“Hitler was the leader of the country of Amsterdam,” and WWII was 300 years ago. -College Students at Penn State

Questioner: What was the Holocaust?
American College Student: Um…I’m on the spot.

Questioner: Which country was Adolf Hitler the leader of?
American College Student: I think it’s Amsterdam?

Questioner: What was Auschwitz?
American College Student: I don’t know.

Questioner: What were the Nuremburg Trials?
American College Student: I don’t know.

Questioner: How many Jews were killed?
American College Student: Hundreds of thousands.

More at the Anchoress, who transcribed and shared her own insightful commentary to this video:

We can give a handful of the kids the benefit of the doubt and say they were put on the spot and drew a blank. It happens. The Asian kid clearly knows more than it seemed at first- he pulled Nuremberg out and had some context for it. Some of the questions are not exactly general knowledge and I’m not sure they need to be. But even with all these excuses and free passes, I’m appalled.

Her goal is to make teaching the Holocaust in public schools mandatory.

My concern is why is that even necessary? Why isn’t this common, basic history for any high school class? It’s an important part of the 20th century. How do you get to college without studying this time period?

Postscript (from a discussion I had about this elsewhere with somebody else): Because *I* (or you) don’t know something is not proof that it should not be known, nor, unfortunately, is it a good standard for whether or not it’s something that should be known. The Nuremberg Trials and their significance to world history and international law is one of those things (http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Nuremberg_Trials.aspx)

There are a couple of the kids I’ll cut some slack, give the benefit of the doubt for being put on the spot. One of them (the Asian young man) obviously knew a lot more than the rest, and he knew about the Nuremberg Trials, even though he couldn’t put the right definition to the Final Solution, and he knew about the holocaust, so I’ll let him slide that he didn’t match Final Solution with the right event.

But these are college students- so it should have still be fresh in their minds. And the key point of the Nuremberg Trials is so significant to world history that it’s horrifying it’s not being taught , although not surprising in our post modern world.

And nobody over the age of 10 gets a pass for thinking Hitler was the leader of the country of Amsterdam and that WW2 was 300 years ago, or that in addition to killing 6 million Jews, the Holocaust had something to do with the American mistreatment of African Americans. That one was from a foreign student who had obviously learned her lessons well, the problem is the lessons she was taught. This was an indictment of the American education system more than it was a criticism of those students.

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  1. Fatcat
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Maybe they start at the beginning of history book every time and never get this far?

    I don’t know.

  2. Richard
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    In most schools, World History and US History are each a year long.

    Since No Child Left Behind hit, they start doing tests a month before the end of school. Here in Virginia, if you pass the standardized tests, you skip the final for your class.

    World War II is in the last month in World History. No one cares by then, you’re after the exam. It’s only 1-2 days anyway.

    In US History, it’s before the test – but it gets less than a week of coverage. The Holocaust? I think it rates less than a page of text.

    Adding more required subjects isn’t the way to fix this – because, right now, the focus seems to be on keeping the topics to things that are discussed in school and on the exam. Adding more reading outside of the school day, or making the “Social Studies” requirements more tied to history, might help, though.

  3. Rebekah
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I think this ignorance plays a large part in the attitude of complacency most Americans have about current events in our country. I know several Germans who were young children right after WWII who will say that their families honestly thought Hitler was a good man, with good intentions, and never realized any problem till it was too late. We should take a lesson from that.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Rebekah, I don’t believe them, to be honest. I think those are the things their parents told them because who would admit something else? I have read books by Germans who were teens or older at the time of the Holocaust who say the same, that *they* knew, and it was easy for anybody who actually wanted to know the truth to *know*. After all- when your Jewish neighbors first have to wear a yellow star, then get kicked out of schools, have to quit their jobs and start disappearing and their homes with all their furnishings are given to ‘good’ Germans, you don’t truly and honestly think all that time that Hitler is just a good man with good intentions.’ These things were not done in the dark. Krystallnacht didn’t happen quietly.

      He also spelled out his intentions quite plainly in Mein Kampf before he was even elected- people were looking for somebody else to blame for their problems and the Jews were convenient.

      • Rebekah
        Posted October 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        I agree with you too. I guess what I took from their “perspective”was that it can be awfully easy to ignore or endorse atrocious things, to have a country destroyed and everything taken from you. In other words, awfully easy to be lazy and complacent. Not so easy to stand up for what right, and really quite unpopular. I think our country suffers from laziness, complacency, and the idea that horrible nightmares like Hitler aren’t possible anymore, which just isn’t true.

      • BonnieBairns
        Posted October 21, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        I can’t help but read your comments and apply them to our own country present day. Do you not suppose that as many had their head in the sand then as they do now? That they chose not to concern themselves with what was taking place? Not knowing because they choose not to care enough to pay attention until it was too late? It’s too eerily similar, and few are paying attention here in 2013.

  4. BonnieBairns
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    In my 11th grade (incredibly boring teacher, btw) US History class that was a required course, we never even made it to WWI. I’m sure my classmates and I are not alone by a long shot for never hearing the great history of the US that’s taken place in the last 100 years. It’s really a shame.

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