In November 2015, the Israeli Ministry of Education declared that the matriculation exam in history would no longer include the Holocaust, and instead students would be required to write a research paper. Following this decision, we wished to test the level of knowledge concerning the Holocaust among undergraduate students (excluding those who study contemporary history, which includes Holocaust studies). For this purpose, 145 participants were sampled, students at four Israeli academic institutions: two universities and two colleges. The research question referred to remembering information about the Holocaust and the study took into account students’ different personal, family, and academic background (having participated in the journey to Poland or not, having relatives who had died or survived the Holocaust, being religious or secular).
For this purpose, 145 participants were sampled, students at four Israeli academic institutions: two universities and two colleges. The research question referred to remembering information about the Holocaust and the study took into account students’ different personal, family, and academic background (having participated in the journey to Poland or not, having relatives who had died or survived the Holocaust, being religious or secular). The knowledge survey refers to terms from four areas: people, historical events during the Holocaust era, organizations that operated in that period, and places and methods of killing.
In general, the level of knowledge was found to be very low (general knowledge score: 42.6 of 100). No significant differences were found in scores by religion or participation in the journey to Poland, aside from knowledge about places and methods of killing, where we found a significant difference between those who participated in the journey to Poland and those who did not. In addition, no significant differences were found between participants whose relatives had died in or had survived the Holocaust, or by either the number of years since high school graduation or gender. From the respondents’ answers, it appears that high school studies play an essential role as the main perceived source of knowledge (90.4% referred to school as a main or additional knowledge source). When asked about the new exam format, the majority (52.1%) replied that they would prefer writing a research paper to taking an exam.
The low level of knowledge that we found raises practical questions: Are the schools teaching correctly? Should the study program be reviewed? Are we providing the right highlights? What is the contribution of the journey to Poland if 60% of the participants are not familiar, for example, with Mordechai Anielewicz? What can be done to improve the situation? Will the decision to exclude Holocaust topics from the high school finals in history and to require students to write a research paper, improve the situation? What is the future of remembrance in a generation that will have no Holocaust survivors to tell their personal story? It is necessary to check the importance of the school as a primary source of knowledge and how to improve the study methods so that the knowledge will be preserved. Perhaps the informal teaching that includes the journey to Poland plays an important role and should be used more often. Furthermore, despite students’ support of the reform and the conception that writing a research paper is better than taking an exam about the Holocaust, there is a need to check what is included in this research paper and whether writing it on a specific subject connected to the Holocaust won’t cause a situation where the students are only proficient in that subject with regard to the Holocaust. In addition, the student’s ability to prepare a research paper should be considered. Indeed, the students replied that they would be capable of writing such a paper, but the question is whether high school students indeed have the necessary proficiency and tools.