Nearly half of Canadians cannot name a single concentration camp or ghetto that existed in Europe during the Holocaust, a new study found.
Released in advance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on Sunday, the study concluded that many Canadians do not know basic facts about the Holocaust, such as where it took place, how many Jews died, or the names of key people and places. Millennials, defined as people ages 18 to 34, were particularly uninformed.
The results were similar to a nearly identical study carried out last year among Americans. The groups that commissioned the new study said the results showed the pressing need for better Holocaust education in schools at a time of rising anti-Semitism. They said history lessons could serve as a powerful antidote to Holocaust deniers and hate groups.
“The headline is the same: the appalling lack of knowledge about the Holocaust,” said Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, which negotiates restitution for Holocaust victims and their heirs. “But it’s no time for despondency. It’s time for action.”
For the Canadian study, the organization teamed up with the Azrieli Foundation, which supports Holocaust education and the publication of survivors’ memoirs. It was established by the Canadian-Israeli developer David J. Azrieli, who was born in Poland and escaped the Nazis as a young man. (He died in 2014.)
“The lack of basic knowledge was very surprising,” said his daughter Naomi Azrieli, the chairwoman of the foundation.
The study, carried out by Schoen Consulting in September, involved 1,100 interviews with Canadian adults, in English and French, by phone and online. The respondents were chosen at random to constitute a demographically representative sample of the population, and the study has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
When asked to name a concentration camp or ghetto, 45 percent of Canadians named Auschwitz, and some identified other camps or ghettos. But 43 percent said they were not sure, and 6 percent gave an incorrect response. On that question, Americans fared better; 23 percent said they were not sure, and 10 percent gave an incorrect response.
Many respondents could not seem to recall crucial details. For example, 76 percent said they were familiar with Anne Frank, but only 23 percent of Canadians said the Holocaust took place in the Netherlands, where she lived. (Less than 25 percent of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.) And just 23 percent of Canadians said they were familiar with Elie Wiesel, who described Auschwitz in his memoir “Night” and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The study did include some heartening points: 85 percent of respondents said it was important to keep teaching about the Holocaust so that it does not happen again. Ms. Azrieli said that focusing on older high school students, who have more maturity and knowledge to understand the Holocaust in historical context, was most effective. Her foundation will focus on providing educational resources and teacher support.
Education about the Holocaust involves crucial lessons about civic responsibility and action in the face of atrocities, but it can be challenging for even the most experienced educators because it raises difficult questions, Ms. Azrieli said. And it is all the more urgent as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, because they are the most powerful narrators of their experiences, she added.
Most people who directly survived concentration camps or ghettos are now in their 80s or 90s, Mr. Schneider said. His organization uses a broader definition of survivor, including anyone who fled, or was hidden or rescued as a child, which includes more people in their 70s.
Using that broader definition, the number of Holocaust survivors has fallen to about 400,000, Mr. Schneider said. About 80,000 of those survivors live in the United States, and about 10,000 in Canada.
Canada inaugurated its first national Holocaust monument in Ottawa in 2017, though its opening was marred by the realization that a plaque placed outside failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism. The plaque was replaced.
In November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for Canada’s decision in 1939 to turn away a steamliner carrying more than 900 people, most of them Jews who had fled Germany. The United States and several South American countries also refused the captain’s pleas, and the ship returned to Europe. More than 250 of the passengers were later killed in Nazi death camps.
The country remained almost entirely closed to Jewish refugees through the war, and an official famously articulated the policy as “none is too many.” Canada allowed in about 5,000 refugees, Mr. Schneider said.
Yet 32 percent of the Canadians surveyed thought that Canada had an open immigration policy for Jewish refugees during the war, and 37 percent were not sure what the policy was, which Ms. Azrieli said reflected a dissonance between history and perception.
Respondents were also asked about contemporary hate groups. Nearly half of Canadians said they thought there were “a great deal” or “many” neo-Nazis in the United States, but only 17 percent thought that was the case in Canada.
That finding reflects a lack of awareness about white supremacist activity in Canada, said Barbara Perry, a professor and the director of the Center on Hate, Bias and Extremism at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, who was not affiliated with the study.
There has been drastic growth in hate groups in the country in recent years, with as many as 300 groups operating, Dr. Perry said. Much of the activity takes place online, and last week, the Canadian minister for public safety called on tech companies to cooperate with law enforcement to address the problem.
In another striking finding, 45 percent of Canadians said they agreed with the statement, “The Holocaust could happen again.” (A larger number of Americans — 58 percent — agreed with that statement in the previous study.)
Nine percent of respondents said it was acceptable for an individual to hold neo-Nazi views. Among them, only 4 percent demonstrated detailed knowledge of the Holocaust, which the study’s backers said was further evidence that the more people know about the genocide, the less likely they are to tolerate neo-Nazism.
“That shows the impact that studying historical events can have on our society today,” said Tim Kaiser, the deputy director of an educational project at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, which served as an adviser for the study.
He added, “We recognize that as Holocaust educators, and as those who feel that this is important for Americans and Canadians, that we still have a lot of work to do.”