Names of the Holocaust

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Names of the Holocaust vary based on context. "The Holocaust" is the name commonly applied since the mid-1970s to the systematic extermination of six million Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II. The term is also used more broadly to include the Nazis' systematic murder of millions of people in other groups, including ethnic Poles, the Romani, Soviet civilians, Soviet prisoners of war, people with disabilities, gay men, and political and religious opponents,[1] which would bring the total number of Holocaust victims to between 11 million and 17 million people.[2] In Judaism, Shoah (שואה), meaning "calamity" in Hebrew, became the standard term for the 20th century Holocaust[2] (see Yom HaShoah).


The Holocaust[edit]

The word "holocaust" originally derived from the Greek word holokauston, meaning "a completely (holos) burnt (kaustos) sacrificial offering", or "a burnt sacrifice offered to a god". In Greek and Roman pagan rites, gods of the earth and underworld received dark animals, which were offered by night and burnt in full. The word "holocaust" was later adopted in Greek translations of the Torah to refer to the olah,[3] standard communal and individual sacrificial burnt offerings that Jews were required[4] to make in the times of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple in Jerusalem). In its Latin form, holocaustum, the term was first used with specific reference to a massacre of Jews by the chroniclers Roger of Howden[5] and Richard of Devizes in England in the 1190s.[6]

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word holocaust has been used in English since the 18th century to refer to the violent deaths of a large number of people, but the earliest attested such usage dates from 1671.[7] In 1833 the journalist Leitch Ritchie, describing the wars of the medieval French monarch Louis VII, wrote that he "once made a holocaust of thirteen hundred persons in a church", a massacre by fire of the inhabitants of Vitry-le-François in 1142.

In the early twentieth century, Winston Churchill and other contemporaneous writers used it before World War II to describe the Armenian Genocide of World War I.[8] The Armenian Genocide is referenced in the title of a 1922 poem "The Holocaust" (published as a booklet) and the 1923 book "The Smyrna Holocaust" deals with arson and massacre of Armenians.[9] Before the Second World War, the possibility of another war was referred to as "another holocaust" (that is, a repeat of the First World War). With reference to the events of the war, writers in English from 1945 used the term in relation to events such as the fire-bombing of Dresden or Hiroshima, or the effects of a nuclear war, although from the 1950s onwards, it was increasingly used in English to refer to the Nazi genocide of the European Jews (or Judeocide).

By the late 1950s, documents translated from Hebrew sometimes used the word "Holocaust" to translate "Shoah", as the Judeocide. This use can be found as early as May 23, 1943, in The New York Times, on page E6, in an article by Julian Meltzer, referring to feelings in Palestine about Jewish immigration of refugees from "the Nazi holocaust."

One significant early use was in a 1958 recollection by Leslie Hardman, the first Jewish British Army Chaplain to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945, where he ministered to survivors and supervised the burial of about 20,000 victims,

"Towards me came what seemed to be the remnants of a holocaust – a staggering mass of blackened skin and bones, held together somehow with filthy rags. 'My God, the dead walk', I cried aloud, but I did not recognise my voice... [peering] at the double star, the emblem of Jewry on my tunic - one poor creature touched and then stroked the badge of my faith, and finding that it was real murmured, 'Rabbiner, Rabbiner'."[10]

By the late 1960s, the term was starting to be used in this sense without qualification. Nora Levin's 1968 book The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry, 1933-1945 explains the meaning in its subtitle, but uses the unmoderated phrase "The Holocaust". An article called "Moral Trauma and the Holocaust" was published in the New York Times on February 12, 1968.[11] However, it was not until the late 1970s that the Nazi genocide became the generally accepted conventional meaning of the word, when used unqualified and with a capital letter, a usage that also spread to other languages for the same period.[12] The 1978 television miniseries titled "Holocaust" and starring Meryl Streep is often cited as the principal contributor to establishing the current usage in the wider culture.[13] "Holocaust" was selected as the Association for the German Language's Word of the Year in 1979, reflecting increased public consciousness of the term.

The Hebrew word Shoah is preferred by some people due to the supposed theologically and historically unacceptable nature of the word "holocaust".[14] The American historian Walter Laqueur (whose parents died in the Shoah) has argued that the term Holocaust is a "singularly inappropriate" term for the genocide of the Jews as it implies a "burnt offering" to God.[15] Laqueur wrote, "It was not the intention of the Nazis to make a sacrifice of this kind and the position of the Jews was not that of a ritual victim".[15] The British historian Geoff Eley wrote in a 1982 essay entitled "Holocaust History" that he thought the term Holocaust implies "a certain mystification, an insistence on the uniquely Jewish character of the experience".[15]

The term became increasingly widespread as a synonym for "genocide" in the last decades of the 20th century to refer to mass murders in the form "X holocaust" (e.g. "Rwandan holocaust"). Examples are Rwanda, the Ukraine under Stalin, and the actions of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

In order to suggest comparison with Nazi murders other historical events have also been labeled "Holocausts", for example the oppression of lower caste groups in India ("Sudra Holocaust") or the slave trade ("African Holocaust"). Such usages are often heavily disputed.[who?] Even more contested is the use of the word in the older sense of "immolation" to refer to Allied World War II bombings, since this is sometimes adopted to imply equivalence between the Allied and the Nazi war record.[16]

Use of the term for non-Jewish victims of the Nazis[edit]

While the terms "Shoah" and "Final Solution" always refer to the fate of the Jews during the Nazi rule, the term "Holocaust" is sometimes used in a wider sense to describe other genocides of the Nazi and other regimes.

The Columbia Encyclopedia defines "Holocaust" as "name given to the period of persecution and extermination of European Jews by Nazi Germany".[17] The Compact Oxford English Dictionary[18] and Microsoft Encarta[19] give similar definitions. The Encyclopædia Britannica defines "Holocaust" as "the systematic state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women and children, and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II",[20] although the article goes on to say, "The Nazis also singled out the Roma (Gypsies). They were the only other group that the Nazis systematically killed in gas chambers alongside the Jews."[20]

Scholars are divided on whether the term Holocaust should be applied to all victims of Nazi mass murder, with some using it synonymously with Shoah or "Final Solution of the Jewish Question", and others including the killing of Romani peoples, Poles, the deaths of Soviet prisoners of war, Slavs, homosexual men, Jehovah's Witnesses, the disabled, and political opponents.[21]

Yehuda Bauer contends that the Holocaust should include only Jews because it was the intent of the Nazis to exterminate all Jews, while the other groups were not to be totally annihilated.[22] Inclusion of non-Jewish victims of the Nazis in the Holocaust is objected to by many persons including Elie Wiesel, and by organizations such as Yad Vashem established to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.[23] They say that the word was originally meant to describe the extermination of the Jews, and that the Jewish Holocaust was a crime on such a scale, and of such totality and specificity, as the culmination of the long history of European antisemitism, that it should not be subsumed into a general category with the other crimes of the Nazis.[23]

Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann maintain that although all Jews were victims, the Holocaust transcended the confines of the Jewish community – other people shared the tragic fate of victimhood.[24] László Teleki applies the term "Holocaust" to both the murder of Jews and Romani peoples by the Nazis.[25] In The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust, Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia use the term to include Jews, Gypsies and the disabled.[26] Dennis Reinhartz has claimed that Gypsies were the main victims of genocide in Croatia and Serbia during the Second World War, and has called this "the Balkan Holocaust 1941-1945".[27]

Final Solution[edit]

Main article: Final Solution
See also: Jewish question

The "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" (German: Endlösung der Judenfrage) was the Nazis' own term, coined by Adolf Eichmann as a euphemism[citation needed]. Before the word "Holocaust" became normative this phrase was also used by writers in English. For example, in William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the genocide is described as "The Final Solution" (in quotation marks; the word "Holocaust" is not mentioned).[28] In both English and German, "Final Solution" has been widely used as an alternative to "Holocaust".[29] Whereas the term "Holocaust" is now often used to include all casualties of the Nazi death camps and murder squads, the "Final Solution" refers exclusively to the genocide of Jews. For a time after World War II, German historians also used the term Völkermord ("genocide"), or in full, der Völkermord an den Juden ("the genocide of the Jewish people"), while the prevalent term in Germany today is either Holocaust or increasingly Shoah.


The biblical word Shoah (שואה), also spelled Shoa and Sho'ah, meaning "calamity" in Hebrew (and also used to refer to "destruction" since the Middle Ages), became the standard Hebrew term for the 20th century Holocaust as early as the early 1940s.[3] In recent literature it is specifically prefixed with Ha ("The" in Hebrew) when referring to Nazi mass-murders, for the same reason that "holocaust" becomes "The Holocaust". It may be spelled Ha-Shoah or HaShoah, as in Yom HaShoah, the annual Jewish "Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day".

Shoah had earlier been used in the context of the Nazis as a translation of "catastrophe". For example, in 1934, when Chaim Weizmann told the Zionist Action Committee that Hitler's rise to power was an "unvorhergesehene Katastrophe, etwa ein neuer Weltkrieg" ("an unforeseen catastrophe, comparable to another world war"), the Hebrew press translated Katastrophe as Shoah.[30] In the spring of 1942, the Jerusalem historian BenZion Dinur (Dinaburg) used Shoah in a book published by the United Aid Committee for the Jews in Poland to describe the extermination of Europe's Jews, calling it a "catastrophe" that symbolized the unique situation of the Jewish people.[31][32] The word Shoah was chosen in Israel to describe the Holocaust, the term institutionalized by the Knesset on April 12, 1951, when it established Yom Ha-Shoah Ve Mered Ha-Getaot, the national day of remembrance. In the 1950s, Yad Vashem, the Israel "Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority" was routinely translating this into English as "the Disaster". At that time, holocaust was often used to mean the conflagration of much of humanity in a nuclear war.[33] Since then, Yad Vashem has changed its practice; the word "Holocaust", usually now capitalized, has come to refer principally to the genocide of the European Jews.[30][34] The Israeli historian Saul Friedländer wrote in 1987 of "the growing centrality of the Shoah for Jewish communities in the Diaspora" and that "The Shoah is almost becoming a symbol of identification, for better or for worse, whether because of the weakening of the bond of religion or because of the lesser salience of Zionism and Israel as an identification element".[15] The British historian Richard J. Evans wrote in 1989 that the term Holocaust was unsuitable, and should not be used.[15]

Churban and destruction[edit]

Churban Europa, a term for the Holocaust (from the Greek hólos, "whole" and kaustós, "burnt"), meaning "European Destruction" in Hebrew. The term uses the Yiddish word Churbn for Korban (Hebrew: קָרְבָּן‎‎ qorbān, "sacrificial burnt-offering"), which is also used for the destruction of the Second Temple by fire. The Yiddish term is khurbn eyrope (חורבן אײראָפּע). Max Kaufmann's early (1947) history of the genocide in Latvia was called Churbn Lettland, that is, The Destruction of the Jews of Latvia.[35] Published later, Raul Hilberg's most important work was The Destruction of the European Jews.[36]


Main article: Porajmos

The Porajmos (also Porrajmos) literally "Devouring", or Samudaripen ("Mass killing") is a term adopted by the Romani historian Ian Hancock to describe attempts by the Nazis to exterminate most of the Romani peoples of Europe. The phenomenon has been little studied.


  1. ^ Niewyk, Donald L. and Nicosia, Francis R. The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust, Columbia University Press, 2000, pp. 45-52.
  2. ^ Donald Trump suggests that the broadest definition, including Soviet civilian deaths, would produce a death toll of 17 million. [1] Estimates of the death toll of non-Jewish victims vary by millions, partly because the boundary between death by persecution and death by starvation and other means in a context of total war is unclear. Overall, about 5.7 million (78 percent) of the 7.3 million Jews in occupied Europe perished (Gilbert, Martin. Atlas of the Holocaust 1988, pp. 242-244). Compared to five to 11 million (1.4 percent to 3.0 percent) of the 360 million non-Jews in German-dominated Europe. Small, Melvin and J. David Singer. Resort to Arms: International and civil Wars 1816-1980 and Berenbaum, Michael. A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis. New York: New York University Press, 1990
  3. ^ Olah (Leviticus 1:1-17) lit.: 'what goes up', ".. i.e goes up in smoke, because the entire animal, except for its hide, was burned on the altar. Other types of sacrifice were consumed in part by fire .. In English, olah has for centuries been translated 'burnt offering." The olah had a high degree of sanctity, and it was regarded as the 'standard' sacrifice. .. In contrast, sacrifices made by the Greeks to the Olympian gods were always shared by the worshipers; only sacrifices made to the dread underground deities to ward off evil were presented as holocausts, i.e., completely burned." W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah - A Modern Commentary; New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981 and R.K. Yerkes, Sacrifice in Greek and Roman Religions and in Early Judaism; New York: Allenson, 1952, pp. 1-7.
  4. ^ "(Amos 5:22-25. Cf. Jer. 7:22, 'When I freed your fathers from land of Egypt, I did not speak with them nor commanded them burnt offering or sacrifice'; see also I Sam. 15:22-23; Isa. 1:11-13; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:6-8.) .. Jewish tradition understood these utterances to be directed not against sacrifices as such, but against the substitution of ritual for morality." ibidem. (Plaut); Leviticus, Part I, Laws of Sacrifice, Introduction, p.752.
  5. ^ Simon Schama, A History of Britain, episode 3, 'Dynasty'; BBC DVD, 2000
  6. ^ Bale, Anthony (2006). The Jew in the medieval book : English antisemitism, 1350-1500 (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780521863544. Retrieved 1 July 2014. 
  7. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary, Clarendon Press, 2nd ed. Oxford 1989, vol. VII p. 315 sect c.'complete destruction, esp. of a large number of persons; a great slaughter or massacre' citing examples from 1711, 1833 and 1883 onwards.
  8. ^ "As for the Turkish atrocities ... helpless Armenians, men, women, and children together, whole districts blotted out in one administrative holocaust – these were beyond human redress." (Winston Churchill, The World in Crisis, volume 4: The Aftermath, New York, 1923, p. 158).
  9. ^ Petrie J., "The secular word Holocaust: scholarly myths, history, and 20th century meanings", Journal of Genocide Research, Volume 2, Number 1, 1 March 2000, pp. 31-63(33)
  10. ^ Hardman, Leslie and Cecily Goodman 'The Survivors: the story of the Belsen Remnant' London: Vallentine, Mitchell,(1958)
  11. ^ page 37, by Eliot Fremont-Smith
  12. ^ Harnessing the Holocaust: The Politics of Memory in France, Jewish Quarterly Review, Volume 96, Number 2, Spring 2006, pp. 304-306
  13. ^ Garaudy, Roger, "The Mythical Foundations of Israeli Policy", Studies Forum International, London 1997, p.133
  14. ^ "It is the rejection of even the hint of such sacrificial thinking that prompts some Jews to refuse to refer to the events of the Shoah as a 'holocaust', the burnt offering with smoke wafting up to heaven". James Carroll, Constantine's Sword - The Church and the Jews; Boston: First Mariner Books, 2001. "Do Not Christianize Auschwitz and Shoah!" Władysław T. Bartoszewski, The Convent at Auschwitz; New York: George Braziller, 1991.
  15. ^ a b c d e Evans, Richard. In Hitler's Shadow, New York: Pantheon, 1989 page 142.
  16. ^ Telegraph report
  17. ^ Archived February 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ "The Holocaust", Compact Oxford English Dictionary: "(the Holocaust) the mass murder of Jews under the German Nazi regime in World War II."
  19. ^ "Holocaust", Encarta: "Holocaust, the almost complete destruction of Jews in Europe by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II (1939–1945). The leadership of Germany's Nazi Party ordered the extermination of 5.6 million to 5.9 million Jews (see National Socialism). Jews often refer to the Holocaust as Shoah (from the Hebrew word for "catastrophe" or "total destruction")." Archived October 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ a b "Holocaust," Encyclopædia Britannica, 2009: "the systematic state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women and children, and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II. The Nazis called this "the final solution to the Jewish question ..."
  21. ^ *Weissman, Gary. Fantasies of Witnessing: Postwar Attempts to Experience the Holocaust, Cornell University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8014-4253-2, p. 94: "Kren illustrates his point with his reference to the Kommissararbefehl. 'Should the (strikingly unreported) systematic mass starvation of Soviet prisoners of war be included in the Holocaust?' he asks. Many scholars would answer no, maintaining that 'the Holocaust' should refer strictly to those events involving the systematic killing of the Jews'."
    • "The Holocaust: Definition and Preliminary Discussion", Yad Vashem: "The Holocaust, as presented in this resource center, is defined as the sum total of all anti-Jewish actions carried out by the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945: from stripping the German Jews of their legal and economic status in the 1930s, to segregating and starving Jews in the various occupied countries, to the murder of close to six million Jews in Europe. The Holocaust is part of a broader aggregate of acts of oppression and murder of various ethnic and political groups in Europe by the Nazis."
    • Niewyk, Donald L. The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust, Columbia University Press, 2000, p.45: "The Holocaust is commonly defined as the murder of more than 5,000,000 Jews by the Germans in World War II. Not everyone finds this a fully satisfactory definition. The Nazis also killed millions of people belonging to other groups: Gypsies, the physically and mentally handicapped, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish and Soviet civilians, political prisoners, religious dissenters, and homosexuals."
    • Paulsson, Steve. "A View of the Holocaust", BBC: "The Holocaust was the Nazis' assault on the Jews between 1933 and 1945. It culminated in what the Nazis called the 'Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe', in which six million Jews were murdered. The Jews were not the only victims of Nazism. It is estimated that as many as 15 million civilians were killed by this murderous and racist regime, including millions of Slavs and 'asiatics', 200,000 Gypsies and members of various other groups. Thousands of people, including Germans of African descent, were forcibly sterilised."
    • "The Holocaust", "The Holocaust was the systematic annihilation of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II. In 1933 nine million Jews lived in the 21 countries of Europe that would be military occupied by Germany during the war. By 1945 two out of every three European Jews had been killed. 1.5 million children under the age of 12 were murdered. This figure includes more than 1.2 million Jewish children, tens of thousands of Gypsy children and thousands of handicapped children."
    • "Holocaust—Definition", Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies: "HOLOCAUST (Heb., sho'ah). In the 1950s the term came to be applied primarily to the destruction of the Jews of Europe under the Nazi regime, and it is also employed in describing the annihilation of other groups of people in World War II. The mass extermination of Jews has become the archetype of genocide, and the terms sho'ah and "holocaust" have become linked to the attempt by the Nazi German state to destroy European Jewry during World War II ... One of the first to use the term in the historical perspective was the Jerusalem historian BenZion Dinur (Dinaburg), who, in the spring of 1942, stated that the Holocaust was a "catastrophe" that symbolized the unique situation of the Jewish people among the nations of the world."
    • Also see the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies list of definitions: "Holocaust: A term for the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945."
    • The 33rd Annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches defines the Holocaust as "the Nazi attempt to annihilate European Jewry", cited in Hancock, Ian. "Romanies and the Holocaust: A Reevaluation and an Overview", Stone, Dan. (ed.) The Historiography of the Holocaust. Palgrave-Macmillan, New York 2004, pp. 383–396.
    • Bauer, Yehuda. Rethinking the Holocaust. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2001, p.10.
    • Dawidowicz, Lucy. The War Against the Jews: 1933–1945. Bantam, 1986, p.xxxvii: "'The Holocaust' is the term that Jews themselves have chosen to describe their fate during World War II."
  22. ^ Yehuda Bauer A History of the Holocaust. F. Watts, 1982 ISBN 0-531-09862-1 p.331; chapter 1
  23. ^ a b Michael Berenbaum Berenbaum, Michael. A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis, New York: New York University Press, 1990, pp. 21–35
  24. ^ Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann. The Racial State:Germany 1933–1945 ISBN 0-521-39802-9 Cambridge University Press 1991. This work favors a more expansive definition of the Holocaust, pointing out that Nazi Germany had a racist ideology by no means limited to anti-Semitism.
  25. ^ "Holocaust and the United Nations Discussion Paper Series, László Teleki". 2007-01-23. Retrieved 2010-07-31. 
  26. ^ The Columbia guide to the Holocaust by Donald L. Niewyk, Francis R. Nicosia, page 52, Columbia University Press, 2000
  27. ^ Chapter 6 in the book The Gypsies of Eastern Europe, pp.81-92, ME Sharpe, London, 1991
  28. ^ Shirer, W., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich New York: 1960, Simon and Schuster, pp. 963-979
  29. ^ A useful analysis of the terms can be found in Bartov, Omer. "Antisemitism, the Holocaust, and Reinterpretation of National Socialism", in Berenbaum, Michael & Peck, Abraham J. (eds.), The Holocaust and History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined, Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1998, pp. 75–98.
  30. ^ a b Setbon, Jessica. "Who Beat My Father? Issues of Terminology and Translation in Teaching the Holocaust", workshop from a May 2006 conference; see Yad Vashem website.[dead link]
  31. ^ Holocaust, Yad Vashem
  32. ^ "Holocaust—Definition", Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol. II, MacMillan.
  33. ^ Petrie, Jon. "The Secular Word 'HOLOCAUST': Scholarly Myths, History, and Twentieth Century Meanings", Journal of Genocide Research Vol 2, no. 1 (2000): 31–63.
  34. ^ ""The Holocaust: Definition and Preliminary Discussion", Yad Vashem. Retrieved June 8, 2005. Archived June 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  35. ^ Kaufmann, Max, Die Vernichtung des Judens Lettlands (The Destruction of the Jews of Latvia), Munich, 1947, English translation by Laimdota Mazzarins available on-line as Churbn Lettland -- The Destruction of the Jews of Latvia
  36. ^ Hilberg, Raul, The Destruction of the European Jews (3rd edition) Yale University Press, New Haven, CT 2003. ISBN 0-300-09557-0