What word do you use for the darkest page in our history?

In current public discourse and academic research, two terms are used for the Nazi anti-Jewish campaign (1933–1945): “The Shoah” from Hebrew and “The Holocaust” in most other languages. These two terms are not the terms used by the persecuted and the survivors themselves in the period itself and in the first years after 1945. Why are the most important terms we use today not the terms of the survivors? Furthermore, when are these terms which were not specifically coined to denote this event, but are words derived from the vocabulary of biblical Hebrew and ancient Greek, which prevailed? And what were the circumstances and developments through which they were embraced and entrenched? Dan Michman, Principal Investigator of Yad Vashem has published about this and speaks in CIDI’s short podcast ‘Mizrach Mezze’.

The main terms used, their evolution over time and the competition between them are not accidental: they are the result of the ways in which Holocaust memory has developed and been shaped through popular culture and changing scholarly interpretations and insights into the events related to the Jews during the Nazi era. None of the terms mentioned in the podcast were coined by a particular researcher or historian for specific research purposes. They all arose in public discourse in different places around the world, and they were all drawn from existing vocabularies. Furthermore, as noted in the interview with Dan Michman, the two expressions that became dominant give no hint or allusion to the nature of the historical event they describe. Michman: “There’s an ingrained assumption that the listener already knows what they’re referring to.”

Jew murder

The terms “Shoah” and “Holocaust” have a literal meaning (“catastrophe” or “sacrifice”) and thus could apply to any tragic event or destruction, as they did hundreds of years before the Nazi anti-Jewish campaign. The lack of a single technical term that can clarify the nature of the events in their meaning alone led the American Jewish historian Arno Mayer to coin the term Judeocide in 1988 because he believed it captured the essence of the events he witnessed . enough: the killing of the Jews. He believed that this new term included the tragedy of the Jewish people in the broader context of genocide. The term Jewicide is rare in academic research and even rarer in public discourse. Michman: “Funny enough, the term is used in Belgium, but I can’t explain it.” Michman criticizes the use of this term. He sees the events of the Shoah as more than just the last and most horrific part: the murder of the Jewish people. He believes that a broader concept is needed that also includes the Nazis’ desire to kill the ‘Jewish spirit’.

Murder of Jews

Usually, when we think of the term ‘Holocaust’, we also think of other victims of the Nazi ideology: such as Roma, people with physical or cognitive disabilities, homosexuals and others. This approach has never been adopted in Hebrew discourse on the subject, nor in the Jewish world. It seems that the semantically obscure terminology (Shoah, Holocaust) is actually easier to use because it does not commit itself to clear chronological or geographical boundaries regarding the events of those years. These terms facilitate a broad, comprehensive discussion of this topic among people who may have different perspectives. For many people, this somewhat vague language that does not address a specific aspect of the historical event is more convenient. Michman himself prefers the term ‘Shoah’ for lack of a better one: “Then it is clearer that we are talking about the persecution of Jews and not other groups, which we must of course be aware of, but that is a different story according to my interpretation.”

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