Student Research Finds Growth in Holocaust Denial, Reduction in Anti-Semitic Incidents

June 29, 2010
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

For Scott Darnell MPP 2010, an undergraduate course at the University of New Mexico on “Memories of the Holocaust” left a lasting impression. So much so that Darnell chose the issue of Holocaust denial in the United States as the topic for his Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) in his final months as a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) student.

“Studying and standing against Holocaust denial is important to me because, sadly, the world will soon be without any remaining survivors of the Holocaust,” said Darnell, a native New Mexican with a professional background in political communications and campaigns. “We have to ask ourselves the question ‘When no one is around to raise their hand and say ‘I was there,’ will we have answered the call to fight for the memory of those who suffered in the Holocaust?’”

The Policy Analysis Exercise serves as the capstone to the Master in Public Policy curriculum at HKS. Students have the opportunity to work with a client on real-world public policy challenges. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) agreed to be the client for Darnell’s PAE as part of recent efforts to confront Holocaust denial more publicly and offer ways to constructively address the issue in communities throughout the country. It has been 16 years since a public opinion survey has been conducted to measure the level of Holocaust denial in the United States and Darnell said he was shocked at how little academic research had been conducted up to this point.

His paper found that Holocaust denial appears to be on an upward trajectory in the United States due, in significant part, to greater accessibility to anti-Semitic content on the Internet and the continually decreasing number of living Holocaust survivors.

“The results from this study suggest that knowledge of the Holocaust is relatively low in America and that, over the past decade, the number and concentration of organized anti-Semitic hate groups has risen — especially in the South and Mountain West — while the number of anti-Semitic incidents has been on the decline,” said Darnell. “There is strong evidence to suggest that Holocaust denial has garnered an increasing amount of U.S. media coverage over the past decade with a roughly four-fold increase during that time and continues to grow in prevalence on the Internet.”

In the PAE, Darnell gives the USHMM three major recommendations: Conduct frequent public opinion surveys on the level of Holocaust denial with some concentrated focus on parts of the country where anti-Semitic attitudes are highest; improve measurement tools by partnering more with groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League; and, build a communications team to specifically respond to each public misuse of Holocaust-related terms or Holocaust denial in popular culture.

“I am so pleased that HKS allowed me to work in such a unique area of public policy research,” said Darnell. “As most of my classmates know, my professional background and work experience is in politics, and much of my previous academic pursuits have been related to the American political system. It would have been natural to have chosen a PAE topic in that realm, but for nearly a decade, a significant piece of my heart and mind has been devoted to Holocaust remembrance efforts, and it was a blessing that HKS allows students to do research that isn’t perhaps in their primary field of work.”

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Scott Darnell

Scott Darnell MPP 2010 chose the issue of Holocaust denial in the United States as the topic for his PAE after taking a class on the topic during his undergraduate studies.

"There is strong evidence to suggest that Holocaust denial has garnered an increasing amount of U.S. media coverage over the past decade." — Scott Darnell

Scott Darnell

Scott Darnell's hand traces the numbers at the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston. Six million numbers ­are etched in the glass, representing the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

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