SPIEGEL's Daily Take Clueless Youth: Half of Young Germans Can't Define Holocaust

A new poll shows that one out of every two young Germans doesn't know what the Holocaust is. Plus: the Joschka Fischer visa-scandal media moment, and using forensics to catch dogs that poop and run.


60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Dachau and Buchenwald (pictured), half of German youth don't know what the Holocaust was.
REUTERS

60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Dachau and Buchenwald (pictured), half of German youth don't know what the Holocaust was.

It may be the season of ceremonies to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II -- and the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps -- but according to a new survey testing Germans on their own history, one out of every two Germans under 24 doesn't even know what the Holocaust was. The newspaper Die Welt, which commissioned the poll along with public TV station ZDF, reported on Friday that while 80 percent of the total population could identify the Holocaust as the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II, just about half of the young people polled were clueless about what the term meant. Women were more than twice as likely as men not to be able to identify the term -- 21.3 percent as opposed to 9.9 percent. The Holocaust question, however, was just one of 17 included in the survey's quiz, and on all the other questions -- "What happened on the June 17, 1953?" (the anti-Communist uprising in East Berlin) or "Who was the last German emperor?" (Kaiser Wilhelm II) -- the percentage of correct answers was lower. Compared to the other questions, the Holocaust is something most Germans still have most clearly in mind. Still, the paper sees the low numbers of correct answers among youth as a highly alarming discovery. "Eighty years after the event, according to the science of history, the myth dies. Is that also the case with memory?"

The poll, a telephone survey of 1,087 German citizens, was designed to be the first mass survey of German historical knowledge, according to the paper. The test wasn't designed to test the entirety of the German historical cannon. It instead chose a sampling of moments that are undeniably central to any historical understanding of the country, and would then be comparable to such tests in other countries, like one in Britain given a few months ago which revealed that only 40 percent of Brits knew that William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings in 1066. But it's a long way from 1066 to 1933, and the revelation that Germany's youth is so clueless comes as quite a shock, and no one is entirely sure what to do. Professor Arno Lustiger of Frankfurt, an Auschwitz survivor, told Die Welt: "Should we be worried about the results of the poll? Yes! Is there a correlation between the state of knowledge (or lack thereof) in a large part of younger Germans and their susceptibility to right-wing radical thought?" Wolfgang Benz, director of the Center of Research on Anti-Semitism at Berlin's Technical University, saw it, um, differently: "Perhaps it is treated with too much moral pressure in school, such that right away repression sets in." (2:10 p.m. CET)

Fischer TV

"I am the last one who's free of mistakes: Fischer during his testimony on Monday.
REUTERS

"I am the last one who's free of mistakes: Fischer during his testimony on Monday.

Joschka Fischer's testimony on Monday before a parliamentary committee won't just be historically important for Fischer's own career and that of his boss, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. While the committee hearing is of central importance to the current state of German politics, it's also setting a media precedent: the first time live cameras have broadcast German parliamentary committee proceedings. Sure, Germany has Phoenix, the equivalent of C-SPAN in the US. But what Fischer is facing on Monday is more akin to a Senate hearing, and televising the proceedings -- especially given Fischer's status and the huge debate surrounding the visa issue he'll be testifying on -- makes the whole thing more akin to an American-style celebrity trial. The courtroom metaphor is apt: Fischer is very possibly facing the political end of the road, and his performance on Monday will determine whether or not he is judged fit to continue his job. Either way, never before have German's been so eager to see a popular politician twist in the wind on live TV. It may also mark the beginning of a new phase of media saturation in Germany, all in the name of transparency. While documenting the democratic process is a good thing, the German media may be opening a Pandora's box with its intense coverage. Two words here: Bill Clinton. (12:40 p.m. CET)

Cops: Poop Patrol Dresden

No one has suggested jailing doggies, but Dresden is fed up with its poop problem.
DPA

No one has suggested jailing doggies, but Dresden is fed up with its poop problem.

The nearly intractable problem of dog waste: every major urban area has had to deal with it at some point. From the motorcycle-mounted poop-sucking vacuum cleaners of Paris to the zero tolerance $1,000 fines of New York, every dog city has come up with its own way of handling the problem. In the eastern German city of Dresden, poop police will soon be using the latest forensic science to do the job of catching dogs whose owners let them poop and run: DNA testing. In the city's center, local advisory committee member Karl Jobig is pushing a plan that would require all of the city's 12,500 dogs to have their DNA collected and analyzed, so that future uncollected leavings could be picked up by the city and checked against a database and their owners fined.

The plan is not yet official, but has received wide support in Dresden, despite the fact that DNA testing is a highly contentious issue in Germany, and some pet advocates have raised concerns about animal rights infringement. Germany recently banned a controversial practice that enables fathers not convinced of their children's legitimacy to secretly subject both child and mother to DNA testing. Officials in the state of Saxony, however, says that taking dog DNA wouldn't trample dogs' rights regarding their personal information, because they don't have any such rights to begin with. (11:24 a.m. CET)

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