Holocaust Teacher Resource Center

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The Holocaust in Perspective Introduction


It is critical that a study of the Holocaust begin with an understanding of definitions.


The term Holocaust refers to a state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation (killing) of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Six million Jews, one and a half million of them children, were murdered. Millions of others suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny, because they either opposed the regime or did not fit the mold of the Nazi idea of the perfect human.

The term holocaust, without a capital “h” has a different meaning than the word Holocaust. While the Holocaust refers to the state-sponsored persecution and annihilation of European Jews by Nazi Germany, the definition of the term “holocaust” is: complete destruction by fire or burning, or any widespread destruction. Source: Days of Remembrance: A Department of Defense Guide for Annual Commemorative Observances (Second edition.)

Define Terms with Precision. The Department of Defense and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum explain the specific terminology:

To learn from history, we must record its events as accurately and as specifically as possible. We must use words with precision.

With the passage of time, the word, “holocaust” has been used in many contexts, and has been given many meanings. For the purpose of recalling the Holocaust … we must remember what this event was, within the context of history. To do that, it is equally important to identify what it is not.

The Holocaust is not a term for:

–all the evils of the world
–any tragedy of great magnitude, or widespread death and destruction
–all wars or all world wars
–all the terrors in World War II—or all the many civilian deaths associated with that war, in cities throughout Europe.

ELIE WIESEL Elie-Wiesel-p3