The Herman Grossman Project Answers: When Should The Term Holocaust Be Used?

The singular event called The Holocaust, in which 6 Million Jews were hunted down across continents, tortured, and savagely killed by German Nazis and their collaborators, should only be used to refer to the Jewish genocide that took place.

The origins of the word, according to Britannica, was from the term “Ḥurban,” meaning destruction. “The same word used to denote the destruction of the the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.”

From the tragedy that took place against the Jewish people, the term “genocide” was birthed. According to the United States Holocaust Museum, a “Genocide is an internationally recognized crime where acts are committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. ” The Holocaust is an example of a genocide, but is not synonymous with the term.

Indeed, there were other genocides and persecutions that took place from 1939-1945, such as against Roma, gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities, political dissidents, and so on. The term “Holocaust” should not be used to refer to those plights and tragedies.

That is not to say that those crimes were not significant or important. The entire persecution deserves to be spoken about, researched, empathized with and understood to prevent such brutality from taking place again. That education and raising awareness should not take place at the expense of appropriating, and thereby diluting, a word that Jewish survivors used to describe their unique experience.

On that note, when it comes to genocides that have unfortunately taken place after or before the Holocaust, the facts about those crimes stand alone in their heinousness and need not a mention about the Holocaust. As a general rule, in whole or part, the Holocaust and any singular part of its story should not be used as a comparison tool to other genocides, crimes, issues and events. Moreover, the Holocaust should not be used to raise awareness about issues, genocides, events, unless it pertains to the well-being and safety of Israel and the Jewish people.

In sum, use the term Holocaust when referring to the state-sponsored and collaborator-enabled killing of six million Jews. Use the term when you are trying to raise awareness about that history, and when you are trying to educate people about antisemitism, Israel, and the Jewish people’s story.

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