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The Holocaust

The Holocaust Resource Center

The Holocaust: Definition and Preliminary Discussion

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`; segregating and starvation in the various occupied countries; 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. Nevertheless, it has special significance due to the exceptional attitude with which its perpetrators – the Nazis – regarded their Jewish victims. In the Nazi terminology the Jews were referred to as “world Jewry,” a term unparalleled with respect to any other ethnic, ideological, or social group. The Nazis’ proclaimed goal was the eradication of European Jewry.

The biblical word Shoah (which has been used to mean “destruction” since the Middle Ages) became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of European Jewry as early as the early 1940s. The word Holocaust, which came into use in the 1950s as the corresponding term, originally meant a sacrifice burnt entirely on the altar. The selection of these two words with religious origins reflects recognition of the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the events. Many understand Holocaust as a general term for the crimes and horrors perpetrated by the Nazis; others go even farther and use it to encompass other acts of mass murder as well. Consequently, we consider it important to use the Hebrew word Shoah with regard to the murder of and persecution of European Jewry in other languages as well. Various interpretations of these historical events have given rise to several other terms with different shades of meaning: destruction (used in Raul Hilberg’s book), catastrophe (in use mainly in the research literature in Soviet Russia), and khurbn (destruction) and gezerot tash–tashah (the decrees of 1939–1945( (Used in ultra-orthodox communities).