Anti-Semitic stereotypes are alive and well in Europe, while the memory of the Holocaust is starting to fade, a sweeping new survey by CNN revealed Tuesday.
More than a quarter of Europeans polled believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance. Nearly one in four said Jews have too much influence in conflict and wars across the world. One in five said they have too much influence in the media, and the same number believe they have too much influence in politics.
Meanwhile, a third of Europeans in the poll said they knew just a little or nothing at all about the Holocaust, the genocide of six million Jews in lands controlled by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in the 1930s and 1940s.
The CNN/ComRes poll interviewed more than 7,000 people across Europe, with more than 1,000 respondents each in Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland and Sweden.
The poll was commissioned and completed before the killing of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh—the deadliest ever attack on the Jewish community in the United States.
The poll uncovered complicated, contrasting and sometimes disturbing attitudes about Jews, and some startling ignorance.
Forgetting the Holocaust?
About one European in 20 in the countries CNN surveyed has never heard of the Holocaust, even though it’s less than 75 years since the end of World War II, and there are still tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors alive today.
Lack of Holocaust knowledge is particularly striking among young people in France: One out of five people there between the ages of 18 and 34 said they’d never heard of it.
In Austria—the country where Hitler was born—12 percent of young people said they had never heard of the Holocaust. Austria also had the highest number of people in the survey saying they knew “just a little” about the Holocaust—four out of 10 Austrian adults.
Across Europe, half of respondents said they know “a fair amount” about the Holocaust, while only one out of five people said they know “a great deal.”
Americans do not fare any better: A survey carried out on behalf of the Claims Conference earlier this year found that 10% of American adults were not sure they’d ever heard of the Holocaust, rising to one in five millennials. Half of all millennials could not name a single concentration camp, and 45% of all American adults failed to do so.
But Europeans do believe it is important to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. Two-thirds of Europeans said that commemorating the Holocaust helps ensure that such atrocities will never happen again. That figure rises to 80% in Poland, where the Nazis established Auschwitz, the deadliest concentration camp of all. Half of Europeans said commemorating the Holocaust helps fight anti-Semitism today.
But at the same time, a third of Europeans said that Jews use the Holocaust to advance their own positions or goals. The same number disagreed and nearly a third of respondents expressed no opinion.
Attitudes sharpened when it comes to the relationship between the Holocaust, Israel, Jews and anti-Semitism. A slight but solid majority of Europeans—54%—said Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state, with the figure rising to two-thirds in Poland.
A third of survey respondents believe that criticism of Israel tends to be motivated by anti-Semitism, while only one in five said it does not.
However, a third of people CNN surveyed said that Israel uses the Holocaust to justify its actions, with half the respondents in Poland agreeing. Only one in five disagreed.
A third of Europeans said supporters of Israel use accusations of anti-Semitism to shut down criticism of Israel, while only one in 10 said that was not true.
A third of Europeans said commemorating the Holocaust distracts from other atrocities today, with higher than average numbers of Germans, Austrians, Poles and Hungarians stating that.
And while many people said anti-Semitism is a growing problem in their countries—to the extent that 40% said Jews were at risk of racist violence in their countries and half said their governments should do more to fight anti-Semitism—substantial minorities blamed Israel or Jews themselves for anti-Semitism.
More than a quarter of respondents (28%) said most anti-Semitism in their countries was a response to the actions of the State of Israel. And nearly one in five (18%) said anti-Semitism in their countries was a response to the everyday behavior of Jewish people.
'I'm not anti-Semitic, but…'
Few people said they personally have an unfavorable attitude toward Jews. Across the seven countries in the survey, one in 10 people said they did—although the figure rises to 15% in Poland and 19% in Hungary.
In every country polled except Hungary, significantly more people said they had a favorable opinion of Jews than an unfavorable one. In Hungary, favorable topped unfavorable 21% to 19%, with the rest saying they had neither a favorable nor unfavorable view.
Attitudes towards many other minorities were notably harsher. While 10% of Europeans admitted they had unfavorable views of Jews, 16% said they had negative views of LGBT+ people, 36% said they had unfavorable views of immigrants, 37% said that about Muslims, and 39% said it of Romany people.
But while the number of Europeans openly admitting negative attitudes towards Jews was relatively low, CNN questions about whether traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes still resonate across the continent found clear evidence that they do.
In Poland and Hungary, about four out of 10 people said Jews have too much influence in business and finance around the world. Roughly one out of three people there said Jews were too influential in political affairs around the world, and more than a quarter of Poles and Hungarians said they had too much influence on the media. A third of Austrians said Jews have too much influence in finance, while a quarter of French and German respondents said so. About one in five people in all three countries said Jews had too much influence in media, and a quarter said they had too much influence on wars and conflicts.
The belief in Jewish power runs in parallel with enormous overestimates of the number of Jews in the world. About two-thirds of the respondents in the survey guessed too high when asked what percentage of the world is Jewish, and similar numbers got the answer wrong for their own countries.
A quarter of Hungarians estimated that the world is more than 20% Jewish, and a fifth of British and Polish respondents said so. They were off by a factor of 100. About 0.2% of the world’s population is Jewish, according to the Pew Research Center’s Global Religious Landscape study.
Four out of ten respondents in the survey thought their own countries were between 3% and 10% Jewish. In fact, Israel is the only country in the world where more than 2% of the population is Jewish.
The overestimates came even as majorities or near-majorities in every country CNN polled said they were not aware of ever having met a Jewish person. Two-thirds of Germans, Austrians and Poles said they didn’t think they had ever socialized with a Jew, while about half of people in Britain, France, Hungary and Austria said the same.
ComRes interviewed 7,092 adults online in seven countries between September 7-20 (Great Britain, 1010; France, 1006; Germany, 1012; Poland, 1020; Hungary, 1019; Sweden 1018; Austria, 1007). Data was weighted to be representative of each country based on age, gender and region.
Richard Allen Greene is a senior news editor at CNN. The full findings of the CNN survey will be presented at a TV special on CNN International on Friday, November 30, at 9:30pm Israel time, as well as on CNN's website.