Holocaust Teacher Resource Center

HOLOCAUST TEACHER RESOURCE CENTER
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Holocaust Defined

Holocaust and holocaust Defined
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “holocaust” as follows:

  1. a sacrifice consumed by fire
  2. a thorough destruction involving extensive loss of life especially through fire
    1. often capitalized: the mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II
      – usually used with the
    2. a mass slaughter of people; especially: GENOCIDE

There is not a single, universally agreed upon definition of the term Holocaust when it is spelled with an uppercase “H”. There are several related definitions/descriptions. Those presented by Yad Vashem in Israel (1 below), the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC (2 below), and Edith Shaked, Board Member, H-Holocaust (3 below) reflect some of the Holocaust’s unique and universal aspects.

(1)
The Holocaust was the murder by Nazi Germany of six million Jews. While the Nazi persecution of the Jews began in 1933, the mass murder was committed during World War II. It took the Germans and their accomplices four and a half years to murder six million Jews. They were at their most efficient from April to November 1942 – 250 days in which they murdered some two and a half million Jews. They never showed any restraint, they slowed down only when they began to run out of Jews to kill, and they only stopped when the Allies defeated them.

There was no escape. The murderers were not content with destroying the communities; they also traced each hidden Jew and hunted down each fugitive. The crime of being a Jew was so great, that every single one had to be put to death – the men, the women, the children; the committed, the disinterested, the apostates; the healthy and creative, the sickly and the lazy – all were meant to suffer and die, with no reprieve, no hope, no possible amnesty, nor chance for alleviation.

Most of the Jews of Europe were dead by 1945. A civilization that had flourished for almost 2,000 years was no more. The survivors – one from a town, two from a host – dazed, emaciated, bereaved beyond measure, gathered the remnants of their vitality and the remaining sparks of their humanity, and rebuilt. They never meted out justice to their tormentors – for what justice could ever be achieved after such a crime? Rather, they turned to rebuilding: new families forever under the shadow of those absent; new life stories, forever warped by the wounds; new communities, forever haunted by the loss.
(quoted from Yad Vashem)

(2)
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. “Holocaust” is a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire.” The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.

During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived “racial inferiority”: Roma (Gypsies), the disabled, and some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehova’s Witnesses, and homosexuals.
(quoted from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

(3)
The Holocaust was the process of the state-sponsored systematic persecution and annihilation of millions of undesirable people by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims.

At the center of the Holocaust, was the Shoah, the Jewish Holocaust.

*Shoah* or Final Solution:
the process of persecution and murder of million of Jewish people, resulting in the murder of 6 million Jews and of most of the Jews of Europe, and in the tragic destruction of hundreds of Jewish communities in continental Europe. (from Yehuda Bauer, academic advisor at Yad Vashem)
(submitted by Edith Shaked, Board Member, H-Holocaust)