Op-Ed

Why Call it the Shoah?

Image: World Atlas

The event that resulted in the death of six-million Jews and mentally handicapped, physically disabled, Romani, homosexuals, prisoners of war, and countless other groups of people simply because of the color of their skin, the way they prayed, or their sexual orientation is commonly referred to, in the English language, as “The Holocaust,” but many Jews, including myself, prefer the term “The Shoah.”

The word “holocaust” is the Anglicization of a Greek word, ολοκαύτωμα, meaning ‘complete combustion.’ That same word, “holocaust,” is used in translation of the Hebrew word עלה, meaning ‘offering that will be completely burnt’ and can even be found in many Catholic Bibles such as the Douay-Rheims Catholic Translation. This word had been used to describe the offering to God in Genesis 22:7.

Isaac said to his father: My father. And he answered: What wilt thou, son? Behold, saith he, fire and wood: where is the victim for the holocaust?

In the same verse published by the Jewish Publication Society, they replaced the word ‘holocaust’ with ‘burnt-offering.’

Isaac then said to Abraham his father, “Father!” He answered: “Here I am, my son.” And Isaac said, “Here is the firestone and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt-offering?”

The word, “holocaust,” was adopted by English writers to mean “complete destruction by fire.” It was first used in modern times in reference to the treatment of the Jews in a British newspaper, the News Chronicle of December 5, 1942. The usage spread, and has finally become the most commonly used name of the tragic event that happened in the early 1940s.

What’s the big deal? Why can’t I just call it the Holocaust?

“Holocaust” was first used in the English language as a term for a sacrifice, specifically for the sacrifices asked of the Jews by God. That still is a primary meaning of the word for those who have used the Douay-Rheims Bible. This definition implies that the murder of the Jews was a sacrifice for God, and therefore God accepted the sacrifice of the Jews.

I always try my hardest to use the word, “Shoah,” unless I am speaking with someone who is likely to not know the word. Even though “Holocaust” is generally in use as a term for the Nazi “Final Solution,” it still has the power to suggest that there was something acceptable to God in those events, even though most people who use the word do not mean it this way.

Now, I would never judge anyone for calling it “The Holocaust” because I know that they would probably not be implying that the murder of the Jews is acceptable to God, but I feel that educating people on the meaning of the word (most timely on Yom HaShoah) can help people know what they are really saying and possibly think about it in the future.

Topic inspired by Coffee Shop Rabbi

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