MONTREAL — Quebecers are significantly less likely than other Canadians to have learned about the Holocaust in school, to have read a book about the genocide in the Second World War or to have ever been in contact with a Jewish person, a new poll suggests.
The results of the Leger poll come at a time when academics in Quebec are preparing a new study guide to help teachers educate students about genocide and acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise across the country.
About 35 per cent of respondents across Canada said they did not learn in school that roughly six million European Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War, while more than 53 per cent of Quebecers said so.
More than 61 per cent of Quebecers polled said they’d never read a book about the Holocaust, compared to the Canadian average of 41 per cent. And 36 per cent of respondents from Quebec said they had never had contact with a Jewish person. The Canadian average was 18 per cent.
Leger surveyed 1,560 Canadians — including 418 Quebecers — over the age of 18, between June 7 and 11 in the online poll commissioned by Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies.
The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error as they are not a random sample and therefore are not necessarily representative of the whole population.
Jedwab, a historian, said he was surprised to learn the gap between Quebec and the rest of the country was so high.
“These are very surprising gaps — which is telling,” Jedwab said, adding that he’s studied the Quebec history curriculum and the province’s schools don’t teach the Second World War in great detail.
“And if you’re not going to deal with WW2, probably the end result is that you won’t learn a lot about the Holocaust because they are connected,” he said.
Sivane Hirsch, professor of education sciences at Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres, says she is not surprised by the results.
Her research on Holocaust education in the province revealed teachers were hesitant to teach it because they said the subject matter was complicated, sensitive and that students weren’t interested in it.
Hirsch said the percentage of Quebecers who said they never met a Jewish person “is normal” because most Jews in the province live in Montreal and are members of the English-speaking community.
“About 50 per cent of the students in the (Jewish) community go to Jewish school,” she said, adding there are few places where francophones outside Montreal can meet Jews.
Other than Quebecers, the Canadians least likely to have learned about the Holocaust in school were from Ontario and Atlantic Canada, both at 31 per cent.
About 38 per cent of respondents from Manitoba and Saskatchewan, who were grouped together in the survey, said they had never read a book about the Holocaust, second only to Quebec.
Ontarian respondents were the most likely Canadians to know someone who is Jewish — only 12 per cent of them said they have ”never” had contact with a Jew.
The survey results should be a wake-up call to Quebec’s minister of education, Jedwab said. Learning about the genocide of the Jews empowers people to fight discrimination and strengthens one’s sense of tolerance, he added.
According to B’nai Brith Canada, anti-Semitic incidents in Quebec increased from 474 in 2017 to 709 in 2018. Anti-Semitic incidents rose roughly 17 per cent between 2017 and 2018 across Canada.
The 2,041 hate acts against Jews in 2018 was the first time since 1982 that there have been more than 2,000 such incidents in the country over a 12-month period, B’nai Brith Canada noted in its April report. The Jewish advocacy group also said in its most recent audit that the year 2018 “was characterized by a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide.”
A September 2018 survey that polled 1,100 Canadians, conducted by New York City-based Schoen Consulting, indicated 22 per cent of respondents between 18 and 34 years old were unaware or unsure if they had even heard of the Holocaust.
In response to the rise of anti-Semitic acts in Canada and the decline of Holocaust awareness across the country, a foundation that educates young people about genocide is partnering with the Quebec government to offer high school teachers a study guide on genocide.
Hirsch is one of two academics working on the study guide she says will be available to teachers in a handful of schools starting in the fall.
“A major challenge for teachers was having the tools to teach about genocide … they said it was complicated. So we’re going to help them,” she said.
Heidi Berger, head of The Foundation for Genocide Education, told The Canadian Press in April that her goal is to have the guidebook in every public and private high school across the province by 2020.