Almost half of Israelis fear another Holocaust is possible

Visitors to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem view an exhibit on the rise of Nazism. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—A poll conducted on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day has found that the destruction of European Jewry continues to have a deep impact on Israeli society, including the generations born after World War II.

The poll, conducted by the psychology department at Tel Hai Academic College in the Upper Galilee, found that nearly 40 percent of Israelis believe the Holocaust could happen again. A slightly greater number, 43 percent, are fearful the State of Israel is in danger of being destroyed.

Seventeen percent of respondents said the chance of a second Holocaust is very high; 23 percent said there is a moderate risk it could occur; while nearly 59 percent reportedly thought the risk is low.

Prof. Shaul Kimhi, chairman of Tel Hai’s psychology department, said the survey shows that a substantial number of Israelis have absorbed a cultural sensitivity to the Holocaust. “It turns out that more than a third of Israelis believe that the Holocaust was not a one-time occurrence and could happen again,” Kimhi said.

“This substantial proportion [of the population] is an indication of Holocaust fears instilled in us from childhood, which are not necessarily rational, but they’re part of Jewish-Israeli culture,” Kimhi noted. According to Kimhi, these fears are a reflection of deep emotional and cultural sentiment that is not necessarily altered by changes in Israel’s security situation or diplomatic circumstances.

The poll surveyed adults from 18 to 85, plus 12th-graders who had taken school trips to Holocaust sites in Poland. A surprising finding was revealed by polls taken before and after the Poland trip, which showed that the visit to Poland enhanced the students’ sense of Israel’s strength.

Before the trip, 43 percent of the 130 students surveyed said they did not believe Israel was in danger of extinction. This figure dropped to 37 percent after the trip.

“Exposing young people to the horrors that took place during the Holocaust and then returning to Israel strengthens the sense among young people that they have a strong country that can face the lurking dangers,” Kimhi said.

On the other hand, said Kimhi, when the public at large considers the various threats from Iran, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, the collective trauma of the Holocaust makes itself felt.