Holocaust Awareness Leads People to Be More Compassionate to Religious and Cultural Minorities: Study

By Jessie Zhang
Jessie Zhang
Jessie Zhang
Jessie Zhang is a reporter based in Sydney, Australia, covering news on health and science.
January 30, 2022Updated: February 1, 2022

A first and largest survey of its kind has found that people who have a higher level of Holocaust awareness were more likely to have warmer feelings towards religious and cultural minority or disadvantaged groups including Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists as well as asylum seekers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

However, almost a quarter of Australians have little to no knowledge of the genocide, despite being home to one of the highest numbers of Holocaust survivors outside Israel.

In the study, just 54 percent correctly answered that the number of Jews murdered was approximately 6 million.

Earlier studies in Canada and the UK have shown similar results, and the researchers say this concerning lack of historical knowledge reflects on our attitude to immigration policy.

“Not many people know about Australia’s hardline attitude towards Jewish refugees before the Second World War,” lead researcher and associate professor Steven Cooke said in a release.

“How does knowing that history help us to, for instance, reflect on our attitudes towards asylum seekers today?”

Of the 3,500 Australians who participated in the ‘The Gandel Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness in Australia Survey’, over 70 percent also said they know nothing about the nation’s connections to the Holocaust.

These events include the protest against the treatment of Jews by the Nazis led by Indigenous leader and human rights activist William Cooper, as well as the Evian Conference in 1938 where Australia refused to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

“People tend to see the Holocaust as a tragic European event that happened far away. If we can illuminate Australia’s connections to the Holocaust, both good and bad, it will help enhance our knowledge and understanding of genocide more generally,” lead researcher Donna-Lee Frieze said.

The survey found that people who had excellent Holocaust knowledge were those who have read a history book about the Holocaust, Boomers, males, and visitors of a Holocaust centre or museum. There were all 50 percent more likely to possess significant knowledge of the Holocaust.

Consequently, the team makes several recommendations, including the introduction of consistent Holocaust studies in Australian schools by teachers with proper accreditation.

“Over the next few years there will also be several new, or significantly redeveloped Holocaust museums or educations centres in every state and territory in Australia,” Cooke said.

The researchers used a ‘feeling thermometer’ to measure people’s warmth towards different minority groups, with zero degrees being the coldest and 100 degrees being the warmest. For instance, the average warmth towards First Nations Australians was 78, compared to just 61 for those with lower Holocaust awareness.