In January, 2020, the Pew Research Center released one of the most depressing pieces of public policy research I’ve ever seen. Titled “What Americans Know about the Holocaust,” the research showed more than a few things that prove the right wing project of eliminating quality public education that even remotely grazes uncomfortable topics has been at least moderately successful. There are some glimmers of hope in the survey results, for instance, almost 70% of respondents correctly identified the 1930 -1950 period as when the Holocaust happened, 63% knew that ghettos were the parts of town where Nazis forced Jews to live, and 66% correctly said, “annihilation of Jews” when asked “as far as you know, what does ‘“the Holocaust’” refer to?”
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait, that’s the good news?” buckle up, because the number of facts about the Holocaust that a lot of us got wrong are pretty troubling.
From the report:
Fewer than half of Americans (43%), however, know that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process. And a similar share (45%) know that approximately 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Nearly three-in-ten Americans say they are not sure how many Jews died during the Holocaust, while one-in-ten overestimate the death toll, and 15% say that 3 million or fewer Jews were killed.
The news is worse when it comes to younger folks. The lack of knowledge on the most basic aspects of one of the worst crimes against humanity ever executed is relatively striking. Only 38% of teenagers surveyed correctly identified “approximately 6 million” as the correct number of Holocaust murder victims, and worse, it was a multiple choice question. Merely 33% knew that Hitler rose to power through a democratic political process. On average, out of the four questions asked in this survey (When did the holocaust happen? What were nazi-created ghettos? In total, about how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust? And how did Adolf Hitler become chancellor of Germany?) teenage respondents correctly answered 1.8 of them.
That’s a tragedy, but it’s not the most painful ignorance about the Holocaust that I’ve seen this week.
Indeed, that dishonor belongs to Colorado State Rep. Scott Bottoms (R-TakeAWildGuess). In a state House committee hearing last Friday on his not-only-doomed-but-comically-and-demonstrably-out-of-touch attempts to ban abortion (one literally titled “Abolishing Abortion in Colorado”), Bottoms went ahead and committed one of the most cringeworthy and horrific trivializations of the Holocaust I can remember happening under the Gold Dome, and unfortunately that’s saying something.
“Recently in the Denver Post, Dr. Daniel Grossman, OBGYN and researcher at the University of California San Francisco, he says the two medical regime [sic] is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and he and another colleague have studies that showed it to be safe. Now, who is safe in this scenario? It’s not the baby.
That’s like a similar experience that we had with, uh, the Nuremberg trials that said that the use of gas upon the Jewish people was much more humane. Humane to whom? Not the Jewish people, they died en masse by the millions. So this is safe to the mother, but it is a death knell to the baby.”
First of all, that’s not what the Nuremberg Trials were, and while that question wasn’t asked in the Pew survey, I have to imagine even the most ignorant of respondents wouldn’t be that far off base. Second, I had to listen to this clip about a half dozen times before I could even attempt to decipher what point he could have possibly been trying to make.
So I did what any good Jewish boy does when faced with preposterous misunderstandings and wild trivializations of the Holocaust. I called a Rabbi. I played Bottoms’ clip for Rabbi Joe Black of Denver’s Temple Emmnual, and here’s how he reacted,
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion about the issue of abortion. It’s a highly emotional and complex issue. I’m on the record as being a supporter of a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, but I understand why everyone might not share that view. Nonetheless, using the Holocaust as a trivialization of anything is an insult to the members of my family and the millions of others who were murdered because of hatred.
“My tradition teaches that life is precious, however, the life of the mother always takes precedence and we will do anything to save the life of that mother – no matter what. The personal autonomy that both our nation and our constitution affords us means that we have the ability and the responsibility to make choices. We can disagree, but our disagreement should never besmirch the memory of those pure souls who died in Hitler’s death camps.”
Amen, Rabbi. From this grandson of Holocaust survivors, Baruch and Fradla Rubner, who lost the vast majority of their families to Nazi murderers, thank you for speaking up and for putting into words what failed me.
Politics is a highly emotional business, to be sure. The issues are inflammatory and the stakes are high. I even have a degree of sympathy for those who really do believe that life begins at the moment of conception.
But if abortion-rights opponents like Bottoms are trying to convert more people to their cause in the Centennial State, comparing a common medical procedure that the voters of Colorado defended every single time they were asked to by enormous margins to the most infamous, if unfortunately somewhat misunderstood, crime against humanity is probably not the best place to start.