“What was Auschwitz?” “I don’t know…”

No rant here, just clear demonstration of our terrifying ignorance and disconnection from our recent past:

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.

Q: What other groups were targeted besides Jewish people?
ACS: The African Americans? Here in the United States they used to discriminate because of skin color…

Q: Where is Normandy?
ACS: It’s over near like England and Germany and all that jazz. It’s not a peninsula, but…

Q: Where is Normandy?
ACS: It’s over by Germany. At least compared to the United States, it’s over by Germany.

Q: Who was Winston Churchill?
ACS: “He was a general, right?”

Q: What is genocide?
ACS: I don’t know.

Q: Is genocide taking place anywhere, today?
ACS: Not that I’m aware.

This is depressing on so many levels. If they are not obliged to by law, our public schools do not teach about the Holocaust, or World War II? I’d love to know if they are aware of the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift? Pearl Harbor? This is pretty recent history!

Watch it to the end. The woman makes her point, very well, and with no acrimony.

YouTube Preview Image

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • lucia liljegren

    When I was in High School, we started pre-Revolution. The syllabus slipped and the semester when we hit the 30s.

    That said: I think anyone who watches movies would know Hitler was the head of the Nazi government in Germany. That and watching Hogan’s heros.

    As for this

    Q: Where is Normandy?

    ACS: It’s over near like England and Germany and all that jazz. It’s not a peninsula, but…

    “Western France across the Channel from England” would be a better answer. But given that someone suddenly stopped someone in the street and stuffed a microphone in their face, I would like to point out that France is between England and Germany. And Utah and Omaha beach arenear a part of Normady that might be described as “not a peninsula, but….”

    See map of portion of Normandy.

    Q: Where is Normandy?

    ACS: It’s over by Germany. At least compared to the United States, it’s over by Germany.

    Well…. compared to the US, Normandy — a part of France — is “over by Germany”. France borders on Germany. That’s why when intending to fight our way to Germany, we landed troops in Normandy rather than in Argentina or South Africa.

    Questioner: What was Auschwitz?

    American College Student: I don’t know.

    The correct answer is: The place where Sophie had to make her choice. Right?

  • “T”

    The great shame is this:

    Q: What is genocide?
    ACS: I don’t know.
    Q: Is genocide taking place anywhere, today?
    ACS: Not that I’m aware.
    It’s one thing to be ignorant of facts, but to not know what something is and yet assume that it’s not taking place is a cataclysmic failure of critical thought. A more correct and honest answer would be something like “If I don’t know what it is, how would I know if it’s taking place.” The “I don’t know. Not that I’m aware” response is a revelation of one’s own ignorance of their own ignorance; i.e., she’s not even aware of how uninformed she is. And this is COLLEGE?

  • Bill Corr

    Absolutely incredible!! I am dumbfounded at the stupidity.

  • Joseph Moore

    Even more than the dazzling ignorance of the college kids in the video, I’m appalled by the concept that people think it’s appropriate to pass laws to specify what gets taught in history class. History should be taught both to pass on a cultural – what has happened that makes us who we are and tells us where we are going – and as scholarship – how do we know what we know. Once you get to the point where the only way to make sure some history gets taught is to use the full coercive force of government via the law, you’ve lost the war even if you win the battle.

    The more subtle thing going on here: history, like math and science, is a gateway to real thought – fairly early on in studying history, you have to engage the critical and logical faculties of your mind. But thinking is not what the public schools are for – as Woodrow Wilson, a great champion of pubic education, said: public education is intended to fit the great mass of people for specific manual work, not to trouble their little heads with the Important Stuff like running the country guys like Wilson get to work on. Thus, the three subjects in which the typical high school or college student is almost completely ignorant are math, science and history. Schools fail to teach these things because they never intended to.

  • http://eacafe.blogspot.com/ Oo_oc_oO

    Well they seem to know all about those evil white Americans…

  • Patti Day

    I couldn’t watch the whole video. It was too sad. How did these people get into a four year college? The video said they were articulate, but they weren’t even that for the most part. The young woman who said about Germany, “It’s over there, somewhere, and all that jazz, it’s not a peninsula” , was particularly pathetic as she tried to fake it. Many of these students will not even make it through college, but will have a huge student loan to repay. How will they support themselves. Oh, yeah, like they’ll be supported by the government and all that jazz.

  • Mary

    I also blame the colleges for not making basic knowledge of world history and geography a requirement for entrance. These days just about anyone can get into college, and the curriculum has been dumbed down accordingly.

  • vox borealis

    I disagree…most *will* in fact make it through college. Such is the state of college education these days, which greatly de-emphasizes factual learning for “ideas” and propaganda. And I say that as a university prof in the humanities.

  • waltj

    Not stupid, Bill, ignorant. There’s a difference. You can’t fix stupid, as the saying goes, but ignorance is a birth defect that can be corrected through proper education. Unfortunately, a “proper education” is now a rare event, as these young women demonstrate.

    How to obtain a proper education, especially if the schools don’t provide it? Not an easy answer, but I believe a key is to instill a love of learning, which my parents did for me at a very young age. That way, you can educate yourself, no matter how dreadful the schools. You just won’t get formal credit for it. Most of the history I’ve learned I picked up outside of a classroom. I was able to answer this interviewer’s questions off the top of my head; anybody with a basic knowledge of 20th Century history, geography, and current events should be able to do the same. Too bad our “best and brightest” can’t.

  • slainte

    There was a great series that appeared on Public Television in the 70′s entitled “The World At War” that told the story of World War II and covered the Holocaust in exquisite detail.
    After all these years, I can still picture in my mind the footage of the concentration camps and the machines moving the bodies of the dead into mass graves. This would be a seminal series to unearth to educate the young (and the not so young) on this era and man’s inhumanity to man. Photos and footage are worth a thousand words.
    The kids in the video are intelligent and want to learn; they just need access to the facts.

  • Gonzalo T. Palacios, Ph.D.

    Sad, hard to believe, harder to take. The use of “American College Student” in this blog and in this context was confusing. The interviewees are voters; why do we expect different results in Congress? Gonzalo T. Palacios, Ph.D., http://www.americanerasmus.com

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    I think the problem is that they don’t know enough about evil white Europeans

  • Sherry


  • thule222

    I had a great teacher but the second semester is start at Reconstruction and move forward. We got lost in the New Deal alphabet soup programs. By the time the Rhineland was remilitarized, the class was over.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    It’s not the school’s responsibility to provide a proper education, but the parents’. If the public school system is beyond repair and the private schools are beyond reach, home schooling is an alternative.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Sure, blame someone else. What’s next, call your representative to mandate it as though it’d fix it?

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    All these young people have opinions and nothing else. As a matter of fact, they were trained to know that they don’t know, only to fill the void not with knowledge, but with opinions. After all, they are unique and special and… so awesome! Here’s a gold star for completing your homework.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    I’m amazed that young people know any history.
    When I was in high school it was mandatory to take a course in each major subject each year. Among the major subjects were history, gov’t, etc.
    But 40 years later when I retired from teaching history–history had become almost a phantom in the curriculum.
    Here we are with millions of immigrants and no desire on our part to teach them our history and thereby make them loyal Americans as we did with the Irish, Italians, etc. etc. (the “old immigrants.”)
    On the Holocaust issue–my second year teaching history I made sure the Holocaust was covered, but I got flack for it.—from Jewish parents. For in the early 1960′s many Jewish parents did not want their children to hear of the horrors that had been inflicted on their co-religionists in Europe.. But things have changed and today a teacher who taught WWII but left out the Holocaust would probably be termed an anti-Semite by some.

  • George

    And the first youtube comment asks, “On the other hand, why do they need to know that if it is not their subject of specialization.”

    Welcome to the future of college education in the US. It’s all about the bottom line. That’s what it’s about. Why does anyone need to learn subjects that aren’t STEM fields, anyway? I mean everything important about human existence can be learned in an engineering lab anyway.

  • Catherine

    I have just come back from a two week visit to American relatives (I live in Germany but am not German) and I am not remotely surprised by this video. In conversations with relatives their general knowledge is pretty appalling and they know nothing about the world outside the US currently.

    However to be fair, a very nice German parishioner at my Catholic parish here who is in his 40s insisted that Germany had never bombed the UK during WWII. He had never been taught it and therefore refused to believe it, even when I stated that my own parents had both been evacuated from their respective cities as children due to the bombardment. Those were London and the northern city of Sunderland which was had the largest shipyards and built the most ships in Britain at that time. The German co-parishioner is a very intelligent and well read man but because it was ignored by German schools and media it did not exist to him.

    It is so easy to erase or ignore what was a common memory. This is also a reflection of how easily Catholic Christian culture can be lost.

  • Jane the Actuary

    My thought is that the “Normandy” respondents were the most knowledgeable of the bunch (based on your excerpt, not the video itself, which I haven’t watched), so maybe they answered other questions correctly and they got edited out. Of course, even if there were other, more educated students whose responses weren’t included, it’s still appalling that anyone on a college campus would lack this basic knowledge. In my view, this isn’t even a matter of colleges failing — this should have been learned in high school. In fact, pretty much everything that falls under the header of “general education” at the university really should be learned well enough at the high school level, that a student can go right into their specialization in college.

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    I’ve heard the same regarding the French. Apparently it used to be not uncommon to meet a French citizen of a certain age who’d insist that Napoleon won at Waterloo.

  • Nan

    Just as some Southerners insist they won the war of northern aggression.

  • Mary

    Huh? I’m not blaming SOMEONE else, I’m faulting institutions of higher learning that do not demand basic world history and geography as a requirement for entrance; therefore, high schools don’t bother teaching it either.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Yes, you are and did it again. First, colleges, now, high-schools. Do you realize that education institutions cannot bother, something that only persons are able to do?

  • Kris Inchcombe

    In theory, you’re correct. However, since we, as tax payers, are paying for the public education system, we have an inherent expectation of proper education – hence the school’s responsibility does exist as a burden to those who fund it. I’m all for home schooling but to think that public education can’t be fixed by dismantling the union structure is a bit naïve.

  • Mary

    Okay, I’ll accept that.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    That’s the result of universal education. While equipping many to be able to acquire knowledge and expand their intellectual horizons, the majority remains literate ignoramuses, AKA functional illiterates.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    To think that the union structure can be dismantled is quite naive.

    Then again, that’s the problem with the public school system. If a private school fails in providing quality services, it either shapes up or it goes to bankruptcy when parents remove their parents and spread the word. Yet, since this cannot happen to public schools, laws even forbid parents to seek better public schools outside their neighborhood, they have no incentive to shape up.

    Rather, by its nature, public schools do have an incentive to be politicized and taken over by teachers unions. This is not an accident. Therefore, the public school system cannot be effectively rid of them and deficient education will all that it can deliver; this and a generous forum to teacher’s unions.

  • Proteios

    orwell had some interesting points on the use of history. We are reworking it right now to make it consistent with current dogmas forming in our culture.

  • Thomas Collins

    Yes, there is an appalling ignorance out there but I’m not sure state mandate to teach certain subjects is quite the answer. Here in NY teaching the Holocaust is required, then the Armenian genocide was added, then the Irish Famine (problematic, esp. if they are teaching it as a genocide inflicted by the English which is too simplistic). Now there are demands to add the Holmodor (Ukrainian famine) to the required list of horrors that must be taught.

    Even those who are knowledgeable about the US/UK role in WW2 are quite ignorant of the Red Army’s role. The whole war was basically a struggle between two tyrants, Hitler and Stalin — the Western Front being a sideshow. About 80% of German deaths occurred on the Eastern front and a like percentage of Allied casualties came from the Red Army. Yet most Americans don’t even remember Stalin was our ally because we moved so quickly from WW2 to the Cold War.

    As time goes on the past slips below the horizon. In 2013 the Civil War, Spanish-American War and WW1 all seem more or less contemporary. Soon WW1 & WW2 will be seen as a sort of global 30 Year’s War that preceded globalisation. Sadly, the Holocausts and Stalin’s atrocities will become footnotes, of interest only to scholars.

  • Patrick

    Yeah, well; I aced the advanced placement European history test and was first place in the geography bee, and got the highest grade possible in Advanced American history…And I can’t say that I’ve led a good life and certainly not a happy one…So, you know – it doesn’t matter a tinker’s dam to me that I can tell you, in detail, about the Boer War or something.

  • James1

    “And this is COLLEGE?”

    Not difficult at all to fathom. How many college students are studying anything beyond what is useful for a specific job/career? Few, it would seem, give a flying fruit loop about that which is not applicable to their earning a Great Deal of Money in a cherry job/career. The Liberal Arts education is pursued only by a few anymore.

    As well, the evidence suggests that any required courses are those that indoctrinate the student into the materialist zeitgeist that is rampant in this country.

    I would guess these students are also wondering why they should know the answers to those questions.

  • James1

    They don’t know enough about evil, no matter the source.

  • jill e

    And what about parents? My kids know about WWII and the Holocaust and history because it’s part of our daily talk. My daughter knows about her Great Uncle Max and how he was a prisoner of war in Germany – that he was part of “The March.” And Great Uncle Matt was in the Philippines… It’s not only U.S. history, it’s family history…

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Yes, we have always been at war with Stalin, Orwell would have said.

  • Rob B.

    Don’t worry! The Common Core Standards that the Obama Administration shoved down the throats of most of the states will solve this problem. . . :(

    Several years back, a German colleague of mine took the test to become an American citizen. The local newspaper got hold of the test and started asking natural-born citizens the same questions that he had to answer. The results were not inspiring.

  • Mack

    A public school must obey the people. A public school is run by its democratically-elected school board. Of the 34 folks posting here, perhaps none voted in the last school board election. Only half voted in the presidential election last November. We have the government for which the people vote. And the people don’t vote. They complain, but they don’t vote. “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves…”

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Their lamentable ignorance of modern history doesn’t mean that they don’t know enough about evil. Who knows what may be happening in their private lives

  • Kris Inchcombe

    When government’s ability to properly fund the schools finally happens – we’ll see how well the unions stick it out. I suspect that a grass roots movement to take over our local school districts and reinstitute REAL American history, grammar and manners/respect will occur. In the meantime, I’ll keep my son in private school and monitor my daughter closely in public school.

  • margaret1910

    Those of us who read Pearl Buck?

  • Frank

    This is a very good video, but I disagree with the argument it makes.

    I would have been able to answer most of those questions correctly by the time I was 18, yet I was never taught anything about WWII or the Holocaust in school (in fact my school ignored 20th century history almost entirely; this wasn’t recent, either — it was late 70s). Nor did my parents make any efforts in that direction. I picked up this knowledge simply by exposure to general culture — books, magazines, movies, tv shows.

    So these students really baffle me. How could anyone not know who Hitler was? He’s one of the most popular general symbols for evil in the world; he’s unavoidable. Yet somehow there are people, even college students, who know nothing about him.

    For people like this, would mandatory Holocaust education change their ignorance? I don’t see how. If it’s possible for you to have gone through life not knowing anything at all about WWII or the Holocaust, your ignorance is invincible. An assigned textbook and a few lectures from a teacher will not change that.

  • http://www.thewinedarksea.com/ Melanie B

    seven year old knows what a concentration camp is. Not many details, but she’d do better than most of the college kids in this video. She came and looked
    over my shoulder as I was watching so I paused it and asked her. She said: “I’m not sure. A place where
    they killed lots of Jews?” (She knows this because of reading stories
    about St Teresa Benedicta and St Maximilian Kolbe.) I’m kind of
    dumbfounded that kids could reach college and be so phenomenally
    ignorant of history. But then again this is exactly why I’m homeschooling. I choose not to delegate the task of forming my kids because I don’t trust the schools to do the job.

  • M Yan

    Good for you, Margaret. And does anyone know about Mimi Vaultrin and Mr. Rabe, and their efforts to help Nanjing residents?

  • Almario Javier

    I do. They actually covered that in high school.

  • Jack Picknell

    Retard: verb
    to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.

  • northerncanuck

    And the one young lady, maybe the same one, when asked what country the Holo—caust* happened in, her first answer was Europe.

    * apparently using the word that is the subject of this thread puts a post into moderation purgatory

  • northerncanuck

    ay yi yi….I don’t want to see the youtube comments…but….ok…off I go…..

  • Mahon1

    Well, WWII is as long ago now as the Spanish American War was when I was in college. But surely I could have identified “Remember the Maine” and San Juan Hill even then. Unfortunately the schools have been taken over by “educators.” If teachers were accountable to principals who were accountable to school boards who were accountable to voters and parents the country would be a lot better off.

  • Hist Ed

    I teach middle school history (in Washington State). There has been a trend in history education to emphasize teaching skills vs knowledge. “If a student leaves you class and they can analyze a political cartoon, isn’t that more important than knowing some facts about history?” (Answer: No, because 98% of our students won’t do anything with that knowledge unless it is part of an assignment) I have heard this and similar things many times. Of course, teaching skills is important, but not at the expense of teaching history. I have for several years been under pressure to teach fewer facts and more skills. I am to eliminate lectures and other information rich teaching techniques in favor of role plays and simulations and groups projects (nothing against those, they have their place). Teaching a seventh grade class a couple of years ago, only two or three kids could give me a coherent explanation of why July 4th was a holiday but, to the bosses, that isn’t really important. This predates Common Core, but Common Core embraces the philosophy as well.