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Should we be worried about the results of the latest poll on the Holocaust?

A new poll reveals big gaps in Americans' knowledge of Holocaust history. NPR's Michel Martin considers the implications with historian Deborah Lipstadt.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST: A new poll commissioned by a Jewish organization reveals big gaps in Americans' historical knowledge. According to that survey, two-thirds of millennials and 4 out of 10 Americans overall don't know what Auschwitz was. And while 6 million has long been accepted by historians as the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, nearly a third of Americans think it was far fewer. And just over half of Americans think Hitler came to power by force. In fact, he was democratically elected.

To consider the significance of this, we're joined now by Deborah Lipstadt. She's the author of many books including, "Denying The Holocaust: The Growing Assault On Truth And Memory." You might remember that another of her books about her successful court defense against a suit by a British Holocaust denier was the basis of the 2016 film "Denial." Professor Lipstadt, thank you so much for speaking with us. It's a pleasure to speak with you once again.

DEBORAH LIPSTADT: You're welcome. Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, as a person who teaches this history, were you surprised by the results of the survey?

LIPSTADT: I was surprised, I must say that, and I don't surprise easily. I was surprised because 6 million has become almost a noun more than a number. And Auschwitz has become a shorthand for so many things that I was surprised by this number and a bit depressed by it as well.

MARTIN: You famously wrote a book about Holocaust denial - actually, a number of books. What, in your view, is the danger of this lack of knowledge?

LIPSTADT: Danger of lack of knowledge is I think history is important. History shapes people's view of the present. I'm not saying that history always repeats itself or history's always the same. But if you don't know what came before, it's very hard to make wise decisions for the future. You know, as you pointed out in your introduction, so many Americans think that Hitler came to power by violent force - he didn't. As you pointed out, he was elected. And then there began a slow and steady drumbeat of attacks first on the press, then on the courts, then on institutions, slow takeover of institutions. ...

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