August 13, 2015

70 years after WWII, the Holocaust is still very important to American Jews

Six memorial candles are lit to remember the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust during a 70th anniversary remembrance in Denver of the Allied liberation of concentration camps. Credit: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Six memorial candles lit in honor of the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust, part of a remembrance in Denver of the 70th anniversary of the Allied liberation of the concentration camps in Europe. Credit: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Seven decades after the end of World War II, most American Jews say remembering the Holocaust is essential to what being Jewish means to them, personally.

About 6 million European Jews (roughly two-thirds of the continent’s Jewish population at the time) were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust, which began in about 1941 and ended in May 1945 when Germany was defeated by the Allied Powers. The war came to a close in August 1945 when the Japanese surrendered.

What Does It Mean to Be Jewish?

About three-quarters (73%) of American Jews say remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of being Jewish, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. Those surveyed also were asked about whether other aspects of Jewish life (such as observing Jewish law or being part of a Jewish community) were important to their Jewish identity.  Only one of these eight other options, “leading an ethical life,” ranked almost as highly (69%) as “remembering the Holocaust.”

Today, due in large part to the Holocaust, there are only an estimated 1.4 million Jews remaining in Europe – down from an estimated 9.5 million at the beginning of the war, in 1939.

Anti-Semitism long predates the Holocaust and is still alive today. Indeed, in many European countries, including France and Germany, there have recently been attacks on Jewish individuals as well as businesses and organizations.

This lengthy history of hostilities, coupled with the longstanding sense within Judaism of a common destiny, helps explain why 63% of Americans Jews also say they have a special responsibility to take care of Jews in need around the world.

Many American Jews also feel a strong personal connection to the state of Israel, which was a haven for many Holocaust survivors and, in recent decades, has taken in Jewish refugees from places like Ethiopia and Russia. Today, 43% of American Jews say caring about Israel is essential to what being Jewish means to them, personally.

Topics: Jews and Judaism, Wars and International Conflicts

  1. Photo of Becka A. Alper

    is a research associate focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Jett Rucker1 year ago

    Religions are for the most part founded upon miraculous mythology, replete with angels and devils.

    Judaism was quite typical of religions in its mythology concerning such things as the Exodus. It remains typical in having, in the case of most (American) Jews, supplanted the traditional mythology with that of the Holocaust.

    Best of all, the devils (that is, their grandchildren) continue paying billions in reparations to this very day, which doesn’t even count free submarines and other fabulous gifts rendered up to Israel periodically by forever-guilty Germany.

  2. Stephen Karetzky1 year ago

    It is unfortunate that Jews are far more concerned with grieving about the Holocaust than working to prevent another one, e.g., in their voting for Obama. This demonstrates some deep psychological problems.

  3. Timeless1 year ago

    Pretty hard to whine about the Holocaust if one is sanguine about the Zionists theft of Palestine and the war crimes being committed on a continuing basis. Nevertheless, most Israelis and many other Jews seem to have no difficulty splitting that ethical hair. Is hypocrisy also an essential part of being human?

  4. Mary1 year ago

    The article says “American Jews say remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of being Jewish.” I’d expand that to say that remembering/knowing about the Holocaust is an essential part of being a human being.

    1. Ed1 year ago

      Well said Mary! Essential for ALL of us!

  5. Kurt Teil1 year ago

    As an American with a jewish background I am aware that many of us have some difficulty whether they wish to consider themselves as American Jews similar to American Catholics, or as Jews living in America.

  6. Karen1 year ago

    Is there a further breakdown of responses by age? Geography/residence of respondent? Other less wildly generalized factors?? Would be much more valuable information.

  7. Dan Hennessy1 year ago

    This is very important information… especially as an Holocaust educator-activist, I am gratified to find that the Holocaust is of such importance to this day… educating our youth is essential to our existence as a culture and given the “perfect storm” of conditions threatening human memory – the passing of survivors, the lack of educational emphasis due to a plethora of reasons, and the gradual, glacial diminishment of reality by Holocaust denial efforts, especially on college campuses, great vigilance must exist for the universal lessons to be passed on…