history, 53% of those surveyed do not cite the Netherlands as a country where the Holocaust took place. Only 22% of all respondents were able to identify Westerbork, a transit camp in the eastern Netherlands where Jews, including Anne Frank, were sent before being deported. The camp is now a museum and commemoration site.

The survey found that 60% of respondents had not visited the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam. The canalside building is where Anne, her sister, parents and four other Jews hid from the Dutch capital’s Nazi occupiers from 1942 until August 1944, when they were discovered and subsequently deported.

Anne and her sister, Margot, died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Of the eight Jews who hid in the secret annex in Amsterdam, only Anne’s father, Otto, survived the Holocaust.

Eddo Verdoner, the Netherlands’ National Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism, said in a statement it was “shocking to see that 23% of Millennials and Gen Z believe the Holocaust is either a myth or has been exaggerated.”

The finding “points to a growing gap in knowledge and awareness. We must do better in our schools to fight Holocaust distortion wherever we find it,” Verdoner said.

More than three-quarters of those surveyed — 77% — said it was important to continue to teach about the Holocaust, in part so it doesn’t happen again, while 66% agreed that Holocaust education should be compulsory in school.

“Survey after survey, we continue to witness a decline in Holocaust knowledge and awareness. Equally disturbing is the trend towards Holocaust denial and distortion,” Gideon Taylor, the president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said in a statement.

“To address this trend, we must put a greater focus on Holocaust education in our schools globally. If we do not, denial will soon outweigh knowledge, and future generations will have no exposure to the critical lessons of the Holocaust.”

Only half of respondents said they supported recent speeches by Dutch leaders to acknowledge and apologize for the country’s failure to protect Jews in the Holocaust. The number dropped to 44% among respondents aged under 40.

Three years ago, Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized for the failure of officials in the Nazi-occupied country during World War II to do more to prevent the deportation and murder of Jews. In 2021, he opened a Holocaust monument in Amsterdam.

At the time, Rutte called the era “a black page in the history of our country” and said the monument also has an important contemporary message “in our time when antisemitism is never far away. The monument says – no, it screams – be vigilant.”

A Holocaust museum is scheduled to open near the monument next year.

The survey, with a margin of error of 2%, involved interviews with 2,000 Dutch adults age 18 and over across the Netherlands in December. The Claims Conference negotiates restitution for Holocaust victims.

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