Auschwitz awareness jumps sharply in the UK

March 22, 2005

[This is a follow-up to other previous email dispatches on this subject]


1. "Holocaust Memorial Day raises awareness among Britons" (AFP / Yahoo news, March 17, 2005)
2. "Prince Harry gaffe boosts Auschwitz awareness" (Reuters, March 17, 2005)
3. "UK: Auschwitz awareness jumps sharply" (Jerusalem Post, March 17, 2005)
4. "Reporting Auschwitz, then & now" (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 3, 2005)


[Note by Tom Gross]

Last year a comprehensive BBC poll found that only 55 percent of Britons (and just 40 percent of those aged 18 - 35) had heard of Auschwitz, the death camp where one fifth of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust were murdered.

A new BBC poll reveals that 94 percent of respondents now say they have heard of Auschwitz, including 86 percent of those under 35.

This change is likely caused by:

(a) The comprehensive and generally accurate media coverage of the commemorations surrounding the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27. (See my article "Reporting Auschwitz, then & now," which I attach again at the end of this email for people who have joined this list in recent weeks.)

(b) The widespread media coverage of the scandal around Prince Harry wearing Nazi regalia at a costume party.

(c) The BBC itself must take some credit after it broadcast in late January of its program "Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution," parts of which were watched by more than one-third of the UK population.

(d) The fairly comprehensive coverage of the opening of the new Yad Vashem museum in Israel earlier this month.

With many similarly disturbing opinion polls concerning Israel and the Holocaust, in various European countries in recent months (some of which have been outlined on this email list), this new poll would seem to illustrate the central role the media can play in promoting public awareness.

-- Tom Gross




Holocaust Memorial Day raises awareness among Britons: BBC
AFP (Agence France Presse)
March 17, 2005

Britons who stunned observers with widespread ignorance of the Holocaust are now much more aware of the World War II atrocities against Jews following a major memorial day staged in January, a poll showed.

The BBC conducted a survey last year showing that only 55 percent of the population in Britain had even heard of Auschwitz, the most notorious Nazi death camp where at least 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed.

For women and people aged under 35, that figure dropped to about 40 percent.

But the BBC said its new survey shows a radical change, following a series of major events marking the horror of the Holocaust -- notably television documentaries and media coverage in Britain, as well as the 60th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz in January.

Now fully 94 percent of people in Britain have heard of Auschwitz, with 86 percent of under-35s and 92 percent of women aware of the extermination camp.

On January 27, as many world leaders marked Auschwitz's liberation at the camp in southern Poland, Britain also staged its biggest-ever assembly of survivors of the Nazi camps and ghettos, at an event at Westminster Hall attended by Queen Elizabeth II and political leaders.



Harry gaffe boosts Auschwitz awareness
By Jeremy Laurence
March 17, 2005

Awareness of the Auschwitz concentration camp has soared, a survey shows, thanks in part to a royal scandal involving Prince Harry wearing Nazi regalia at a costume party.

A year ago, nearly half of all Britons said they had never heard of the camp that became a symbol of the Holocaust and the attempted genocide of the Jews, a BBC poll showed.

But asked the same question in January, all but six percent of respondents said they knew of it, Britain's public broadcaster said on Thursday.

A prominent Jewish group said the sharp rise in awareness about Auschwitz was largely due to the controversy in January surrounding Princes Harry and William, sons of heir to the throne Charles.

Photos of Harry, 20, wearing a swastika at a party were splashed across newspapers around the world, prompting calls for the two princes to visit the ruins of the camp in southern Poland. A royal family spokesman said on Thursday they had not done so.

William, 22 and second in line to the throne, was at the same party and had helped choose his brother's outfit.

"Obviously the prince's choice of costume raised the issue of Holocaust education prior to Holocaust Memorial Day," said a spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jason Pearlman, referring to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27.

"At the end of the day, the Jewish community was satisfied in general that he realised the error in his ways. It was a very unfortunate incident."

Harry, younger son of Charles and the late Princess Diana, apologised for the gaffe.

The scandal erupted just two weeks before world leaders gathered in Poland to mark the liberation anniversary of the camp in which were murdered around one fifth of the six million Jews killed in the World War Two Holocaust.

It even drew in British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

The BBC poll, conducted two days after the anniversary and involving 4,000 people, showed Auschwitz awareness levels among women and those aged under 35 had more than doubled to 92 percent and 86 percent respectively since the 2004 survey.

"Holocaust survivors were distressed by the original BBC survey results before the 60th anniversary," said chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Stephen Smith.

"The vast improvement in awareness levels of Auschwitz and the atrocities of the Holocaust after Holocaust Memorial Day 2005 will do much to alleviate that."



[Douglas Davis is one of several senior Jerusalem Post staff who are longtime subscribers to this email list.]

UK: Auschwitz awareness jumps sharply
By Douglas Davis
The Jerusalem Post
March 17, 2005

Virtually everyone in Britain 94 percent of respondents in a new BBC poll has now heard of Auschwitz.

A similar poll by the BBC last year revealed that just 55% of the population had heard of the camp, with the number dropping to 40% among women and those under 35.

According to the new poll, conducted among 4,000 British adults, awareness levels among under 35s have more than doubled to 86%, while 92% of women say they have now heard of Auschwitz.

This awareness is not just superficial, according to the BBC, with half the population saying they now know a lot about the subject, compared to 30% last year.

It is thought that this dramatic change in awareness may be due to the commemorations surrounding Holocaust Memorial Day in January, when the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was marked by nationwide exhibitions, talks, television and radio programs and other events.

During that time, the biggest ever assembly of British-based survivors attended an event in London hosted by Queen Elizabeth and major political leaders.

The BBC broadcast a range of television and radio programs to mark the anniversary, including the series Auschwitz: The Nazis & The Final Solution, parts of which were watched by more than one-third of the population.



Reporting Auschwitz, then & now
By Tom Gross
The Jerusalem Post
February 3, 2005

Last week's media coverage marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was surprisingly comprehensive and accurate. Even many of those news outlets that have a poor record of covering Jewish issues, such as anti-Semitism and the Middle East, covered the story well.

Take the BBC, for example. As recently as January 13, 2005, the BBC posted a webpage titled "BBC Guides: The Holocaust. What was it?" Designed to explain the controversy over Prince Harry's wearing of a Nazi uniform at a fancy-dress party, that webpage neglected to mention Jews, erroneously stated that most Holocaust victims were German citizens, and encouraged the myth that other groups were persecuted by the Nazis to anything like the same extent that Jews were.

The BBC webpage blandly stated: "The Holocaust was a mass murder of millions of people... Most of the victims died because they belonged to certain racial or religious groups, which the Nazis wanted to wipe out, even though they were German citizens. This kind of killing is called genocide."

Yet last week, the BBC covered the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz in a serious and thorough way, both on air and on-line. That most victims were Jews was highlighted. "The Holocaust. What was it?" and other webpages were corrected. And whereas, a week earlier the BBC had referred to the "Auschwitz prison camp", it now used the infinitely more accurate term "death camp". (If BBC staff really think it was a prison camp, they don't begin to understand what Auschwitz was.)

Other media with previously poor records, such as the French newspaper Le Monde, also had generally sound coverage.

The (London) Guardian, too, had some good pieces although at the same time, true to form, it supplemented its lead editorial, titled "Holocaust Memorial Day: Eternal memory", with an accompanying commentary by former Oxford University professor Terry Eagleton, in which he justified suicide bombing "in Israel" and likened suicide bombers to their victims. (Unsurprisingly, the piece was reprinted the following day in the Saudi paper Arab News and appeared on a half-dozen extremist Moslem websites.)

The Guardian also couldn't resist greatly exaggerating the numbers of Roma (Gypsies) who died in the camps. (Perhaps the paper isn't aware that inflating the number of Roma and homosexuals killed by the Nazis, in order to try and de-emphasize the centrality of Jews among Holocaust victims, is now a favorite trick of revisionist historians.)

In the Arab world, most media simply ignored last week's anniversary altogether. In Iran, the government-linked Tehran Times marked the occasion by explicitly denying that "the so-called Holocaust" happened and accusing "Zionist leaders" of "conjuring up images of gas chambers." (It makes one wonder all the more what the Iranian regime wants nuclear weapons for.)

Still, as far as the Western media goes, this improved coverage today contrasts sharply with the lack of proper coverage in the decades following World War II, or even as recently as 10 years ago. And it also provides a bitterly ironic reminder of just how poor coverage was during the Holocaust itself.

The omissions of the New York Times are perhaps the most disturbing. Although it was far from being the only newspaper to deliberately play down or do its best to ignore Hitler's genocide, it bears a special responsibility as having been even then the world's single most influential paper.

Such was the Times' influence as the premier American source of wartime news (particularly so in an age before television) that had it reported the Holocaust properly, other US papers would probably have followed, and US public opinion might have forced the US government to act. (European papers outside Nazi-occupied countries provided slightly better, though still lamentable, coverage.)

But the Times, possibly because they feared people might think of it a "Jewish" paper, made sure reports were brief and buried inside the paper.

* On June 27, 1942, for example, the Times devoted just two inches to the news that "700,000 Jews were reported slain in Poland."

* On July 2, 1942, it noted that gas chambers were being used to kill 1,000 Jews a day but only on page 6.

* On November 25, 1942, it reported that there had been roundups, gassings, cattle cars and the disappearance of 90 percent of Warsaw's ghetto population but only on page 10.

* On December 9, 1942, its report that two million Jews had been killed and five million more faced extermination appeared only on page 20.

* On July 2, 1944, it reported that 400,000 Hungarian Jews had been deported to their deaths so far, and 350,000 more were likely to be killed in the next weeks. Yet this news received only four column inches on page 12. (That edition's front page carried an analysis of the problem of New York holiday crowds on the move.)

During the war, no article about the Jews' plight ever qualified as the Times' leading story of the day.

The New York Times has never properly acknowledged its failings in this matter. And the fact that a comparable mindset still seems to dominate the paper today continues to have consequences whether in the unfair coverage it gives Israel, or the relative lack of attention given to other genocides and systematic acts of inhumanity, such as those in North Korea or Burma, and in particular those for which Arabs are chiefly responsible, as in Darfur.

The tsunami tragedies can occupy the front page for days on end, but Darfur is lucky if it makes an inside page once in a week.

[Tom Gross is a former Jerusalem correspondent for the (London) Sunday Telegraph and (New York) Daily News]

[NOTE: This article has also been picked up by several other news websites, where comments can be left by readers. These include: --]

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.