Poll: Brazilians don’t know much about Holocaust history

NEW YORK, July 25 (JTA) — Nearly one-third of Brazilians are unaware of the Holocaust, the highest level of Holocaust ignorance in 13 countries surveyed over the last decade by the American Jewish Committee.

Only 5 percent of the 1,000 respondents in Brazil correctly identified Auschwitz, Dachau and Treblinka as concentration camps.

Jews make up less than 1 percent of Brazil’s total population of 171 million.

“The level of ignorance in the largest South American country” about the Holocaust is “very troubling,” said Shulamit Bahat, acting executive director of the AJCommittee.

But Brazilians seem to value the memory of the Holocaust.

Eighty percent of the respondents polled by IBOPE, a Brazilian-based polling firm, said it is important for everyone to remember the Nazi extermination of the Jews. Only 13 percent disagreed.

That indicates that despite their unfamiliarity with the topic, Brazilians are open to learning about the Holocaust, said Kenneth Bandler, director of public relations and communications at the AJCommittee.

The literacy rate in Brazil is lower than that of surrounding countries — about 83 percent, compared to about 94 percent in neighboring Argentina, according to UNESCO.

Still, these statistics can’t account for the results of the poll, said Bandler. A combination of factors may help explain the results, he said.

The survey “shows that certain countries like Brazil are not only geographically removed from Europe, but their history and culture are removed from the events surrounding World War II,” he said.

The AJCommittee hopes that increased Holocaust education in Brazil’s schools will ameliorate the problem.

UNESCO reports that Brazil has raised the number of years that a child starting school at age 5 will spend studying, from 11.8 years in 1991 to 14.8 years in 1997.

But more schooling doesn’t necessarily guarantee better education.

“There’s a presumption among Jews that the Holocaust is on the radar screen of every nation worldwide,” Bandler said. “What this survey indicated is that this is not so. This is something that pains us that we want to see corrected.”

Officials from the group will present the findings to Brazil’s Ministry of Education as part of an effort to press the ministry to increase Holocaust awareness in schools.

“Teaching about the Holocaust should be made an integral part of the curriculum in Brazil,” Bandler said.

A majority of the poll’s respondents — 63 percent — agree with this idea.

Other noteworthy statistics from the survey:

• 11 percent said it seems possible that the Holocaust never happened;

• 37 percent would “prefer not to have” Jewish neighbors, a percentage roughly equal to those who would prefer not to have Asian or Arab neighbors; and

• 45 percent “agree” that “now, as in the past, Jews exert too much influence on world events.”

The survey, conducted in March, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

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