The Holocaust Definition The word "holocaust" comes from the the Greek word



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The Holocaust – Definition

The word “holocaust” comes from the the Greek word holokauston (from holos "whole" + kaustos, verbal adj. of kaiein "to burn") - “burned whole,” which was used as a translation for the Hebrew olah, meaning "completely burnt offering to God on the altar."

Let us look at some definitions of the word “holocaust” in dictionaries:


  1. a great or complete devastation or destruction, especially by fire.

a thorough destruction involving extensive loss of life especially through fire holocaust>




  1. a sacrifice completely consumed by fire; burnt offering.




  1. a. (usually initial capital letter) the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II (usually preceded by “the”).


b. often capitalized :  the mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II —usually used with “the.”
The first definition refers only to the Jewish victims of the Nazis; the second includes other victims of the Nazis.
The first definition mentions in Nazi concentration camps, and thus excludes all those who were murdered outside the concentration camps.
The second definition says by the Nazis, and thus excludes those who were murdered by the collaborators.


  1. any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life.

a mass slaughter of people; especially genocide.

Let us look at some definitions of the word “holocaust” in dictionaries:

MARIOLATRY: Heart of Mary, perfect holocaust of divine love! (from McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia)

The lamb was roasted whole (Gen 22:8, representing Jesus' complete dedication as a holocaust) (from Fausset's Bible Dictionary)

Judg 11:29-33: "He did not vow in these words that he would offer some sheep, which he might present as a holocaust, according to the law (from Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition).

Psalm 104: Behold, it is thy discourse that pleaseth the Lord; the offering of thy humility, the tribulation of thy heart, the holocaust of thy life, this pleaseth God ((from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Volume 8).

The term "holocaust" (in lower-case) was used in English to describe deaths of large groups of people probably since the 18th century (Oxford English Dictionary).

The term “holocaust” was also used to describe both natural and manmade catastrophes. It was used to describe both natural and manmade catastrophes, for example it refers to the San Francisco earthquake (April 18, 1906), to forest fires, to the American Civil War. Before World War II, the word “holocaust” was used to refer to the genocide of Armenians during World War I (the Turkish massacres).

The earliest known case of the word having been applied to the actions of the Nazi regime is after the mass burning of banned books by the new Nazi government of Germany in May 1933, This act was described by Newsweek magazine as “a holocaust of books.”

The European-born, American Jewish psychiatrist A. A. Brill, in his introduction to “The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud” - an anthology of Freud’s major essays, published in 1938, wrote:

“Alas! As these pages are going to the printer we have been startled by the terrible news that the Nazi holocaust has suddenly encircled Vienna and that Professor Freud and his family are virtual prisoners in the hands of civilization’s greatest scourge.”

The above use of “holocaust,” however, does not refer specifically to the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews.

The first such reference is found in a telegram sent in November 1938, immediately after Kristallnacht, by Yitzhak Herzog and Ya’akov Meir, chief Ashkenazic and Sephardic rabbis of Palestine. The telegram was sent to J.H. Hertz, who at the time was Great Britain’s chief rabbi. It said, in part:

“Propose you with leading French American rabbis and ourselves proclaim Jewish day of mourning throughout world for holocaust synagogues Germany….” It is not clear, however, if the word “holocaust” in this telegram is the equivalent of the term today.

The next recorded appearance of “holocaust” is in the October 3, 1941, issue of “The American Hebrew,” a few months after the German invasion of Russia and the beginning of the Nazis’ mass liquidation of Europe’s Jews. The magazine’s front page featured a photograph of two French Jews carrying Torah scrolls, one wearing a French army uniform (thus dating the photo to before the Nazi invasion of France in 1940), with the caption: “Before the Holocaust.”

The word “holocaust” was first used in the sense that it has today in the American Jewish weekly, the Jewish Frontier, to describe a systematic program of extermination. In a November 1942 editorial, the editors wrote:

“This issue of the Jewish Frontier attempts to give some picture of what is happening to the Jews of Europe…. [We speak] of the victims not of war, but of massacre…. The annals of mankind hold no similar record of organized murder.”



After Word War II, the term “holocaust” was used for the “Final Solution.”

By the 1960s, it became common to refer to the Nazi genocide of Jews as "The Holocaust." The Holocaust "Nazi genocide of European Jews in World War II,"

The April 1978 broadcast of the TV movie “Holocaust” (based on Gerald Green's book of the same name) established the term “Holocaust,” and so did President Carter's Commission on the Holocaust later that same year.

It continued with the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum through the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2006, the United Nations instituted an International Day of Commemoration, declaring, "the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one-third of the Jewish people along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice."

In recent years, the Hebrew word “Shoah” is very common for Jewish writers to use the Hebrew word "Shoah," and has begun more and more to replace “Holocaust” as the accepted term for the Nazi genocide of the Jews.


The Hebrew word “Shoah” with regard to the murder of and persecution of European Jewry is also used in other languages as well.

Why is that?

  1. Because many Jews and non-Jews argued that the term “Holocaust,” which has come to be synonymous with this genocide, is applied to lesser historical atrocities, and that the plural "holocausts" is an improper use of the word as it diminishes the singularity of the catastrophic violence done to European Jews during World War II.  

  2. Many understand Holocaust as a general term for the crimes and horrors perpetrated by the Nazis against all people, not necessarily against Jews, and that it encompass all other acts of mass murder as well.

  3. It might be considered offensive to describe the murder of millions as a sacrifice, particularly a religious sacrifice to God, as something which pleases God, something desirable.

For many, the term "the Holocaust" (capitalized) in one of the definitions, relating to "Jews and other people," has a general, different meaning and connotation. Here "Holocaust" relates primarily to Jewish catastrophe (which comes first), but includes non-Jewish victims as well.  Thus, according to this definition, it includes, the eleven-million civilians who were murdered - Jews, Sinti-Roma (Gypsies), communists, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, disabled, and other people who ideologically do not fit with the “Aryans.”

However, for many Jews, the Holocaust is a singular, unique event in many centuries of persecution and attempted genocide.

Thus, “Shoah” is used only for the Nazis’ murder of Europe’s Jews, and “holocaust” for whatever other calamities.

What is the origin of the word Shoah?

Many survivors used the Yiddish term Churbn (Khurbn), or der letster Churban (Khurbn) (the "most recent destruction) for the Holocaust, a Hebrew word that refers to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.

The Hebrew biblical word שואה means "catastrophe, devastation."

Though the word Shoah had been used throughout Jewish history to refer to actions against Jews, by the 1940s it was applied to the Nazis' murder of the Jews of Europe.


The Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) has designated an official day, called Yom ha-Shoah (the Shoah Day) as a day of commemorating the Shoah or Holocaust.

The term “Shoah,” therefore, is part of the general definition of “Holocaust.”

This does not mean that the acts of oppression and murder of various ethnic and political groups in Europe by the Nazis are not part of the general term “Holocaust” - The Nazi murder of Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and others. However, they are not part of the term “Shoah.”

Why distinguish between the Nazi effort to eradicate world Jewry and the Nazi murder of vast numbers of non-Jews?

The question here is really if one needs to see the Holocaust (or the Shoah) primarily as a crime against humanity (even if Jews were the primary victims of this crime).

Yet, the Jewish memory of the Holocaust, quite naturally, focuses on the catastrophe it brought on the European Jews.

Obviously, the Holocaust/Shoah has different definitions and connotative values for (most) Jews and non-Jews.



This bring us to the definition for this course:

Note: This course includes topics about perpetrators, collaborators, bystanders, rescuers/ liberators, and resistance.

The Holocaust (in capital letter) refers to



  • The specific events during World War II, between 1933 and 1945 history

  • The systematic actions

  • which were state sponsored, bureaucratic

  • And which brought to the annihilation of six million Jews

  • By the Nazi regime and their collaborators,

  • By the end of World War II, two out of every three European Jews had been murdered.



  • Although Jews were the primary victims, there were millions of other innocent people were persecuted and murdered:

  • Up to one half million Sinti-Roma (Gypsies)

  • At least 250,000 mentally or physically disabled persons were also victims of genocide (The "euthanasia" program” to kill handicapped or mentally ill individuals).

  • More than three million Soviet prisoners of war were killed because of their nationality.

  • Almost two million of Poles, as well as other Slavs, perished.

  • Homosexuals

  • Communists,

  • Socialists

  • Trade unionists,

  • and Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted for their beliefs and behavior.


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