Forget-You-NotForget-You-NotHolocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project
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A Critical Assessment
On the Current Mainstream Definitions of the Holocaust

K. K. Brattman
Managing Editor
February 3, 2006


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Page 2 of 4
I. Holocaust as Represented by
the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota, USA

If one searches in Google for 'holocaust definition', then the first entry there is from the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota (CHGS), USA. That Center is clearly recognized as an important Holocaust Center as its website is a repository of important Holocaust material that has been referenced many times in our website. As such, one expects to see there, in that website of CHGS, a comprehensive definition of the Holocaust. Instead, as astonishing as it may be, not only that CHGS does not have any analysis of its own of this complex concept that the Holocaust represents, but it posts in lieu of it, in its webpage entitled "Holocaust Definition," the Holocaust definition taken verbatim from the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, volume 2 from Macmillan Publishing posted by us as Exhibit 1, and reproduced below, that arguably is perhaps one of the most ridiculous and inept definition of the Holocaust anywhere to be found:



HOLOCAUST (Heb., sho'ah). The word "holocaust" is derived from the Greek holokauston, which originally meant a sacrifice totally burned by fire; it was used in the translation of I Samuel 7:9, "a burnt offering to God." In the course of time it came to. be used to describe slaughter on a general or large scale, and, especially, various forms of the destruction of masses of human beings. In the 1950s the term came to be applied primarily to the destruction of the Jews of Europe under the Nazi regime, and it is also employed in describing the annihilation of other groups of people in World War II. The mass extermination of Jews has become the archetype of GENOCIDE, and the terms sho'ah and "holocaust" have become linked to the attempt by the Nazi German state to destroy European Jewry during World War II.

The use of the Hebrew word sho'ah to denote the destruction of Jews in Europe during the war appeared for the first time in the booklet Sho'at Yehudei Polin (The Holocaust of the Jews of Poland), published by the United Aid Committee for the Jews of Poland, in Jerusalem in 1940. The booklet contains reports and articles on the persecution of Jews in eastern Europe from the beginning of the war, written or verbally reported by eyewitnesses, among them several leaders of Polish Jewry. Up to the spring of 1942, however, the term was rarely used. The Hebrew term that was first used, spontaneously, was hurban (lit., "destruction"), similar in meaning to "catastrophe," with its historical Jewish meaning deriving from the destruction of the Temple. It was only when leaders of the Zionist movement and writers and thinkers in Palestine began to express themselves on the destruction of European Jewry that the Hebrew term sho'ah became widely used. It was still far from being in general use, even after the November 1942 declaration of the Jewish Agency that a sho'ah was taking place. One of the first to use the term in the historical perspective was the Jerusalem historian BenZion Dinur (Dinaburg), who, in the spring of 1942, stated that the Holocaust was a "catastrophe" that symbolized the unique situation of the Jewish people among the nations of the world.

That definition of the Holocaust is so ridiculous and meaningless that it is difficult, if not impossible, to be left ignored and not challenged particularly when it was chosen by CHGS to be the most representative definition that can be found.

In looking at the above preposterous description purporting to "define" the Holocaust, we could not help but wonder who, in his or her normal state of mind, would care in the pursuit of understanding the current meaning Holocaust whether this word was derived from Greek, Latin, Chinese, or from some other language. Who, in God's name, cares --for this endeavor-- to know when and where this word was first used, its original meaning when first introduced several centuries ago, or how this word is in the Hebrew translation or in any other language translation. How any of this arguably interesting information brings any iota of understanding of what the 20th Century Nazi Holocaust really was? In short, how the etymology of a word (i.e., the origin and historical development of the word) can shed any light to its current usage and meaning?

Is anybody there in his or her normal state of mind capable, from the above so-called definition of the Holocaust, to get the current meaning of the Holocaust? Do we have any takers...?

How and Why, in God's name, a Study Center such as CHGS devoted to study the Holocaust in relationship to other genocidal events appears to be so inept as not even able to provide its own analysis and definition of the Holocaust? How you can compare apples with oranges without having a clear understanding of their respective meanings? Why in God's name, a student wants to waste his or her time in a school where the most important definitions and concepts are being copied verbatim from various dictionaries and encyclopedias as the foundation for their studies?

Why CHGS chose that inept definition of the Holocaust when with a little bit of search could have found much better definitions of the Holocaust from far more reliable sources such as the one coming from Yad Vashem is again inexplicable and an open question. All this is even more inexplicable and strange considering the fact that CHGS has access to a vast scholarly material on the Holocaust from where it could have derived a complete, clear, and comprehensive formulation of the Holocaust.

Assuming that perhaps we were making too much out of the inept Holocaust definition that CHGS has chosen to post, we become curious to see, if we could, from their online posting(s), how, if at all, the history of the Holocaust was being taught there. And that undertaking is the subject of our next section.