New study: Great interest of young people in the Nazi era

Status: 01/25/2022 12:51 p.m

According to a new study, young people are again more interested in the National Socialist era. Three quarters of the 19 to 25 year olds surveyed expressed interest. In the parents’ generation it is only 66 percent.

National Socialism was almost eight decades ago. Most young people no longer have any personal contact at this time, only very few still have contact with eyewitnesses. This also eliminates discussions in the family. But all this does not seem to lead to a dwindling interest in the atrocities of the Nazi era among Generation Z, today’s 19 to 25 year olds. On the contrary.

“Especially in the corona pandemic, there are many comparisons with the Nazi era,” says Marita Risse, “so it’s important to be able to classify that.” During a project week at her school in Bad Arolsen in northern Hesse, the 18-year-old recently dealt with National Socialism. She finds it extremely important to keep busy with it, even after such a long time.

A whole generation feels like cracks. That’s the result of a new study. “This result is only surprising at first glance,” says psychologist Stephan Grünewald, head of the Rheingold Institute, which created this study. Precisely because family entanglements and thus the question of personal guilt are no longer in the foreground, this opens up a greater degree of openness to the topic for young people, according to the makers of the study.

A mixture of fascination and horror

Dealing with the Nazi period is a kind of test of courage for many from Gen Z. Just as the young people dealt with true crime formats, they now also approached National Socialism. With a mixture of fascination and shock at its monstrosity.

Even if the stories told by eyewitnesses in their own families or at school hardly played any role, the young people still had numerous points of contact from their own everyday lives. They are highly sensitive to conspiracy theories, fake news, racism and exclusion. The social debate about these topics has apparently also rekindled the interest of Generation Z in National Socialism.

The biggest change compared to the parents’ generation is particularly evident in dealing with racism. For example, 39 percent of Generation Z respondents consider racism to be a relevant issue in their own lives, compared to 14 percent of their parents’ generation. About a quarter of Generation Z has a migration background – for this group, experiences of racism are even more present.

More than 1000 young people and adults surveyed

For the study, the Rheingold Institute surveyed more than 1000 young people and adults from Generation Z as well as from the parents’ generation. Another result is that the young people want to discuss the subject of the Nazi era more openly than their parents, without the moral club that is often talked about.

Psychologist Grünewald does not want this to be understood as a moral relativization. “If the young people are allowed to articulate in class that they are also developing a certain fascination for certain aspects, such as marches or the symbols of National Socialism, then this can be countered in a more targeted manner than if they take it home silently and then maybe in others circles will be strengthened in this fascination,” he says.

Now fill interest with content

The study was commissioned by the Arolsen Archives, the world’s largest archive of victims and survivors of National Socialism, based in Bad Arolsen in Hesse. For its director, Floriane Azoulay, it is now important to fill this basic interest with content that offers the young people points of contact with their own lives.

Each document tells its own story

“Every name counts” is the name of a program in which young people help to digitize the huge archive holdings. 30 million documents are stored in Arolsen. Each tells a story. The program has been running for several years, so the Arolsen Archives have a lot of experience in dealing with members of Generation Z. Azoulay was therefore not surprised at the high level of interest. “What surprised me, however, is the level of maturity of this generation, which is expressed in the study, and the ability to transfer knowledge about the Nazi era to their own environment,” she says.

Particular attention is paid to dealing with the perpetrators. Azoulay sees getting to know their psychology and understanding the mechanisms with which the Nazis managed to incite the masses as a starting point for the young people, with which they could better classify current topics such as racism, conspiracy theories and fake news. “I find the question of how people came to commit such crimes fascinating,” says 19-year-old Sophie Fablik. She also took part in the project as a student in Bad Arolsen.

When answering this question, it is important not to tell young people from the outset how they should classify these things morally, says Azoulay. “They want to find out for themselves. For us, that means we need trust in this generation.” The results of the study are encouraging to place this trust in Generation Z.

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