Monday, April 20, 2009

The Term 'Holocaust' and Elie Weisel

In an interview conducted by Jonathan Mahler with Elie Weisel at The Daily Beast (now, that's a mouthful):-

The word “Holocaust” is interesting in itself. Explain for you what it means.

I think I was one of the first, if not the first, to use it publicly [to describe the murder of six million Jews during World War II]. I’m sorry, but I regret it now, because there are no words. I did it because strangely enough I was working on a text on the sacrifice of Isaac. The word itself means a burnt offering. It’s a good word because it ends with fire. A total burning. A burnt offering. But of course why I feel bad about it is because it has a religious connotation and there are no words. So if I have to speak about it [the Nazis’ attempts to destroy European Jewry] today I don’t use it. I prefer not to. I use the word “Auschwitz” instead. The name “Auschwitz” should be the one in the conscience, or whatever, that people need to remember.

So you really don’t use the word?

Rarely.


My first comment is that the poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg never used the term 'holocaust' but preferred Churban Beit Yisrael B'Airopa or The Destruction of the House of Israel in Europe.

This entry supports this:

Most of these usages arose after World War II, but it is unclear whether they permitted or resulted from the use of holocaust in reference to the mass murder of European Jews and others by the Nazis. This application of the word occurred as early as 1942, but the phrase the Holocaust did not become established until the late 1950s. Here it parallels and may have been influenced by another Hebrew word, שואה(“catastrophe,” in English, Shoah). In the Bible שואה has a range of meanings including “personal ruin or devastation” and “a wasteland or desert.” שואה was first used to refer to the Nazi slaughter of Jews in 1939, but the phrase השואה (“the catastrophe”) became established only after World War II. Holocaust has also been used to translate ḥurbān (“destruction”), another Hebrew word used to summarize the genocide of Jews by the Nazis.


And secondly, who was first, read on:

Holocaust was adopted as a translation of Shoah—a Hebrew word connoting catastrophe, calamity, disaster, and destruction[12]—which was used in 1940 in Jerusalem in a booklet called Sho'at Yehudei Polin, and translated as The Holocaust of the Jews of Poland. Shoah had earlier been used in the context of the Nazis as a translation of catastrophe; for example, in 1934, Chaim Weizmann told the Zionist Action Committee that Hitler's rise to power was an "unvorhergesehene Katastrophe, etwa ein neuer Weltkrieg" ("an unforeseen catastrophe, perhaps even a new world war"); the Hebrew press translated Katastrophe as Shoah.[13] In the spring of 1942, the Jerusalem historian BenZion Dinur (Dinaburg) used Shoah in a book published by the United Aid Committee for the Jews in Poland to describe the extermination of Europe's Jews, calling it a "catastrophe" that symbolized the unique situation of the Jewish people.[12][14] The word Shoah was chosen in Israel to describe the Holocaust, the term institutionalized by the Knesset on April 12, 1951, when it established Yom Ha-Shoah Ve Mered Ha-Getaot, the national day of remembrance.

12 Holocaust, Yad Vashem
13 Setbon, Jessica. "Who Beat My Father? Issues of Terminology and Translation in Teaching the Holocaust", workshop from a May 2006 conference; see Yad Vashem website.
14 "Holocaust—Definition", Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol. II, MacMillan.

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