The Secular Word "HOLOCAUST":
Scholarly Sacralization, Twentieth Century Meanings 1)

Jon Petrie 

... those who get to superimpose a meaning on events control the future ... [S]ince so much of our cognitive capacity is achieved via language, control of language -- the determination of what words mean, who can use what forms ... to what effects ... is power ... [T]o define [is to] create ... a large part of our reality. (Robin Lakoff, The Language War (2000), p. 42)


(For a summary of this article, read the conclusion.)


Hauing offred vp their sacrifices, victimats and holocaustes to their false Gods.  (The earliest recorded employment of "holocaust(es)" by a secular English author within the Oxford English Dictionary -- Philip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses, 1583 [from the OED's (1989) entry "victimate"])

... they haue forsaken me ... they haue filled this place with the bloud of innocents. And they haue built the excelses [high places] of Baalim, to burne their children with fire for holocaust [in the Hebrew OLOT] to Baalim: which I commanded not, nor haue spoken of, neither haue they ascended into my hart.  (Rheims Douai Bible, 1582-1610, Ieremie [Jeremiah] 19:4,5 -- the only employment of "holocaust" to refer to the killing/ sacrifice of human beings (plural) in the Catholic Bible, a translation of the only OLAH/ OLOT in the Hebrew Bible referring to the killing/ sacrifice of human beings (plural).

... we haue shunned the obscuritie of the Papists, in their Azimes, Tunike, Rational, Holocausts, Præpuce, Pasche ... whereof their late Translation is full, and that of purpose to darken the sence, that since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof, it may bee kept from being vnderstood ... we desire that the Scripture may speake like it selfe ... that it may bee vnderstood euen of the very vulgar.  (King James Bible (1611): Introductory Matter 17:13  -- one web source: )

The muses holocaust: or, A new burnt-offering to the tvvo great idols of presbytery and anabaptism (Samuel Holland, 1662 -- first book title to employ "holocaust")

Holocaust, ... a kind of sacrifice ... a burnt offering. Sacrifices of this sort are often mentioned by the heathens as well as the Jews ... they appear to have been in use long before ... the law of Moses.  (Cyclopaedia, E. Chambers, 1779)

To common wrongs, the masses are indurated ... the fires of persecution must have their holocaust, before the people of Europe shall be maturely ripe for revolution.  (New York Times -- editorial, 29 March 1853, p 4:2)

It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson's body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete.  (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925,  Ch. VIII, last paragraph)

As for the Turkish atrocities ... helpless Armenians, men, women, and children together, whole districts blotted out in one administrative holocaust -- these were beyond human redress.  (Winston Churchill, The Aftermath, 1929, p. 158)

INVENTORY CLEARANCE ... Oriental and domestic rugs ... all are included in this great holocaust of price ... FLINT & HORNER 66 W 47th   (New York Times -- advertisement, 10 April 1932, p N3)

The nationalist student body [in Berlin] ... 'will begin making ceremonial holocausts' of such literary works as do not measure up to their ideals of the German spirit.  (New York Times, 26 April 1933, p 8:6)

This issue of the JEWISH FRONTIER attempts to give some picture of what is happening to the Jews of Europe ... In our calculations of the holocaust that has overtaken the Jews ... [w]e speak ... of the victims not of war, but of massacre ... The annals of mankind hold no similar record of organized murder.   (Jewish Frontier, November 1942, editorial, p 3 - uppercasing exactly reproduced. The first well circulated "holocaust" clearly referencing the Nazi extermination campaign and employed by someone with a real understanding of what was happening to the Jews of Europe.)

SHELTERS WHEN THE HOLOCAUST COMES (Nation,  4 November 1961, on the cover page in bold print -- the reference is nuclear holocaust, the primary and readily understood referent of holocaust in the early 1960s.) 

See footnote 2 for comments, additional quotes

The journal article that preceded and was the basis for this web article is cited in note 1. This web article is a work in progress (last revision late Jan '06).   Comments and suggested corrections are encouraged. (


Holocaust scholars, when commenting on the word "H/holocaust," almost invariably assert that the word carries Judeo-Christian religious / sacrificial overtones, sometimes decry these supposed overtones, ignore totally the word's pagan religious / sacrificial employments, and for the most part leave the impression that "holocaust" had absolutely no secular history before it became the principal American-English referent to the Nazi mass murder of Jews.  For example, Omer Bartov asserts: "'Holocaust' is a name that provides the event with meaning, and the meaning carries deep religious, Judeo-Christian connotations ... Holocaust means sacrifice, God, purpose." And Michael Berenbaum writing with the authority of the US Holocaust Museum claims: "The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, translates the Hebrew word olah as holokauston. The Hebrew literally means that which is offered up; it signifies a burnt offering offered whole unto the Lord. The word itself softens and falsifies the event by giving it a religious significance." (Michael Berenbaum, on the first page of his The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)(3) (For a Marrus quote see this footnote.)

A major claim of this essay is that virtually all of the scholarly writings before 2005 on the connotations and history of the word "H/holocaust" are perniciously misleading or perniciously incorrect. Berenbaum (and others) have stated that our conscious and unconscious understanding of the term "H/holocaust" effects how we understand the Jewish catastrophe, or, in other words, that the term "H/holocaust" is a subtly distorting lens through which we view the tragedy. If this idea is accepted then it follows that any misrepresentations of the word's history and connotation propagated within the Holocaust Studies community have influenced the historiography of the Jewish catastrophe, distorting the lens and "falsif[ying] the event."

It would be difficult to argue that Barenbaum et al are wrong, that the connotations of "holocaust" -- as misrepresented by eminent Holocaust scholars primarily to each other but also to outsiders, e.g. in the different printings and editions of The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum -- have had no effect on the event's historiography.

A social psychology experiment of the 1970s demonstrated the significant falsifying effects that a single word's assumed connotations can have on understanding and memory of an event. Groups of fifty were shown a film of an automobile accident and immediately afterward questioned about the speed of the colliding vehicles. Those asked, "About how fast were the cars going when they smashed each other?" gave a mean speed thirty per cent higher than those asked, "About how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?" A week later the viewers of the film were asked if they had seen broken glass at the accident scene. About a third of those asked the "smashed" question the week before remembered having seen broken glass; those asked the "hit" question were half as likely to remember broken glass. (No broken glass was visible in the film of the accident.) (4)

In the opinion of this writer, the implicit denial within the Holocaust Studies community that "holocaust" had a significant secular history prior to its employment as a referent to the Nazi Judeocide helps to support the idea that "h/Holocaust" can only be legitimately applied to the Nazi killings which, in turn, supports the pernicious ahistorical idea, that since other massacres require a different vocabulary, other massacres are totally incomparable to the Judeocide. And the repetition of the phantasm that the word "holocaust" carries "deep religious Judeo-Christian connotations" helps to mystify the destruction of European Jewry, subtly supporting a pernicious intellectual climate in which a well regarded Holocaust historian can wonder if "the Holocaust ... [is] an event whose mysteries were ... meant to be understood."  (The statements in the previous two sentences may not resonate with some readers but they are congruent with the results of the "hit" and "smashed" experiment and they do mirror statements by scholars who, while circulating the false notion that "H/holocaust" carries "Judeo-Christian sacrificial overtones," claim to deplore the effects of those fabricated overtones. For example (from the most frequently cited article dealing with the "h" word): "To turn the Jewish genocide into a sacrifice makes it a 'biblical' event rather than an event of our time -- a myth rather than a reality ... 'The Holocaust' should not be isolated, labeled as sui generis, the cataclysmic event, the discontinuity in history -- all those things that necessarily follow when the Holocaust is seen as 'The Holocaust.'") (5)

The first objective of this essay is to demonstrate that "holocaust" was in broad secular use before World War II and that for the last century "holocaust" -- within a secular context and unmodified by religious words -- has carried NO connotations of Judeo-Christian religious sacrifice.  That "holocaust" was in broad secular use before the Nazi killings is fairly easily shown, but to demonstrate convincingly the absence of Judeo-Christian sacrificial connotations in such secular use requires an extensive sample of quotations. Presented below is a complete list of secular book and booklet titles containing "holocaust" and published 1900 - 1959 per the WorldCat data base and the British Library on-line catalogue.(6) This list is immediately followed by every employment of "holocaust" in the American Historical Review 1915-1939 (from the JSTORE on line data base). And these Review quotations are followed by fourteen quotations: every use of "holocaust" in the Palestine Post from December 1937 through December 1938, and a small but representative sampling of later uses in the Palestine Post. (7) (The Palestine Post is on searchable CD-ROMs, so every use can be readily accessed.)

Excluded from the 1940s Palestine Post selections below are instances where "holocaust" denotes Jewish suffering and death.


The Young Turks and the Truth about the Holocaust at Adna (1913 -- massacre of Armenians in 1909.)

The Holocaust and Other Poems (1914 -- "Holocaust" in this title refers to the San Francisco earthquake and fire.)

The Holocaust in Minnesota (1918 -- great forest fire.)

Fire from Holocaust to Beneficence: the Romance of Aryano and Semita (1918 -- "Holocaust" refers to a volcanic eruption; Aryano tames fire.)

The Holocaust: Italy's Struggle with the Hapsburg (1919 -- the oppression of Italy in the 1800s, suffering and dying patriots.)

The Last Ditch: ... the Minnesota holocaust ... (1920 -- drainage and irrigation law, inequalities, the destruction of water resources.)

The Holocaust (1922 -- poem in memory of the Armenian massacres.)

The Smyrna Holocaust (1923 -- destruction of Christian neighborhoods by arson; the massacre of Armenians.)

Holocaust Poems (1944 -- World War II's effects on England and the English.)

Holocaust at the Bar X (1952 -- potboiler Western.)

Holocaust at Sea (1956 -- account of a 1942 naval battle, the sinking of the battleship Scharnhorst.)

World Law or World Holocaust (1957 -- address before the Oklahoma Bar Association.)

Jungle Holocaust (Date uncertain but 1950s -- World War II in New Guinea.)

Holocaust! (1959 -- account of a 1942 fire. A newspaper headline description: "Boston Fire Death Toll 440; Night Club Holocaust Laid to Bus Boy's Lighted Match" -- New York Times 30 November 1942, p. 1.) ......................................................

"[T]he wars of the Roses made a holocaust of the old families." (American Historical Review, January 1915, p. 397)

"Savoy and Nice must then be sacrificed ... Cavor accepted the holocaust ... he ... signed [the treaty of cession] with a firm hand." (American Historical Review, January 1922, p. 222)

"... the loss of population in the holocaust of 1914-1918. (American Historical Review, January 1931, p. 477)

"[B]etween 1861 and 1865 his emotions were torn between a desire to press on to the extinction of slavery and a wish to stop the holocaust of young lives." (American Historical Review, January 1938, p. 420) .......................................................

"Whosoever shall go against this decree will ... fall under the knife ... his house will be no more, his body will perish in a holocaust." (Palestine Post, 24 December 1937, p. 5, col. 4. Archaeologist's translation of an Egyptian inscription of 500 BCE.)

"... the French press is worried lest there be some connection between the bloodless holocaust of German Generals and Ambassadors and the persistent reports that Mussolini is about to intervene in Spain ..." (Palestine Post, 6 February 1938, p. 4, col. 4. On 4 February, Hitler replaced Neurath at the German Foreign Ministry, removed three key ambassadors, and announced the retirement of eighteen senior generals.)

"For the first time since last September Japanese aeroplanes again raided Canton ... Although the damage exceeds September's holocaust, the death toll was somewhat less ..." (Palestine Post, 29 May 1938, p. 1, col. 1)

"After the Haifa holocaust ... " (Palestine Post, 17 July 1938, p. 8, col. 1. Exact referent is unclear. A series of incidents in and around Haifa earlier in July resulted in about six deaths.)

"Yesterday was also an anniversary of destruction. It was the day on which Great Britain entered the World War 24 years ago. Since that holocaust swept over the world, it has had no real peace ..." (Palestine Post, 5 August 1938, p. 6, col. 2)

"... the holocaust of 1914-18 ..." (Palestine Post, 11 September 1938, p. 8, col. 3)

"... thanks to the general dread of yet another European holocaust ... [Hitler] has brought them peace with territorial aggrandisement. (Palestine Post, 11 October 1938, p. 6, col. 2. German troops occupied part of Czechoslovakia in early October following the Munich agreement.)

"... the planning system of the Bolshevist regime has broken down ... The holocaust of directors and engineers shot as "wreckers" to stimulate others has brought only spasms ..." (Palestine Post, 27 October 1938, p. 3, col. 2)

"We hope and pray that the holocaust will be avoided ... There will be no war unless Herr Hitler wills it." (Palestine Post, 30 August 1939, p. 2, col. 3. Words of Arthur Greenwood, British Labour MP.)

"Stalingrad is the pivot ... this prolonged holocaust ..." (Palestine Post, 1 October 1942, p. 4, col. 1)

"The slaughter of their manpower is immense ... the German command must soon become appalled at the holocaust." (Palestine Post, 18 January 1944, p. 1, col. 7)

"There are women ... whose household labours resounds [with] the constant ringing of crashing china and glasses ... Those glasses that escape the holocaust of housework ..." ( Palestine Post, 26 July 1946, p. 8, cols. 1-2)

"After the holocaust of war, with its toll of 30 million victims of whom six million were Jews ..." (Palestine Post, 28 March 1947, p. 4, col. 2)

"On May 4 1897 ... 1,200 people crowded into a tent to see the cinema. Suddenly the light bulb of the projector exploded ... the holocaust, which lasted 20 brief minutes, claimed 124 lives." (Palestine Post, 9 May 1947, p. 4, cols. 2-3)


The range of disaster and destruction described as a "holocaust" or "the holocaust" in the above titles and citations may seem extraordinary to those who know only the word's most common contemporary meanings. Of the seven "holocausts" in the 1938 Palestine Post, three refer to World War I or a future European war, but the four others refer to events that, in comparison to world war, are trivial affairs. And in a 1946 Palestine Post the word refers to the effects of clumsiness in the kitchen ("... glasses that escape the holocaust of housework ..."). No connotation of religious sacrifice seems intended in any of the above titles and quotations -- all could be rewritten, without altering meaning or connotation, by replacing "holocaust" with "conflagration," "catastrophe," or "massacre(s)." More generally, none of the hundreds of secular "holocausts" from the period 1910 - 1950 found and recorded by this writer carries a religious connotation. (8) And no dictionary definition I have consulted suggests that "holocaust," when used to mean "catastrophe," "conflagration," or "massacre," carries any sense of religious sacrifice.

Part of the foundation for contemporary scholarly assertions that "holocaust" had little secular circulation in the first half of the twentieth century and that the word carries Judeo-Christian religious connotations are certain false, but unchallenged, representations by Zev Garber and Bruce Zukerman in a 1988 paper, a 1989 journal article, and a 1994 book chapter. According to Garber and Zukerman's frequently cited "Why do We Call the Holocaust 'the Holocaust' ? ...", previous to 1950 "the primary sense of the term [holocaust]" was "religious sacrifice," and the "Jewish thinkers and writers who first adopted the term" were aware of the "religious/sacrificial connotations" that the term carries. To support this statement Garber and Zuckerman assert: "[T]he editors of the King James Version of the Bible ... translated the Hebrew term for whole-burnt offering, the olah ... 'holocaust.' Indeed, the adoption by the King James editors of this use of the term probably played the decisive role in fixing 'religious sacrifice' as the primary sense of the term in English up until the mid-Twentieth Century." (9) One major problem with this assertion is that the word "holocaust" is not to be found anywhere in the King James Bible. The Hebrew olah is translated as "burnt offering(s)" or "burnt sacrifice(s)" in the King James Bible. In the preface to the first edition of the King James Bible the translators state "... we haue shunned the obscuritie of the Papists ... their ... Holocausts, Præpuce, Pasche ... we desire that the Scripture ... may bee vnderstood euen of the very vulgar." (10)

A check of concordances and a sampling of representative passages show that all of the principal Protestant and Jewish English-language Bibles of the last few centuries translate olah as "burnt offering(s)" or some very similar expression. Thus, contrary to what Garber and Zuckerman assert, virtually no twentieth century Jew or Protestant would be familiar with any biblical employment of the word "holocaust." (It should be noted, however, that Catholic Bibles do translate olah/olot as "holocaust" and thus Catholics would be familiar with the "religious sacrifice" sense of the word but, if they know their Bibles, would associate the word, when used to refer to a sacrifice of more than one human being, with a sacrifice to a pagan god. .)

In addition to falsely asserting that the King James Bible uses "holocaust" as a translation of olah, Garber and Zuckerman claim: "[Before World War II] most often the term was ... employed to characterize a particular sort of consumption by fire: the religious sacrifice. THUS [my capitals] the first definition in the OED is ... 'a whole burnt offering'; while the second definition applies this sense of sacrifice in a more general fashion ." (11)

This statement suggests that the academics, Garber and Zuckerman, the authors of the statement, and possibly the Holocaust scholars who have uncritically cited Garber and Zuckerman, have a limited grasp of how the most important English dictionary is organized. In the Oxford English Dictionary the first meaning given is NOT normally the meaning most often encountered.  It is ALWAYS, however, the oldest known meaning, a meaning that today may be archaic or infrequently encountered. (The first definition of "disaster" in the OED: "1. An unfavourable aspect of a star or planet; an obnoxious planet.")

Generally, dictionaries published before 1950, and contemporary updates of such dictionaries, do not indicate the frequency of use of different meanings of a word. However, two American dictionaries, one published in 1927 and the other in 1947, do indicate that the most frequently used meaning of "holocaust" is "great destruction of life" or "destructive fire," and not, as Garber and Zuckerman claim, "sacrifice" and "burnt offering." (12)  A third dictionary, the Thorndike Century Junior Dictionary of 1942, which claims that its definitions derive from an examination of word usage in an extensive sampling of texts, gives no indication that "holocaust" has any religious meaning whatsoever: "holocaust: 1) complete destruction by fire, especially of animals or human beings, 2) great or wholesale destruction." And my Jerusalem printed 1958 Oxford English-Readers Dictionary gives as its only meaning of "holocaust": "A large scale destruction, esp. of human lives."

Possibly underlying some statements alleging religious overtones of "holocaust" by scholars who have not read Garber and Zuckerman is the "etymological fallacy," the belief that a word's original meaning forever conditions the "true" or "correct" sense of a word. Serious students of language have long recognized that "the original sense of words is often driven out of use by their metaphorical acceptations" (Samuel Johnson), and thus etymological knowledge is often not an aid to understanding the meaning(s) or connotation(s) of a word. (13)

Perhaps a few examples are necessary to demonstrate the unreliability of etymology as a guide to meaning. The first meaning of "revolution" probably was "astronomical motion that returns to the point of departure," a meaning that remains in current use. An early political "revolution," the English Revolution of 1688, was seen by many contemporaries as a felicitous return to the past, the replacement of a Catholic absolutist king by a monarch similar to the Catholic's predecessor in both his Protestantism and his respect for Parliament. (14) Today, "the Revolution" can refer to very different events, but events that almost invariably are believed to constitute a radical break from some aspect of past practice rather than a return to a previous condition. Another brief word history: "halo" in early Greek referred to a "threshing floor." From medieval times, a "halo" in Christian iconography symbolized sanctity. "Halo spot" today is the name of a disease effecting oats and beans. "Catastrophe," like "halo" and "holocaust," comes from the Greek. Until the nineteenth-century a common meaning of "catastrophe" was the denouement of a play, a denouement that might be happy. Today, "Jewish catastrophe" as a referent to the Nazi mass murder of Jews is readily accepted by scholars, yet "catastrophe," in an English sense, referred to fictional events, fictional events that respectable audiences often applauded. 

In this essay's first extensive set of quotations, Jewish "holocausts" were excluded in order to avoid confusing different issues. A second series of quotations is presented below, examples of the use of "holocaust/um/s" c. 1200 - 1949 to denote Jewish persecution and death. A frequently cited scholarly article claims that "holocaust" was first used in 1957 as a specific referent to the Nazi murders of Jews, other scholars claim that Wiesel introduced the word circa 1963; thus some of the quotations from the 1940s and the statement preceding footnote  19 should surprise some readers. (15) In none of the twentieth century quotations below does "holocaust" appear to be intended to carry any connotation of religious sacrifice.


"Londonie immolare Iudeos ... potuerit holocaustum." (c. 1200 - The Chronicle of Richard of Devizes (ed. J. T. Appelby, 1963), p. 3 -- See below for translation.)

"On the very day of the coronation [3 September 1189] ... a sacrifice of the Jews to their father the devil was commenced in the city of London ... the holocaust could scarcely be accomplished the ensuring day." (Chronicles of the Crusades (1848), p. 3 -- a translation of the Latin partially quoted above. Per the  Jewish Encyclopedia (1964): "September 1189 ... a mob ... after vainly attacking throughout the day the strong stone houses of the Jews, set them on fire at night, killing those that attempted to escape. The king was enraged ...")

"Since your Majesty don't like the peas in the shoe ... what say you to burning a Jew or two ... The Saints love a roast ... A Grand Auto-de-Fe ... YO EL RE! ... Thank Heaven, 'tis o'er! The tragedy's done! ... The last wretched Hebrew's burnt down in his socket! ... cost ... the whole of the Holocaust."  (Richard Barham c. 1840 -- "Holocaust" is the last word in the main section of the parody "The Auto-Da-Fe" in the Ingoldsby Legends.  This "Holocaust" is probably the most circulated of the 1840 - 1914 period -- circa 40 printings by various publishers, five by Oxford University press.  Patriotic Englishman of the 19th century regarded Roman Catholics as vaguely pagan, the Pope was sometimes referred to as the "Whore of Babylon.")

"Rabbi Jacob: ... You say the Jews shall burn ... Know ye what burning is ? Hath one of you, Scorched ever his soft flesh ... and raises not his voice To stop this holocaust ? God! 'tis too horrible! Wake me, my friends, from this terrific dream."  (Emma Lazarus, "The Dance to Death: A Historical Tragedy" in Songs of a Semite, 1882, pp. 37-38 -- In Nordhausen, Germany in the plague year of 1349, Jews have been accused of poisoning the wells. Rabbi Jacob is addressing the Nordhausen town council who have just voted to burn the town's Jews -- Lazarus is best known today for the lines on the base of the Statue of Liberty: "... Give me your tired, your poor ...")

"Wherever one moves in Spain the sickening breath of the auto da fe lingers in the air.  In such a square, we read, was once a mighty holocaust of Jews."  (New York Times, 7 May 1899, p 14:1)

"We charge the Russian government with responsibility for the Kishineff massacre.  We say it is seeped to the eyes in the guilt of this holocaust."  (New York Times, 16 May 1903,  p 1:1 quoting a Jewish Chronicle (London) editorial -- also "this barbaric holocaust" [Kishineff] Oscar Straus in The New York Times, 20 May 1903, p 2)

"Reports reach us regarding an appalling massacre of our people alleged to have taken place in the Ukraine ... 100,000, a figure which we doubt not is vastly exaggerated ... Even this holocaust does not stand alone, and the country traversed by the troops of KOLTCHAK and DENIKIN is said to be sodden with the blood of 'pogrommed' Jews." (Jewish Chronicle [London], 4 July 1919, editorial, p. 5, col. 2. Uppercasing exactly reproduced; Koltchak and Denikin were White Russian generals.)

"[Millions] are dying ... through the awful tyranny of war and a bigoted lust for Jewish blood. In this threatened holocaust of human life ... In this calamity ..." (American Hebrew, 31 October 1919, p. 582)

"Else Lasker Schuler, the poet, one of a number of prominent German Jews reported to have disappeared without a trace, is alive and safe ... Dr. Margoshes said he had received a letter from the poet at Zurich ... stating that 'she had run away from the the holocaust' and was destitute but perfectly safe."     (New York Times, 1 June 1933, p 6:8 -- probably the earliest well circulated American 'the holocaust' referencing Nazi persecution of Jews. Schuler almost certainly wrote to Dr. Margoshe, the editor of the New York Yiddish newspaper 'Der Tog', in German, not English --- so 'the holocaust' from the NY Times of June 1933 is almost certainly Margoshes's translation of a German word.  And Yad Vashem, the first institution to employ 'holocaust' with any regularity in reference to events of the Nazi era, usually defines 'the holocaust' as persecution and murder of Jews, 1933-1945,  within Nazi controlled territory --- hence Dr. Margoshes 1933 employment is in accordance with one of the prevaling definitions of 'the h/Holocaust' within Holocaust Studies. Another similar employment in an Australian Jewish newspaper on  25 May 1933: "The offering (funds/charity raised in Australia for the German Jewish community) might be regarded more in the nature of a thanksgiving that Australian Jewry has been spared the brutal holocaust that has overwhelmed its co-religionists in Germany."   Source for above,  W.D.Rubinstein on H-Holocaust, 29 Apr 2005.  See:      )

"PROPOSE YOU WITH LEADING FRENCH AMERICAN RABBIS AND OURSELVES PROCLAIM JEWISH DAY OF MOURNING THROUGHOUT WORLD FOR HOLOCAUST SYNAGOGUES GERMANY ..." (I. Herzog and J. Meir, Chief Rabbis of Palestine, to J. H. Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, telegram, uppercased, 16 November 1938.) (16)

"The inflammatory fever which has been consuming Germany in recent years threatens a holocaust, a wholesale incineration ... The progress of the sickness can be examined in ... Mr. Warburg's account of racial persecution [of Jews]."  (Times Literary Supplement (London), 26 August 1939, Philip Tomlinson, "Flamens" (lead article), p. 503:2 -- the first well circulated "holocaust" referencing the fate of Jews in Nazi Europe)

"BEFORE THE HOLOCAUST" (The American Hebrew, 3 October 1941, front cover -- uppercase caption below a photograph of two men carrying Torah scrolls through a gate topped by a Mogen David. One of the men is wearing a tallith, the other is dressed in a French uniform.)

"This issue of the JEWISH FRONTIER attempts to give some picture of what is happening to the Jews of Europe ... In our calculations of the holocaust that has overtaken the Jews ... [w]e speak ... of the victims not of war, but of massacre ... The annals of mankind hold no similar record of organized murder ..." (Jewish Frontier, November 1942, editorial, p. 3 - uppercasing exactly reproduced. The first well circulated "holocaust" clearly referencing the Nazi Judeocide and employed by someone with a full understanding of what was happening to the Jews of Europe.)

"HOLOCAUST: Hitler has familiarized the world with brutality and terror ... But nothing ... is comparable to his treatment of the Jews ... more than half of Poland's three and a half million Jews have already been done to death ... Reprisals are out of the question ... We can make it plain ... those ... responsible ... for cold blooded calculated mass murders will be brought strictly to account." (News Chronicle [London], 5 December 1942, editorial preceded by uppercased title, "HOLOCAUST," p. 2, col. 2.)

"... a time of great tragedy for our people ... for those who will survive this holocaust ... [we] must go forward ..." (Chaim Weizmann, letter to I. Goldstein, 24 December 1942) (17)

"Whereas the holocaust of mass murder of civilian populations, especially Jews, continues ..." (Congressional Record, 7 July 1943, Vol 89. section 11, p. 3601.)

"The Jewish people are today undergoing a process of decimation which has no parallel in history. Is it too much to expect that those who succeeded in escaping from the holocaust should not be condemned to the same process, even though the agency of death may not be the asphyxiation chamber of Poland ..." (Palestine Post, 21 June 1944, editorial, p. 4, col. 1.)

"Mass meetings were held ... [per] the Palestine Post ... a "last hour plea for opening our gates to the survivors of the Nazi holocaust."  (New York Times, 9 October 1945, p. 5:1)

"What sheer folly to attempt to rebuild any kind of Jewish life [in Europe] after the holocaust of the last twelve years!" (Z. Shuster, Commentary , December 1945, p. 10.)

"[A]fter the holocaust of the last few years the Jews ... have the right to expect sympathy ..." (Issac Deutscher, Economist, 12 January 1946, p. 45, col. 2 -- unsigned in the Economist but reprinted in Deutscher's The Non-Jewish Jew, p. 86.)

"Resolution on the Jewish People ... These six million dead are beyond tears. But the survivors of that holocaust of anti-Semitism have a special claim on the conscience of democratic mankind ..." (Fifteenth Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1946.) (18)

"Other nations are liberated and can rebuild their ruins, but the survivors of our holocaust languish without liberty ..." (Chaim Weizmann at the 22nd Zionist Congress, Palestine Post , 10 December 1946, p. 1, col. 3.)

"The small remnant of Jewry ... that have survived the Hitler holocaust lend significence ..."  (Rabbi Wise quoted in the Los Angeles Times, "Britain Target ..." 27 January 1947, p. 5.)

"... in the case of Exodus 1947 ... May [the Red Cross] intervention put an end to the terrible ordeal of those survivors of the Nazi holocaust ..." (Palestine Post, 4 August 1947, p. 1, col. 3.)

"The Nazi holocaust which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe proved anew the urgency of the re-establishment of the Jewish state ..." (Israeli Declaration of Independence, New York Times, 15 May 1948, p. 2, col. 3.)

Franklin Littel, one of the founding fathers of what we now call "Holocaust Studies," employed "holocaust" in a 1949 newsletter written in Germany. In 1995, Littel wrote, "I must have picked it up -- as a precise reference to the Nazi genocide of the Jews -- from American Jewish chaplains or from workers in the DP camps." (19)


To summarize and conclude the first part of this essay before considering the employment of "holocaust" after 1948, any religious associations carried by the term "H/holocaust" today, when employed in a secular context, can only be the consequence of the nature of our understanding of the Nazi slaughters, usage of "H/holocaust" since the 1940s, and/or claims by Holocaust scholars that the word carries religious connotations.

"Holocaust" cannot be assumed to carry religious or sacrificial connotations today simply because the word was first employed to denote a sacrifice wholly consumed by fire.  No Protestant or Jewish translation of the Bible in twentieth century use contains the word "holocaust."  (In the Catholic Bible "holocaust" [olot in the Hebrew] is used once and only once to refer to the killing/ sacrifice of human beings (plural), a killing of children to honor Baal).  Between the world wars "holocaust" was employed as a referent to a broad range of non-Jewish secular disasters and carried in this employment no religious associations.  And when the word was used in 1919 in a Jewish newspaper to refer to the massacres of Jews in the Ukraine, in 1938 by the Chief Rabbis of (British) Palestine referencing the burning of synagogues, and in the 1940s by Jews and Gentiles to denote the Nazi organized systematic slaughter of Jews, the word apparently  carried no connotations of sacrifice unto the Lord.

Employment of "H/holocaust" at Yad Vashem in the 1950s and 1960s

The principal institution of the 1950s and 1960s devoting resources to the study of the Nazi persecution and murder of Jews was Yad Vashem, established in Jerusalem in 1953. Starting in 1957 and through the period in which the term "holocaust" became the dominant English language referent to the systematic Nazi mass murder of Jews, Yad Vashem published the only English language journals devoted to examining the Jewish catastrophe. The use of "holocaust" at Yad Vashem will be examined in some detail, partly because Yad Vashem's adoption of "h/Holocaust" as the referent to the Nazi genocide of Jews presumably heavily influenced general Israeli-English usage, and this usage, together with the direct dissemination of Yad Vashem usage, contributed significantly to the adoption of "H/holocaust" as the American referent to the Nazi genocide of Jews.

In Israeli official and academic circles, the Hebrew shoah (שואה) -- sometimes written shoa and sho'ah -- has always been the primary referent to the Nazi-organized destruction of European Jewry. (In Hebrew capitalization is not possible.) The Knesset law of 1953 establishing Yad Vashem was printed in Hebrew, English, and French. The English version translates shoah as "Disaster," while the French version of the Knesset law uses "l'Holocauste" on two occasions. (20) In the years 1953 through 1955, shoah at Yad Vashem was usually translated into English as "Disaster" (capitalized with few exceptions), "the Great Disaster," "the Destruction Period," and "the European catastrophe" (this last usually uncapitalized). In 1954, the first of Yad Vashem's serials, Yediot -- initially printed entirely in Hebrew except for publication information ("Remembrance Authority of the Disaster and Heroism ...") -- began publishing a few pages of English summary. In 1955 the phrase "European holocaust" appears once in this English summary as an equivalent of shoah. (21) In the 1956 numbers of Yediot, the phrase "Nazi holocaust" is used on eight occasions in the seven pages of English text. (For example, "...the main task of Yad Vashem in Jewish life, the preservation of the memory of those lost in the Nazi holocaust.") In one instance in 1956, an unmodified "holocaust" follows a "Nazi holocaust." And in another instance, "Holocaust" is employed, as it is most commonly today, capitalized and with no modifier: "... the main ceremony of the Memorial Day of the Holocaust and Jewish Heroism ..." (22) In no case in these early years at Yad Vashem does "h/Holocaust" appear to be intended to convey any sense of religious sacrifice. In 1957, Yad Vashem began publication of two journals in the English language: the Yad Vashem Bulletin and Yad Vashem Studies. The first number of the Bulletin (April 1957) uses "holocaust" more frequently than the whole set of other terms and phrases available as English equivalents of shoah. On one page,in a section noting books received in the library, "the holocaust" is employed eleven times. (23) Elsewhere in this first issue, besides additional employment of "the holocaust," there are references to "the Nazi holocaust," the "European holocaust," and in a capitalized subtitle, "... the Holocaust Period." In the second number of the Bulletin (December 1957), four of five articles, in a section entitled "Writings on the Disaster Period," use the word "holocaust" in their texts. In the third number of the Bulletin (July 1958), the dominance of the term "holocaust" continues, but curiously, the next three issues (October 1959, June 1960, March 1961) contain very few "holocausts." Perhaps a translator changed or the Bulletin editor, Nathan Eck, developed reservations about the previous adoption of "holocaust" as the primary referent to the genocide. However, from 1962, "Holocaust," now generally capitalized, is the dominant referent in the Bulletin to the European Jewish disaster.

In contrast to the Bulletin's copious use of "holocaust" in 1957 and 1958, the more formal and academic Yad Vashem Studies on the European Jewish Catastrophe and Resistance, in its first two years, barely used the term. "European holocaust" appears perhaps three times in the text of the first volume, and "the Holocaust," unmodified by "European" or "Nazi," appears three times in the text of the second volume. (24) The favored word for the Hitlerite Jewish catastrophe in these first volumes is "catastrophe," usually preceded by "European." In the third volume of Studies (1959) and thereafter, however, "the Holocaust," capitalized and unmodified, is the dominant referent to the Judeocide both in texts and titles.

The adoption of "Holocaust" by Yad Vashem as the referent to the Judeocide at Yad Vashem does not seem to have led to a belief among Yad Vashem writers and editors that it was no longer appropriate to use "holocaust" in its other well known senses, or that a modifier before "Holocaust" was not sometimes needed to clarify meaning. In the 1963 Studies, a reviewer commented: "[S]ome Jewish researchers have subordinated themselves to political forces ... [to] the needs and temperaments of local potentates, one shudders at the nightmare of a holocaust-on-the-Holocaust." (25) And an article in the April 1966 Bulletin is titled, "The Jewish Holocaust in Soviet Writings." 

Note again that title from 1966 "The Jewish Holocaust in Soviet Writings."  The US Holocaust Museum on its web site begining circa 2004 under the title "What is the origin of the word 'Holocaust'"  referenced the paper version of this article and generally adopted the word history and postions of this web article.  (See )  However, per the Museum web page (16 December 2005): "[In the 1940s] writers occasionally employed the term holocaust  with regard to the Nazi crimes against the Jews, but in these early cases, they did not ascribe exclusivity to the term. Instead of  "the holocaust," writers referred to "a holocaust," one of many through the centuries ... By the late 1940s (sic), however, a shift was underway. Holocaust (with either a lowercase or capital H) became a more specific term due to its use in Israeli translations of the word sho'ah ..."  

The 1966 title
"The Jewish Holocaust in Soviet Writings" does suggest that even within Holocaust Studies, as late as 1966, 'exclusivity' and a specific clear reference was not ascribed to "the holocaust."  And, contrary to the implications of the quoted web page, the use of "the holocaust" as a specific referent without a modifier to the Nazi crimes against Jews dates from 1933 (See the set of Jewish "holocausts" in the main text above for 1933 usage).  A 1942 "the holocaust":  "In our calculations of the holocaust that has overtaken the Jews ... [w]e speak ... of the victims not of war, but of massacre ... The annals of mankind hold no similar record of organized murder ..." (Jewish Frontier, November 1942, editorial, p. 3).  And the referent of "the holocaust," even today and in an Israeli paper, depends on context  One example: "...a contemporary Armenian family ... This film-within-a-film follows the production of a historical epic about the holocaust [Armenian, 1915-17]."  (Jerusalem Post Magazine, 1 Nov. 2002, p. 17)

Three early uses of the uppercased "Holocaust" at Yad Vashem are suggestive of the forces encouraging capitalization of the word when used as a referent to the Jewish catastrophe. On the first page of "The Holocaust in the Consciousness of Our Generation" (Bulletin, July 1958), "holocaust" is used eight times lowercased and only once capitalized: "... the Inquisition, for example, is not the same as the Holocaust ..." Presumably, the lowercasing of "holocaust," contrasting with the capitalization of "Inquisition," appeared inappropriate to an editor or translator at Yad Vashem; rather than lowercasing "Inquisition," "holocaust" was capitalized. Presumably too, if "holocaust" was seen at Yad Vashem as a substitute for "European catastrophe," it would not normally be capitalized, but if substituted for the officially favored term, "Disaster," particularly if in an ideologically significant phrase, it would be capitalized. The first capitalization of "holocaust" at Yad Vashem, as mentioned earlier, was in the phrase, "the Holocaust and Jewish Heroism," in a 1956 Yediot. In the Bulletin, the first capitalization is found in what is essentially the same phrase, "the Holocaust and the Heroism" (December 1957). Both English phrases are translations of the Hebrew shoah ugevurah, a key ideologically charged phrase in the Israel of the 1950s and part of Yad Vashem's full Hebrew title. (26)

A brief aside on capitalization: the rules regarding capitalization of terms comparable to "holocaust" are not absolute. The Chicago Manual of Style states: "Most period designations ... are lowercased ... [a]ppellations of historical ... events ... are generally capitalized ... Civil Rights movement (often lowercased) ... New Deal ... cold war ... gold rush." And jumping ahead in this biography of a word, "holocaust," lowercased, as a specific referent to the Nazi genocide(s) was gradually replaced in American usage by the capitalized "Holocaust" in the period 1965-1985, perhaps partly as a method of indicating that the referent was the Nazi mass killing and not another destruction. In current usage, the referent of a lowercased "holocaust" is rarely the Nazi murders, while the core referent of a capitalized "Holocaust" is almost invariably the Judeocide of the Nazi camps. (27)

And a guess as to why at Yad Vashem "Disaster" was dropped in favor of "h/Holocaust": The alliteration of "holocaust" and "heroism" sounded better to Israeli ears than "Disaster and Heroism". SHOAH UGEVURAH was the key ideologically charged Hebrew phrase of Yad Vashem's early days, GEVURAH was always translated as "heroism" and it was the most important word of the phrase in the 1950s. Of the various possible translations of SHOAH, "holocaust" fitted best alongside the "h" of heroism. More generally, I suggest writers choose one word from competing alternatives more frequently than is usually recognized because of the "fittingness" of the initial letter of the chosen word in a particular context of letters and sounds, and "holocaust" was often selected as a synonym for "massacre," "catastrophe" etc. in the 1940's and 1950s, partly because a writer was associating and/or employing other "h" words at the time she was mentally reaching for a word to reference the Nazi orchestrated Judeocide. Some "h" words that might, consciously or unconsciously, have been associated with the murder of Jews in the 1940s: "Hitler," "horror," "Hurban" (the Yiddish word for Hitler's Judeocide), and "Haidamachina" (a word used by Simon Dubnow amongst others to denote the massacres of Eastern European Jews in 1648, 1768, and 1919).

And I suggest that "H" of Hiroshima is part of the explanation of the adoption of "holocaust" as a primary referent to nuclear destruction in the American of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  (The employment of "holocaust" in its well used nuclear sense will be discussed in detail after footnote 36 and, in connection with Wiesel's first use after footnote 45.  Curiously the OED's entry "holocaust" does not record any employments of the word in its nuclear sense -- see appendix of this essay.)

Some anecdotal evidence supporting the alliteration explanation:  a) the first employment of "holocaust" as a reference to the Judeocide in the American Historical Review (per a JSTORE search) is "Hitler's holocaust" (April, 1959, p. 611) and b) the first employment in the Journal of Modern History (December 1959, p. 354) is "Hitler holocaust". And c) a significant number of 1940s employments of "holocaust" are preceded by an unusually high number of "h" words. For example: "... the persecution was brought *home to *him with overwhelming *horror. *Here was a call on one as a *human being because the [Jewish] *holocaust was of a kind quite unlike ...." ("*"s are mine -- Manchester Guardian, 15 April, 1943, p. 2 - "Child Refugees").  And, "Stalin came to the microphone ... A *horrified nation *heard the truth about the *holocaust spreading quickly towards the capital. "The *Hitlerite troops," Stalin said ..." (Again my "*", Victor Kravchenko, I Choose Freedom (1947), p. 359).

The French "h/Holocauste," the Greek holokauston, the Hebrew olah, and "pagan sacrificial holocausts"

Partly because of the use of "l'Holocauste" in Yad Vashem's 1953 founding documents referenced above and in footnote 20, this is an appropriate moment to examine briefly French secular use of "holocaust" in the 1950s, which, in turn, will lead to a consideration of the pagan referents of holokauston and similar words in classical Greek and of olah in the Bible. Presented below is a representative sample of French secular use from the period. The 1958 Francois Mauriac quotation below is from an appreciation of Elie Wiesel's La Nuit. This quotation is a key "holocaust / holocaust" text -- translated it became part of the forward / frame text of Night (1960). Yet no American Holocaust scholar has drawn attention to either the French or the English language translation.  (All italicization of "l'holocauste" below is mine and accent marks have been eliminated.)

"Dans le souci continuel d'entretenir le secret, il y a lieu de voir autre chose que le desir de ne pas ebruiter un etat des choses que par ailleurs les Nazis laissaient transpercer. Il y a la volonte d'entourner l'holocauste d'une horreur sacree ..." (Leo Poliakov, Breviaire De la Haine, 1951, pp. 244-245 -- Mauriac wrote the introduction to Poliakov's book.)

Bavard intarissable et qui pencherait vers le comique si, tout le temps qu[e Hitler] perore, nous ne considerions la toile de fond, enfumee par les crematoires, par l'holocauste enorme, indefiniment ravitaille, et auquel tous les peuples d'Europe pourvoient; huit millions d'innocents ... sans compter ce que devore la bataille." (Francois Mauriac, 14 Juillet 1954, Bloc-notes, 1993, p. 189.)

"Le Memorial du Martyr Juif Inconnu ... perpetuer dans le temps le souvenir de l'holocauste Juive sous la Croix-Gammee." (La Revue du Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine, January 1956, p. 2.)

"Dieu est mort ... le Dieu d'Abraham, d'Isaac et de Jacob s'est a  jamais dissipe, sous le regard de cet enfant, dans la fumee de l'holocauste humaine exige par la Race, la plus goulue de toutes les idoles." (Francois Mauriac, Le Figaro Litteraire, 7 June 1958, p. 4. "Cet enfant" is Wiesel.)

"L'Holocauste de Juin dans les Facultes" (Le Figaro Litteraire, 28 June 1958, p. 1, headline. The referent is the high failure rate in the French universities' year-end exams.)

It does appear that the French "holocauste" of the 1950s was similar to the English language "holocaust" of the 1930s and 1940s in its broad range of possible secular referents. In the quotations presented, "holocauste" refers to the totality of deaths in World War II, the Nazi extermination of Jews, and the failures in the 1958 French university exams. Unlike normal twentieth century native English speaker's coloring of "holocaust," however, is Mauriac's 1958 "holocauste." Translated in 1960, Mauriac's words became: "For him [Wiesel] ... God is dead ... the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob ... has vanished forevermore ... in the smoke of a human holocaust exacted by Race, the most voracious of all idols." This "holocaust," on the third page of the foreword of Night, is by far the best circulated "holocaust," in its now rare sense of "burnt offering," of the late twentieth century, apart from translations of olah in Roman Catholic Bibles.

In French, there is significant use of "holocauste" in the sense of an abhorrent immolation to honor or required by a pagan god and/or of a destruction inspired by stupidity or hate, a use encountered in writings of native English speakers fairly frequently before 1900 but rarely in the twentieth century.  The Roman Catholic biblical precedent: "... they haue forsaken me ... they haue filled this place with the bloud of innocents. And they haue built the excelses [high places] of Baalim, to burne their children with fire for holocaust [in the Hebrew OLOT] to Baalim: which I commanded not, nor haue spoken of, neither haue they ascended into my hart. (Rheims Douai [Roman Catholic] Bible, 1582-1610, Ieremie [Jeremiah] 19:4,5) And Mark Twain 1869: "[T]wo hundred thousand young men ...  the world's glorious ones ... And where are they now? ... prematurely aged and decrepit--or shot or stabbed in street affrays ... victims devoted upon the altar of the golden calf--the noblest holocaust that ever wafted its sacrificial incense heavenward." (For full citation see note  2)  And the Chambers's Encylopaedia (1871): "Any illness, danger ... sufficed to move the Gauls towards a human holocaust, in the fashion of the worshipers of Baal and Moloch ... this kind of murder [has a firm hold on] the human mind." (A few paragraphs before the end of the essay titled "Sacrifice.")(28)  And some French similar employments:  Voltaire, "Ces abominables holocaustes s'etablirent dans presque toute la terre. Pausanis pretendent que Lycaon immola le premier des victimes humaines en Grece." Flaubert, "Les Druids ... dans leurs criminels holocaustes." And Baudelaire, "Un homme de genie, melancolique, misanthrope ... jette un jour au feu toutes ses oeuvres encore manuscrites. Et comme on lui reprochait cet effroyable holocauste fait a la haine ..." (29) 

The Berenbaum/ US Holocaust Museum quote in the first paragraph of the main text of this essay implies that the first employment of the Greek  holokauston  was within the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Bible.  And the online Britannica states "The word Holocaust is derived from the Greek holokauston, a translation of the Hebrew word 'olah, meaning a burnt sacrifice offered whole to God."  However, over a hundred years before holokauston and similar saw employment in the Septuagint, Xenophon, in a text read by virtually all students of classical Greek, employed holokau.... to refer to Greek pagan sacrifices. For example: "... he offered the customary holocaust [holokautei] of hogs." (Anabasis - c. 365 BCE. - VII, viii, 4 and 5.)  The Greek word's first recorded employment thus referenced a pagan sacrifice and not a sacrifice to the biblical Lord.

And until relatively recent times the educated in both France and England were often as familiar with classical texts as they were with the Bible and thus would frequently associate "sacrifice" and "holocaust" -- in the sense of "whole burnt offering" -- with pagan practices.  Dryden's 1697 translation of Virgil's Aeneid reads in part, "With Holocausts he Pluto's altar fills." (VI:360)  The 1797 Encyclopaedia Britannica "Sacrifice" article devotes three of six pages to human sacrifice and mentions in passing the Carthaginian practice of placing live children in a statue's hands extended over a furnace (burnt sacrifices). (30) In the same Encyclopaedia the one third of a column entry under "Holocaust"  refers readers to the "Sacrifice" article and states, "Sacrifices of this sort [holocausts] are often mentioned by the heathens as well as Jews ..." The thirty line entry for "Holocauste" in the Diderot and D'Alembert Encyclopedie (1765) makes no references whatsoever to Jews or Jewish practices, only to immolations honoring "dieux infernaux" (infernal gods).

And in the Hebrew Bible, olah/ olot, translated in Catholic Bibles as "holocaust," in important instances is not a Jewish rite but a pagan rite -- the only olah/olot of human beings in the Bible  (quoted a few paragraphs back and below this article's title) is a sacrifice to Baal (Jeremiah 19:4,5). And per 2 Kings 5:17 (a Roman Catholic translation): "Naaman said: ... I will no longer offer holocaust or any other sacrifice to any other god except to the Lord." And Balak, king of Moab and fearful of the Hebrew tribes, stands beside his olah/ holocaust while waiting for his favored prophet / sorcerer, Balaam, to curse the "the children of Jacob" (Numbers 23:3). (Balaam, to Balak's horror, blesses "the children of Jacob.")

"H/holocaust/e" then, is a sensitive, chameleonic instrument, whose meaning and connotations are not fixed -- even when employed in its original sense of "whole burnt offering" -- but highly dependent on the context of employment and subtly dependent on the nature and depth of a reader's exposure to misinformation/ information propagated by scholars, museums, and standard reference works.  (For a critique of the Oxford English Dictionary's entry "holocaust" see the Appendix following the footnotes.)

Employment of "h/Holocaust" in the United States circa 1945 - 1965 

This essay now turns away from its investigation of the use of "holocaust / holocauste" in Israel and France to focus on American employment of "holocaust" and the social and cultural context of that employment. In the 1950s and early 1960s American Jews, with few exceptions, avoided any public engagement with the then recent mass murder of European Jews. In 1953, the New York Times could refer to "6,000,000 Jews allegedly killed during the Nazi regime" without fear of complaints from Jewish organizations. And a 1955 Commentary review of "the only ... comprehensive account of the Jewish tragedy" made a comparison that would be unimaginable in an American Jewish magazine today: "American Jewry['s attitude] to the great catastrophe [is similar to that] of so many decent Germans during the war. Dimly aware of the Eastern 'death camps,' they were yet able to close their minds to them." Twenty months and one short piece on the Bialystock uprising later, Commentary published an essay on printed memorials to destroyed communities (yizkor). The essayists wrote: "The few solid works published here and abroad on the Nazi holocaust have not found a large audience. Massacres make bitter reading." (33) (All italicization of "holocaust" in this essay is mine.)

A variety of reasons account for Jewish disinterest in / avoidance of the Nazi lead mass murder in the United States of the 1950s and early 1960s. Many American Jews were bent on assimilation and felt none too secure. ("We have buried fully six million ... A holocaust of such dimensions is bound to make the survivors apprehensive" [1949].) And in the context of the cold war, memories of the Rosenberg trial, and the importance of West Germany as an American ally, it was not politic for hyphenated Americans to be overly interested in German murders of Jews.(34) (See the next note for examples of American "holocausts" 1949 - 1960 as a referent to the Nazi Judeocide beyond the examples incorporated in this text.) (35)

Possibly the desire to avoid the subject of the mass murder of European Jews discouraged the framing of the events within a single and singular name. ("Since June 1942 a special unit had been going about carefully destroying all traces of the Nazi holocausts." [1954]) (36) And certainly American writers in the 1950s used a greater variety of names and phrases to refer to the Judeocide than did writers at Yad Vashem, an institution set up in order to explore and publicize that mass murder. But with the few American published writings on the subject coming from disparate sources, a disparate vocabulary to describe a set of events difficult to assimilate and with little modern precedent should not surprise.

While the word "holocaust" was used only occasionally as an American appellation for the Nazi Judeocide, the word was used by Americans starting in 1945, and increasingly in the 1950s, as a referent to nuclear war.  An early employment by Robert Frost: "Having invented a new Holocaust/ And been the first with it to win a war,/ How they make haste to cry with fingers crossed/ King's X--no fairs to use it anymore!"  ("U. S. 1946 King's X" in Steeple Bush, 1947)   Another example from 1949: "... the people of the world should know the menace of atomic warfare ... while there is yet time to avoid such a holocaust." (37)  After Sputnik and the recognition that Soviet missiles could reach American cities, concern about nuclear war accelerated sharply. Approximately two hundred entries are listed under the heading "Atomic Bombs" in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, March 1959 - February 1961; in contrast, eight entries are listed under the heading "World War 1939 - 1945: Jews." And by the early 1960s "holocaust," without a contextual framework and with no modifying adjectives, was a readily understood referent for nuclear warfare within American intellectual circles. The Reporter of 17 August 1961 titled a review of two books on nuclear war and nuclear strategy, "A Cold Look at the Holocaust." In the October 1961 Commentary, Stuart Hughes spoke of "the holocaust of a day or two ... the contemplated forty million dead ..." And a 1962 Nation editorial on life after nuclear war was titled "Post-Holocaust Morals."(38)

But "holocaust," 1945 - 1962, was not only a referent to the feared nuclear catastrophe and the Nazi mass murders. As in the 1930s and during World War II, the word was an occasional appellation for a diverse range of massacres and disasters, though increasingly the word was applied only to massive destruction. The JSTORE data base (texts on line of over one hundred scholarly journals) yields ten 1950 "holocausts." Four are references to World War II or a future world war, two are references to the climatic death scene in Hamlet, one is a reference to the American Civil War, and the remaining three are references to obscure events. For 1959 the same data base yields eleven "holocausts." Three are references to nuclear disaster, two refer to World War I, two to the American Civil War, one to events in twelfth century Flanders, and two employ the words "Hitler's/the Hitler holocaust" and are referents to the Jewish catastrophe. 

Five examples of 1945-1963 employment of "holocaust," and one 1957 definition:  A photograph in Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1948 Crusade in Europe is captioned "BOMBER'S HOLOCAUST." A historian in the 1953 Journal of Negro History described a North Carolina 1898 race riot as "a holocaust of death and destruction in which scores of Negroes were beaten and killed." A 1955 translation of Augustine's Confessions referred to "the wooden horse ... and the holocaust of Troy." In 1956 Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal "Arrived in Paris early Saturday evening exhausted from sleepless holocaust night with Ted [Hughes] in London ... wild destructive London night ." And in 1961, Bernard Lewis wrote of "... the terrible holocaust of 1916 (sic) when a million and [a] half Armenians perished." And in 1963 "Dr. [Martin] King warned President Kennedy that "the worst racial holocaust the nation has ever seen" might break out in Alabama ..." Finally, per the Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage of 1957, "Holocaust is often used as a synonym for disaster ... Disaster (which means, literally, a bad configuration of stars) ... designates any unfortunate event, especially a sudden and great misfortune ... A holocaust may be accidental ..." (39)

By the early 1960s, an intellectual climate in which American Jews could be compared in a Jewish magazine to the "decent Germans" of World War II who "close[d] their minds" to the death camps had begun to shift. Exodus, the bestseller of 1959, made references to the Jewish experience during the Hitler years. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was a bestseller in both 1960 and 1961 -- a complete surprise for the publisher. And Mila 18, a story of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, was number four on Publisher's Weekly's 1961 annual bestseller list.  And in 1962 Porter's Ship of Fools, a study of Germans just before Hitler's rise to power, was the bestseller. (Number six on the list was Fail Safe, a story of  accidental holocaust (atomic) --  this book will be referenced later.)

In May 1960, Eichmann was captured, and in the fall of 1961 put on trial in Jerusalem. The trial was covered in newspapers and on TV and, as intended, significantly increased awareness of the Nazi genocide of Jews. As mentioned earlier, The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature has eight entries under "World War 1939 - 1945: Jews" in its volume covering the two-year period ending February 1961. The next volume, ending February 1963, has twenty-nine entries, eleven with "Eichmann" in their titles.

In early 1963, almost a year after Eichmann's execution and a virtual cessation of media interest in the trial and the genocide, the New Yorker devoted five consecutive issues to Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem." This New Yorker series was the first meaningful attempt in a prestigious non-Jewish American magazine to grapple with the Nazi destruction of European Jewry. The anger that Arendt's tone and some of her statements provoked in the Jewish community resulted in considerable discussion, speeches in synagogues, and many critical articles. In my opinion, the reaction to the Arendt articles and to Arendt's subsequent book marks the real beginning of American Jewry's full public engagement with "Holocaust Studies." The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature has thirty-seven entries under "World War 1939 - 1945: Jews" in its volume that ends February 1965. Five are the Arendt articles and ten are reviews or discussions of Arendt's work. This new willingness to engage in some serious writing and thinking about the European Jewish catastrophe was not, however, simply a reaction to Arendt's high-profile controversial statements, but also reflected a sea change in American culture in the early 1960s. This sea change was driven and symbolized by the election of Kennedy, the Civil Rights movement, and student activism. Starting around 1963, particularity, ethnicity, and identification with victims was not necessarily to be hidden in middle-class America. (40)

The new American Jewish willingness to confront the Nazi destruction of European Jewry was paralleled by an increasing adoption of "holocaust," modified if context did not sufficiently elucidate meaning, as the referent to the disaster. The concerns of this essay demand close attention to the major disseminators of the term between January 1960 and mid 1963, but it should not be forgotten that the term had been "in the air" and in occasional use by American Jews since 1933 as a reference to Nazi persecution and murder of Jews. (For 1933 usage see main text quote prior to footnote 16.)  The four most widely circulated "holocausts" (Jewish) of the early 1960s, and the first two essay titles to employ the term in well circulated American Jewish magazines are displayed below. Documented in the next note is employment of the term in less well circulated American published texts during the period. (41)

"... one of our motives in bringing Eichmann to trial is to make the details of the case known to the generation of Israelis who have grown up since the holocaust." (David Ben-Gurion,New York Times Magazine, 18 December 1960, p. 62.)

"... Counsel Says Mercy Might Help Avert New Holocaust [from headline]"; "Eichmann ... might ... serve as an instrument against any recurrence of a Nazi holocaust." And "[The Attorney General of Israel stated]: 'the overwhelming majority of this country [identify] with the victims of the holocaust ...'" (New York Times, 24 March 1962, p. 7, col. 1.)

"And if the Jews outside Israel had to be shown the difference between Israeli heroism and Jewish submissive meekness, there was a complementary lesson for the Israelis; for 'the generation of Israelis who have grown up since the holocaust'..." (Hanna Arendt quoting Ben-Gurion, New Yorker, 16 February 1963, p. 42. And see note 43 for another Arendt Israeli quotation.)

"The Dignity of the Destroyed: Towards a Definition of the Period of the Holocaust" (Essay title: Shaul Esh, Judaism, 1962, p. 99.)

"Miss Arendt Surveys the Holocaust" (Essay title: Marie Syrkin, Jewish Frontier, May 1963 - printed on the cover of the magazine in bold letters.)

These quotations and titles demonstrate significant dissemination of Israeli English usage of "holocaust" to the United States. The first of the Ben-Gurion remarks above is, to my knowledge, the first use of an unmodified "holocaust" as a referent to the Jewish catastrophe in the New York Times. The "New Holocaust" above is, almost certainly, the first use of "holocaust" in a 1960s New York Times headline. (42) The article was filed in Jerusalem. "Holocaust" is employed twice in the text of the article, once in what is probably an Israeli translation of German or Hebrew and once by the Israeli Attorney General. (The four pre-1960 uses of "[Nazi] holocaust" in the New York Times that I have found are also all quotations from Israeli sources.) (43) Arendt's only uses of "holocaust" in her New Yorker text are quotes from Israeli sources. Arendt herself in the New Yorker articles uses the terms "Jewish catastrophe," "great catastrophe," and "Final Solution," and not "holocaust." Shaul Esh's article "... Towards a Definition of the Period of the Holocaust," was the first attempt in Judaism to grapple with the Jewish catastrophe. It was also the first article in an important American Jewish publication to employ "Holocaust" in a title and the first to use "h/Holocaust" as the dominant referent to the Nazi Judeocide within a text. "Holocaust," uppercased, appears seven times in the first page of Esh's text. Esh, an Israeli, was chief editor at Yad Vashem from 1955 to 1959 and thus a key figure in the replacement of "Disaster" by "H/holocaust" as the favored Yad Vashem and Israeli translation of "shoah." Syrkin's "Miss Arendt Surveys the Holocaust" title cannot be directly attributed to an Israeli source, but Syrkin, a longtime committed Zionist, had strong and important Israeli connections -- she was, for example, a biographer and close friend of Golda Meir. It is doubtful that Syrkin would have used "holocaust" prominently in 1963 if her Israeli friends and acquaintances (and Yad Vashem) in the early 1960s had avoided that term and favored "D/disaster" and "catastrophe."

(Marie Syrkin's importance as a contributor to the establishment of "holocaust" as the primary referent in the United States to the Nazi Judeocide and as  an early writer on the Judeocide bears recognition. "Miss Arendt Surveys the Holocaust" (May 1963) was the first use of "Holocaust" on the cover of a well-circulated American Jewish magazine in the post-war period. Another Syrkin title, "The Literature of the Holocaust" (May 1966), was the first use of "Holocaust" in a Midstream title. And Syrkin's 1964 - 1965 Brandeis course, "The Literature of the Holocaust," was, I suspect, the first American university course with "holocaust" in its title and perhaps the first course on an American campus to grapple with the 'Final Solution.'  Syrkin's employment of "H/holocaust" as a referent to German mass murder predates the 1960's, e.g. "The Jewish D.P.'s ... survivors of the Nazi holocaust..."  (Nation, 7 June 1947, 680:1)  Syrkin may have been responsible for the Jewish Frontier's "holocaust" in its unsigned editorial of November 1942 --- the first well circulated employment of the word as a referent to the 'Final Solution' by someone with detailed information about the then ongoing German Judeocide.  Syrkin, on the board of the Frontier, contributed a remarkable article on the mass murder of Jews by the German border police to that November issue basing her information on articles by "ordinary police officials of various ranks" in the German police's professional journal, copies of which had reached the US via Sweden. (The November 1942 number of the  Jewish Frontier is seldom mentioned by Holocaust scholars though it contains by far the most complete well circulated account of what was happening to the Jews of Nazi controlled Europe published in English in 1942 or 1943.))


Elie Wiesel's first printed "holocaust" dates from August 1963 -- after "H/holocaust" had become the dominant referent to the Nazi Judeocide in Israeli English and after "holocaust" had seen significant circulation in its Judeocide sense within American publications. Since Wiesel's influence on the dissemination of "H/holocaust" and his reasons for employing "holocaust" have been grossly misrepresented by scholars and because Elie Wiesel became -- years after he first employed "holocaust" -- a key figure in the discourse on the Jewish experience of the Hitler years, Wiesel's first employment of the word and the background to that employment are germane to this essay. 

In the early 1960s, Wiesel, based in New York, was earning a precarious living writing for an Israeli newspaper and for the Yiddish Forward.  His first book in English, Night, was selling poorly.  Wiesel was in Israel during the Eichmann trial, had a strong interest in the Jewish experience during the Hitler years, and would, presumably, from time to time, read Yad Vashem publications. By 1962, as has been demonstrated, within Yad Vashem publications "h/Holocaust" was the principal English referent to the Jewish catastrophe.

And Wiesel, before his own first "holocaust," had almost certainly seen the cover of the May 1963 Jewish Frontier on which Syrkin's "Miss Arendt Surveys the Holocaust" essay title was boldly displayed, seen his own Night described as a "holocaust" novel (Christian Century, 25 July 1962, 909), read Ben Gurion's "holocaust" in the Arendt articles, and probably read in early 1963 at least one of the New York Times articles datelined Jerusalem and employing "Nazi holocaust" to denote the Nazi Judeocide (March 2, p. 3:6, March 21, p. 2:5, April 21, p. 15:3). [For other "holocausts" (Jewish) Wiesel might have encountered see note 42.] 

Unfortunately Wiesel has claimed authorship of "H/holocaust" in its Judeocide sense: "I am the one who introduced the word into this framework."  Many scholars, perhaps overly in awe of Wiesel, a writer of power and sensitivity, or uncritically relying on Garber and Zuckerman, circulate a watered down version of this Wiesel statement. Garber and Zuckerman state: "[Wiesel's] adoption of the term was the single most important factor in legitimizing its usage." The two scholars provide no evidence whatsoever to support their claim beyond an assertion that the New York Times of 15 October 1986 and unnamed other newspapers credited Wiesel with "coining of the term."  No "coining of the term" suggestion is to be found in the New York Times."(44) 

And another myth has been constructed by scholars regarding Wiesel's employment of the word: relying on Garber and Zuckerman,  Ann-Vera Sullam Calimani in the prestigious Modern Language Review  writes: "Wiesel has frequently explained ... how his use of 'holocaust' derives from an analogy between the sacrifice of Isaac ... and the destruction of the Jews ... God ... 'olah, a sacrifice: a holocaust."  Garber and Zuckerman claim: "Wiesel's use of "The Holocaust" has unmistakable religious/sacrificial overtones, as his own writings reveal. Indeed in invoking the "holocaust" terminology, it was a particular scene of sacrifice that Wiesel had in mind -- the Akedah, i.e. the story in Genesis 22 where God orders Abraham to offer his son as an olah sacrifice. Wiesel has commented in a number of places regarding what he meant when he joined the concept of holocaust/sacrifice to the Akedat Yitshak.  For example ... in 1980 [Wiesel] declared: '... I call Issac the first survivor of the Holocaust because he survived the first tragedy. Issac was going to be a burnt offering, a korban olah, which is really the Holocaust.  The word "holocaust" has a religious connotation.'"(45)

Garber/Zuckerman write in their footnote 15 referencing the 1980 Wiesel statement and their own claim that the 1980 statement is one of a series:
"For similar statements, cf., for example  ... 1965 ... 1971 ... 1970." But the 'similar' Wiesel statements cited by Garber/Zuckerman, discuss the Akedah without making any connection whatsoever between that biblical story and the word "holocaust."  Wiesel's first mention of any connection between the Akedah and the word "holocaust" was in 1980, seventeen years after his first employment of "holocaust." Surely if "holocaust's" alleged Abraham/Issac sacrificial associations drove and informed Wiesel's employment of the word, Wiesel would have taken advantage of those associations/ made some reference to those associations before 1980, for example when discussing the Akedah in 1965, 1970, or 1971 --- Wiesel is  not noted for shyness in making  biblical or religious connections.

In a 1980 interview Wiesel stated that he first employed "H/holocaust" because he found it "poetic" and made no claim whatsoever to have employed the word because of religious or biblical associations. In a 1986 talk -- after claiming that he had "introduced the word into this framework" -- Wiesel expressed displeasure with the word: it had become too common ("... there are no words") and had become trivialized ("... a description of the murder of six people ... the [newspaper] called it a holocaust"). Wiesel made no mention of religious or biblical associations in the course of this 1986 talk.  However, Wiesel did write in September 1964: "When Jews speak of the destruction ... they generally refer to it as "The Holocaust," a Biblical term which gives the event some obscure mystical magnitude."  Please note that Wiesel made no reference to religious sacrifice or the Akedah in this 1964 statement. To my knowledge Wiesel made no further statements alluding to the word's biblical, primarily Roman Catholic, employment until his 1980 Akedah statement quoted by Garber and Zuckerman.  (46)

The evidence presented below strongly suggests the impetus for Wiesel's 1963 adoption of "holocaust" -- after the word had become the Israeli English language translation of Shoah and had seen some use in American Jewish circles --  was the common contemporary employment of "holocaust", often without a modifier, to reference nuclear catastrophe.   In 1961 Wiesel had explicitly linked possible nuclear mass death to the mass death of the Nazi period. ("We can talk today of the extermination of millions by H-bombs because the world allowed the extermination of millions by Hitler (New York Post, 2 October 1961, p. 30)).   And an interview with Wiesel in the 6 June 1963 French news magazine L'Express is subtitled "D'Auschwitz a Hiroshima";  Wiesel in the interview: "... [mon] passe est aussi l'avenir.  Le chemin d'Auschwiz meanait a Hiroshima.  L'homme concentrationnaire annonce la fin du monde, l'Apocalypse." (#625, p. 34:3)  And Wiesel in 1963 surely was familiar with "holocaust" in its sense of "nuclear destruction," the principal American referent of the word in the early 1960s.  (In a ten day period, around the time Wiesel was writing his first "holocaust," the New York Times employed the word in its nuclear sense five times (5 July 1963, p. 8:3; 6 July, p. 14:3; 9 July, p. 30:5; 11 July, p. 4:3; 15 July, p. 12:1).)  .")  And Wiesel's first employment of "holocaust" was immediately followed by a reference to a novel whose subject is nuclear holocaust: (47)


"It has become a kind of intellectual fad to upbraid the Jews murdered in World War II for allowing themselves to be killed ... Psychologists like Bruno Bettelheim, and sociologists like Hannah Arendt, are not the only ones who have been complaining ... One finds this ... even in fiction whose theme has nothing to do with the Nazi holocaust. For example, in Fail Safe, the best seller about an atomic accident ... a minor character [contends that Jews] should have murdered the SS men who came to arrest them." (Elie Wiesel, The New Leader, 5 August 1963, p. 21.)


(True to form, this August 1963 employment with its reference to Fail Safe and thus indirectly to nuclear holocaust is never mentioned by Wiesel scholars who presumably have read Wiesel's writings -- a less suggestive 27 October New York Times employment is cited by scholars as Wiesel's first use.  The Bettleheim 1961 Midstream attack on the glorification of Ann Frank, apparently referred to by Wiesel in the quote above, contained the words "impending holocaust."  And two key sentences in Fail Safe read: "When [the President] resumed speaking his voice was so slow that each word seemed to dangle. 'Those of us on this hookup are the only people who can save the world from an atomic holocaust.'")(48)

Setting aside Wiesel for one paragraph, it seems to me the adoption of "holocaust" in American Jewish circles in the first half of the 1960s as the primary referent to the Jewish disaster was partly driven by the word's frequent employment in the larger American culture to denote atomic warfare. Fairly frequently the Nazi mass murder and nuclear mass death were explicitly linked in the United States of the 1950s and early 1960s and, I suspect, even without the impetus of the previously documented dissemination of Israeli English usage, American Jewish writers in the 1960s attempting to convey the horror of the Nazi slaughter of Jews to American audiences would have abandoned such referents as "extermination," "great catastrophe," and "Jewish tragedy" and favored "holocaust" in order to verbally link the Nazi Judeocide with the then actively feared menace of nuclear mass death. (49)

Wiesel's 1963-1979 employments of "H/holocaust" are a good test of whether the word had for Wiesel significant religious associations and, by extension, whether the word did carry implicit religious associations in the 1960s and 1970s.  Wiesel wrestled with religious questions, and presumably, if "holocaust" in the 1960s and 1970s had easily evoked religious meanings, Wiesel would have repeatedly employed or alluded to those meanings and, further, the "H/holocausts" of the Wiesel opus could not be replaced with some synonym with no possible biblical associations without changing nuance. In this writer's opinion "C/catastrophe" -- a word whose first English signification referenced a twist in the plot of a work of fiction -- could be substituted for "H/holocaust" in all of the following representative quotations with no change in nuance.


"The experience of the holocaust in Europe defies language, and leads to a mystique of silence, or to madness itself." And:  "... a full twenty years after the holocaust..." (27 October 1963, New York Times Book Review, pp. 3, 69 -- Wiesel's second and third "holocaust" in print.)

"A group of Jewish children ... re-create the world in play, endowing it with a soul ... the theme of Aichinger's novel ... among the finest works ever written on the Holocaust." (November 1963, Hadassah Magazine -- probably Wiesel's fourth "H/holocaust")

"And God ? Where was He during those dark years ? The Holocaust has had a great impact on religion ..." (November 1967, Address: Union of American Hebrew Congregations)

"Your entire universe is crumbling ... Yesterday's holocaust will followed by tomorrow's, and that one will be total!" (1970, A Beggar in Jerusalem, p. 42)

"Why were the Gypsies persecuted ... exterminated ? Their lot seems to me, on one level, more tragic than that of the Jews ... They are scarcely mentioned in the so-called literature of the Holocaust. An outrageous injustice ..." (28 May 1978, Los Angeles Times: Book Review, p. 4) (50)


Let me remind readers that Garber and Zuckerman have asserted that Wiesel adopted "holocaust" because of its "unmistakable religious /[Abraham/Issac] sacrificial overtones," that Calamari accepted this claim and further circulated it, and that Garber and Zuckerman provide no evidence, other than one quote from sixteen years after Wiesel's first use, to support their claim. And the claim has been circulating uncontested within the academy for fifteen years conditioning scholarly understanding of the word "H/holocaust" and of the events evoked by the word. In my view the credibility of Holocaust scholarship and of Holocaust scholars is undermined by the circulation of false claims. 

And in my view any honest discussion of Wiesel's possible knowledge of "holocaust's" 'religious' meaning has to mention that the Wiesel of the early 1960s had to be aware of "holocaust's" pagan 'religious' potential.  Wiesel's first big literary break was Mauriac's review/ appreciation of Wiesel's La Nuit (Night) in Le Figaro Litteraire, 7 June 1958. That review / appreciation became the English introduction to Night (1960). Wiesel surely had read Mauriac's review/ appreciation more than once in both English and French before his own first employment of "holocaust" in August 1963.  Mauriac wrote [English translation per the forward to Night], "For him [Wiesel] ... God is dead ... the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob ... has vanished forevermore ... in the smoke of a human holocaust exacted by Race, the most voracious of all idols."

(I find it unacceptable that no scholarly discussion of the 'religious' potential of the word "holocaust," beyond my own, mentions that "holocaust" almost always has had a pagan 'religious' meaning when employed to denote a 'religious' sacrifice of humans, and further that no American Holocaust scholar has made a reference to the pagan 'religious' nature of Mauriac's usage. And yet Mauriac's usage is by far the best circulated explicitly 'religious' employment of the "H/h" word within Shoah literature.)

1965 - circa 1979 American employment of "h/Holocaust" to denote the Nazi Judeocide

American employment of "H/holocaust" from the mid 1960s until today has been primarily driven by an extraordinary increase in interest and writing on the Nazi orchestrated Judeocide and a decline in concern and writing on nuclear war. From the mid-1960s, books on the Jewish catastrophe began to find a ready market in the United States. Six books on the subject and with "Holocaust" in their titles were published before 1970. In September 1968, the Library of Congress created a new category, "Holocaust, Jewish (1939 - 1945)," for material that earlier would have been categorized under such headings as "World War, 1939-1945--Jews." But an unmodified "holocaust" was not yet likely to evoke "Jewish catastrophe" outside of Jewish circles. A search of 1969 JSTOR journals yields twenty-one "holocausts," seven nuclear, four references to one of the World Wars or an aspect of those wars, three references to the Vietnam War, and two are references to the Jewish catastrophe. (The remainder are references to the American Civil War, to the French Revolution or are pre 1910 "holocausts" within citations of works by Zola, Hawthorne, and Stephen Crane.)

In the 1970s the Judeocide started to become of real interest within the academy. The first PhD. thesis with the word "Holocaust" in its title was completed in 1972; sixteen more PhD. theses with the word "Holocaust" in their titles appeared before 1980. (By way of contrast, in the 1950s a graduate student exploring the possibilities of working on the Nazi period was advised by a distinguished Jewish American historian to find another topic: "No one is interested in Hitler.") (51) By the mid 1970s, within scholarly circles, the most frequently encountered referent of "H/holocaust" was the Jewish catastrophe, and increasingly the word, employed in this sense, was capitalized. A word search of JSTORE's 1977 journal texts yields sixty-four "H/holocausts." Thirty-one refer to the Jewish catastrophe; of the thirty-one, twenty-two are an unmodified - except by context - "Holocaust," five an unmodified - except by context - "holocaust," and the remainder a Nazi, German, or Jewish "H/holocaust." Of the thirty-three non-Nazi holocausts, nine are references to nuclear destruction.

In the spring of 1978 over one hundred million Americans viewed some part of NBC's mini-series titled The Holocaust - the screening was a major cultural event. As an immediate consequence, the capitalized and unmodified "Holocaust" became the recognized referent to Hitler's Judeocide in an American society newly sensitized to  that tragedy. In JSTORE journals, January - June 1979, "H/holocaust" is employed thirty-seven times. Twenty-eight of the references are to the Jewish catastrophe, and twenty-seven of the twenty-eight are an unmodified "the Holocaust." In the early 1980s the New York Times annual indexes abandoned "Nazi holocaust" and "Nazi Holocaust" in favor of "the Holocaust." (52)

A search using ProQuest's of The New York Times found thirty articles that contained both words "Jews" and "h/Holocaust" written beween 1899 and 1945,  forty more between 1945 and May 1961, another eighty between May 1961 and March 1969,  three hundred more between March 1969 and April 1978, and one thousand  five hundred or so written between April 1978 and October 1990.  1970,  twenty between 1970 and 1976,  thirty between 1976 and 1979,  thirty more between 1979 and 1982, and sixty between 1982 and 1987.  (The same search employing 'holocaust' and "atomic" and/or "nuclear" found five hundred New York Times employments before May 1964 -- as against less than a hundred "holocaust" and "Jews.")

"The Holocaust" denoting  the mass muder of Jews and (sometimes) "others" (five million [sic]) post 1979

A few weeks after the screening of The Holocaust, partly as a gesture to the American Jewish community unhappy with the intended sale of American fighter planes to Saudi Arabia, President Carter announced the American government's intention to create a memorial "to the six million who were killed in the Holocaust." Following protests by Polish-Americans and Ukrainian-Americans, who demanded that the millions of their own killed by the Nazis be recognized in any American taxpayer supported memorial, and perhaps reflecting his own ecumenical humanism, Carter in his 1979 Executive Order creating the United States Holocaust Memorial Council adopted a version of Simon Wisenthal's formulation and defined "the Holocaust" as the "... extermination of six million Jews and some five million other peoples ..." [Wisenthal, in the late 1970s a well know hunter of Nazi criminals, had, since the late 1940s, spoken and written of "eleven million civilian dead, amongst them six million Jews." The "five million" number corresponds to no historical reality.  The number was picked out of the air by Wisenthal probably because it is less, but not much less, than six million.]  This important Presidential definition of "the Holocaust" was unwelcome to some who feared that the extreme virulence of the Nazis' Jewish annihilation campaign and the resulting catastrophic biological destruction of the Jewish people in Europe could easily be obscured if "the Holocaust" was used to refer to both non-Jewish and Jewish death of the Hitler years. An eminent Israeli Holocaust scholar's 1980 reaction (Yehuda Bauer's): "The Wiesenthal-Carter definition appears to reflect a certain paradoxical 'envy' on the part of non-Jewish groups directed at the Jewish experience of the Holocaust. This itself would appear to be an unconscious reflection of anti-Semitic attitudes ... Jews were murdered without much effective action on the part of the free world ... Today they stand in danger of having their specific martyrdom as Jews obliterated by their friends."  (Do remember these words were written in 1980;  I doubt if Bauer would have the same reaction in the  historical cultural climate of today.)

In the course of the 1980s and 1990s, the sense of "the Holocaust" in which the Nazi victims were both Jewish and "others" became one important aspect of mainstream usage, while the employment of "the Holocaust" as a referent to the fate of Jews, and only Jews, in Nazi-dominated Europe continued to increase paralleling the growth of attention, and thus references to, the Nazi Judeocide. (Note 73 details a sample of employments 1980 -1999.) The post 1990 growth of attention has been in part fueled by the opening (and the continual drawing power) of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (over fifteen million visits by mid 2001), the commercial and critical success of the movie Schindler's List, the attention given to Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, the publicity given to the Swiss banks expropriation of funds from the dormant accounts of Hitler's Jewish victims. But this attention given to the Museum, Schindler's List etc. was in part a product of active nursing / encouragment by some prominent Jews and some important Jewish organizations who hope that directing attention to  the 'Final Solution' will help mute criticism of certain Israeli policies and buttress an increasingly attenuating Jewish American identity. Per one of the important contributor's to the Wisenthal Center: "a sad fact ... Israel and Jewish education and all the other familiar buzzwords no longer seem to rally Jews behind the community. The Holocaust, though, works every time." (In 1991, according to one poll of American Jews, a sense of being Jewish was more likely to come from some feeling of connection to the Holocaust than from a sense of connection to the Torah, God, or the state of Israel.)  Partly as a result of the mass murder's political utility, partly due to its centrality to late 20th century American Jewish identity, and partly due to the significant number of elderly wealthy Jewish survivors who, prompted by fund raisers, are anxious to ensure that their horrific experiences in Nazi Europe are not forgotten, financial resources for Holocaust memorials and education have been readily available, which, in turn, has ensured growing institutional commitment to memorialization and research and increasing employment of "H/holocaust" in both its Jewish victims and its Jewish plus "others" senses.

Returning again to the "others," the Los Angeles Simon Wisenthal Center on its web site (2003) states: "the recognized figure [of "non-Jewish civilians murdered during World War II"] is approximately five million ... Gypsies, Serbs, Polish intelligentsia, resistance fighters ..."   An email sent years ago to the Simon Wisenthal Center requesting a numerical breakdown of the five million figure was never answered.  (The Wisenthal Center avoids clarity as to whether non-Jews should be considered "Holocaust" victims.) 

Even if Wisenthal's and the Wisenthal Center's five million "other" civilian death toll reflected a meaningful historical reality, the exclusion of the three million plus non-civilian but non-combatant Soviet POW deaths from any "Holocaust" definition claiming to include "others" would blatantly mislead.  Per the Wisenthal Center, "Soviet prisoners of war were the second largest group of victims, after the Jews, of the Nazi extermination policy." See:  Carter's 1979 understanding of "others" apparently did include all non-combatants  ("some five million other peoples ...") and thus included the death of three million plus Soviet POW's.  But since the original Wisenthal five million figure referenced only civilians, Carter's apparent enlargement of Wisenthal's Holocaust boundary should have required Carter's Holocaust to become "the extermination of six million Jews and some eight million other peoples."

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum avoids the "five million" formulation and defines the "the Holocaust" in at least one of its publications as the "murder of six million Jews and millions of non-Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II."  (In other publications it is unclear whether non-Jews murdered are considered Holocaust victims.)  The "millions" formulation has the advantage of ambiguity but "millions" does suggest to this writer a figure of well under ten million and the number of Gentile non-combatant deaths resulting from Nazi policies informed to some degree by Nazi racial ideas might be over twenty million.  (For the record it should be stated that the Nazis racial ideas resulted in a Jewish extermination campaign -- the Nazi death camps were built to kill Jews -- but no other racial group, with the possible exception of the Roma, was targeted for  total destruction and no other racial group had comparable proportional losses.)

No historian, to my knowledge, has forcibly and publicly protested the "five million" number and many have accepted it uncritically.  (See for example Garber / Zuckerman in note 68.  And also see a posting of mine on H-Holocaust referenced at the end of note 3.)  The number five million does suit those Jews who fear death toll competition and it suited the Cold War politics of the 1970s -- the Soviets were the enemies and the West Germans allies.  Any real appreciation of what the Soviets suffered at German hands is actively discouraged by the circulation of the five million "others" number.  (Soviet Gentile civilian losses 1941-1945, admittedly many within Soviet controlled territory, were around 12 million, Soviet non-combatant losses, including POW losses, were around 15 million.)

The acceptance (and repetition) of the five million number by historians is paralleled by historians contributing to and/or accepting the playing down of non-Jewish World War II death tolls within the galleries of major Western museums. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum's galleries give prominence to Jewish death tolls but no figures are given that hint at the total Soviet death toll. And while Soviet POW losses of over three million are mentioned once on a panel titled "Prisoners of the Camps" these losses are given no meaningful context. And the Museum's important "Soviet Invasion" panel suggests to most of its readers that 1941 Soviet losses (prisoners plus dead) were in the hundreds of thousands, not three million plus.  The Museum's reluctance to change this panel and the absence of any protest of the panel's wording by any historian speaks volumes.  (For more details see

Within the (London) Imperial War Museum's Holocaust exhibit an elliptic reference to the death of roughly two million Gentile Soviet POWs at German hands in 1941 and early 1942 (to my knowledge, the sole reference to Soviet World War II losses within the museum's display cases) is obscured literally and figuratively by references to Jewish POW death and Jewish death.  Downstairs in the War Museum's World War II section a display case titled "Prisoners of War" informs visitors of the extent of Soviet POW suffering and death in these terms: "The war of rapid movement ... lead to unprecedented numbers of combatants being taken prisoner ... While most POWs suffered levels of privation and boredom the situation of Soviet and German captives on the Eastern front was particularly harsh."  (See (53) And (54)

Post 1979 employment of "H/holocaust" to refer to non-Jewish mass death

Starting in the late 1970s, the increasing association between the word "holocaust" and the Nazi mass slaughter and the increasingly iconic status given to that slaughter in mainstream Western media both encouraged and discouraged the employment of "holocaust" as an appellation for other instances of mass suffering and death. After the screening of The Holocaust any sensitive Western writer employing a prominent "holocaust" to refer to mass death "X" should have been aware that such employment would invite some readers to make conscious or unconscious comparisons between mass death "X" and the Jewish catastrophe. In 1979 a group pressuring the British government to grant asylum to Vietnamese boat people -- at the time drowning in large numbers -- used the phrase "An Asian Holocaust" in newspaper advertisements. Considerable discussion preceded the use of this phrase and the governing board of the major British Jewish umbrella organization was contacted for its opinion. The board raised no objections. (55) In 1983 an American Ukrainian press published The Great Famine in Ukraine: The Unknown Holocaust. The book explicitly compares the two mass destructions: "[T]he Ukrainian holocaust [1932 - 1933] ... was of the same order of magnitude as the Jewish Holocaust. It was, however, a very different kind of genocide in that it was not motivated by a quest for racial purity and was not an attempt to destroy a nation by the physical murder of all its members." (56) In the 1989 Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist, Larry Kramer felt the need to defend his use of the word: "I submit there are different kinds of holocausts ... despite the Jewish insistence that the word is now totally attached to their own destruction ... [A] holocaust does not require a Hitler ... Holocausts can occur, and probably most often do occur, because of inaction." (57)

A sampling of "holocausts" in the non-Jewish and non-nuclear senses in American book titles follow. (For "holocaust" used in its nuclear sense and some additional samples of usage in the non-Jewish and non-nuclear senses consult note 58.) Abortion, the Silent Holocaust (1981); Execution by Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust (1985); The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944 (1986); And the Violins Stopped Playing: A Story of the Gypsy Holocaust(1986); American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492 (1987);The Black Holocaust: Global Genocide (1992); American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World (1992);The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (1997). (58)

The employment of "holocaust" with non-Nazi referents by those who have some investment in guarding and perpetuating the memory of the Jewish slaughter of the Hitler period is germane to the concerns of this essay, as is the disapproval that sometimes followed such employment. Quoted earlier was a reviewer's remark in the 1963 Yad Vashem Studies, "... one shudders at the nightmare of a holocaust-on-the-Holocaust." Amos Elon in The Israelis (1971), employs "the holocaust" and "Nazi h/Holocaust" in a discussion of the Eichmann trial and its aftermath, but reserves "the Holocaust" for a translation of Arabic words used to denote Arab defeat at the hands of Jews in 1948. (59) A 1972 American book entitled The Holocaust is an autobiographical account of the battle of Verdun. The book's dedication reads: "To my sister Gretel, who during the holocaust of the Kaiser's World War dedicated herself to sending food parcels to the starving soldiers in the trenches of Russia and France yet was to perish during Hitler's holocaust in a concentration camp." (60)In the 1970s Elie Wiesel on occasion used the phrase "nuclear holocaust" and in 1983 the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism published Preventing the Nuclear Holocaust: a Jewish Response. (61)In 1984 Michael Berenbaum exchanged views in the pages of Sh'ma with David Weiss, an Israeli scientist and rabbi born in Vienna. Weiss wrote: "But the uniqueness of even these aspects of the holocaust is debatable ... Whole regions have been devastated of their Jewish communities in recurrent, earlier holocausts; I employ that denotation advisedly." Berenbaum took exception to Weiss's vocabulary: "Professor Weiss ... offend[s] many by using the plural, small 'h' (holocausts)." (62) Four years later in Shores of Refuge, authored by a former editor of Midstream and published by Schocken Books, two chapter titles contain the phrase "The Ukrainian Holocaust," references to the massacres of Ukrainian Jews in 1919, and in the text these 1919 massacres are described as "the worst holocaust the Jewish people had ever known." (63)In 1994 Shimon Peres spoke at a UN "Peace Bell Ceremony" of "two holocausts: the Jewish holocaust and the Japanese holocaust" and suggested that "nuclear bombs are like flying holocausts." The Jerusalem Post responded in an editorial: Comparing [the Holocaust] to the atrocities of war, or even to genocidal outrages ... is a betrayal of ... the whole Jewish people ... When such comparisons are made by non-Jews, they are deemed either morally bankrupt or vicious and hateful." And Eric Breindel in the New York Post wrote: "[Peres indulges in a] bizarre exercise in moral equivalence ... the Holocaust was manifestly unique: the darkest moment in the history of man." And per the the New Jersey Department of Education's Commission on Holocaust Education (August 2003): "Examples abound of the use of the word to represent a range of historic events ... only one event is appropriately named the Holocaust ... and [the commission] shall further discourage the inappropriate use of this word to describe other catastrophic human or natural events ... shall not endorse curriculum materials that use ... "Holocaust" to describe events other [than] that unique historic genocide." (64)

The Multiplicity of Meanings of "the Holocaust"

Some readers may have noted earlier in this essay the differing temporal senses of "after the holocaust of the last twelve years!" and "after the holocaust of the last few years," both references to the Jewish tragedy and both written shortly after the end of World War II (Z. Shuster, Commentary, December 1945; Issac Deutscher, Economist, January 1946). While there is wide agreement that the Holocaust ended with the German surrender, there has been and continues to be considerable variation, depending on both user and context, in the events encompassed by the term, and thus no accepted date for when the Holocaust began. American libraries and indexes generally date the beginning of the Holocaust to 1939, perhaps because of the initial convenience of transferring all the items in a "World War II: Jews" category into a newly opened "Holocaust, Jewish (1939 - 1945)" category. (The Library of Congress in 1996 explored changing the "1939 - 1945" dates of its "Holocaust, Jewish ..." category but, in the absence of a consensus on an alternative, the dates were left unchanged.) (65) Yad Vashem in the 1950s and 1960s officially favored including within the boundaries of the term all the Nazi government's anti-Semitic actions and thus favored a 1933 date for the beginning of the Holocaust. But usage within Yad Vashem publications is not consistent. For example, "... the Holocaust (1933-1945)" and "this fact of full knowledge of the Holocaust, and of all [the Nazi persecutions] that led up to it ... must never be forgotten." (Both uses from the 1963 Studies.) (66) And for some, while the early persecutions of the Nazi regime are not part of the Holocaust, the term does cover the later persecutions. A 1988 New York Times article states, "many say the Holocaust began" on Kristallnacht. (67) Definitions in encyclopedias and dictionaries reflect not only different senses of the term with respect to persecutions, but also different understandings of which groups of Nazi victims and which mass killings of Jews should be included within the term's boundaries.

The online Encyclopaedia Britannica defines "Holocaust" as "the 12 years (1933-45) of Nazi persecution of Jews and other minorities ... climax[ing] in the 'final solution.'" The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993) defines the term "h/Holocaust" as "The (period of the) mass murder of Jews (or transf. of other groups) ... 1939-1945."  The American Heritage College Dictionary (1997): "The genocide of Jews, Gypsies, and others by the Nazis during World War II." The Oxford Modern English Dictionary (1996): "[T]he mass murder of the Jews by the Nazis 1941-1945." And The Random House Webster's College Dictionary (1997) gives a narrow, but not uncommon meaning: "the Holocaust, the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II." This last definition places a significant portion of Jewish death at Nazi hands -- for example the Einsatzgruppen shootings -- outside the term's boundaries. (68) The range of meanings of "H/holocaust" in its role as a referent to events in the Nazi period has been largely ignored by scholars who do, however, engage in lengthy disputes as to the 'correct', or most analytically helpful, meaning of genocide. (69)

"Shoah": the new English word (and the Hebrew shoah / שואה)

"Shoah" has been used occasionally in American Jewish publications since the 1960s. (Paul Tillich, 1965: "I did not realize that there is already a technical vocabulary ... holocaust and Shoah.") The movie Shoah (1985) dramatically increased American awareness of the word in the late 1980s.  Over the last dozen years employment of "Shoah" has increased notably, possibly to avoid the real ambiguity as to the referent(s) of "Holocaust," and/or to avoid the imagined religious connotations of "holocaust," and/or to vary the vocabulary. Today, the meaning of "Shoah" in English is more ambiguous than it was in the early 1990s. Occasionally, the term is used as a synonym for "Holocaust" in contexts where "Holocaust" is a referent to the Nazi mass murder of both Jews and non-Jews. But still the new English word "Shoah" has a clear advantage over "Holocaust" in unambiguously calling to mind Nazi slaughter, while "Holocaust," capitalized in a title, has had a large variety of referents. "Shoah" also has the advantage of having four less letters than "Holocaust" -- frequently in newspaper headlines in British Jewish newspapers in 1998 "Shoah" was employed while in the article below the "Shoah" headline, "Holocaust" is used exclusively. Possibly in a generation, "Shoah" will rival "Holocaust" as a referent to the Nazi genocide(s). The Jewish tragedy is now so central to Western historical consciousness that it no longer gains resonance and emotional weight from "holocaust's" now rather slight association with nuclear destruction. (70)

Interested readers should consult endnote 71 for a mini essay on the twentieth century meanings of the Hebrew shoah, a 1933 reference to Nazi persecution of Jews as a shoah, a 1939 Ben-Gurion prediction of a coming shoah, and a refutation of scholarly claims that shoah in biblical usage connotes Divine judgment and retribution. (71)


This essay began with quotations from well-known scholars asserting that "holocaust" has Judeo-Christian religious overtones and that these overtones affect our understanding of the Jewish catastrophe. The evidence presented in this essay has show that "H/holocaust" in modern secular use carries NO Judeo-Christian connotations and that the word is substantially more mundane, chameleonic, and pagan than represented by Holocaust scholars. 

James Young has written: "As one of the first hermeneutical moves regarding an event, its naming frames and remembers events [and] determines particular knowledge of events ... Every ... name thus molds events in the image of its culture's particular understanding." (72 ) Let me contradict Dr. Young.  The key "hermeneutical move" may not be the actual naming of an event but the construction by scholars of a false or misleading history of an existing name and of the name's meaning(s) and overtone(s). This construction, if unchallenged, will then help mold a "culture's particular understanding" (or at a minimum a scholarly subculture's understanding).  Hopefully, this essay's challenge to repeated and patterned scholarly misrepresentations will result -- eventually -- in a more accurate, sense of the history, overtones, and meanings of both "H/holocaust" and "Shoah" and this  new understanding may decrease the acceptability of mystification of the Nazi orchestrated mass slaughter of Jews and remove a subtle verbal obstacle to legitimate comparisons between the Jewish Holocaust and other organized mass murder.

Let me remind readers of Garber and Zuckerman's well circulated and heretofore uncontradicted assertion: "[T]he editors of the King James Version of the Bible ... translated the Hebrew term for whole-burnt offering, the olah ... 'holocaust.' Indeed, the adoption by the King James editors of this use of the term probably played the decisive role in fixing 'religious sacrifice' as the primary sense of the term in English up until the mid-Twentieth Century." Also consider Michael Marrus's representation (note 3): "The term Holocaust ... serves now to separate this particular massacre from other historical instances of genocide. Holokaustos ... comes from the third century B.C. Greek translation of the Old Testament ... the designation ... connoted an event of theological significance, and perhaps as well an event whose mysteries were not meant to be understood."

Contrast these representations with a summary of the evidence and argument presented in this essay: "holocaust" came into English from the Greek primarily thru Catholic translations of the Bible but the word is essentially non-existent in post 1600 English translations of Bibles intended for non-Catholics (and is not to be found in the King James Bible.)  And the word, when used explicitly as a referent to a "whole burnt offering" of humans (plural) in both Catholic Bibles and in secular texts is almost always a reference to a killing/ sacrifice to honor/ propitiate an ILLEGITIMATE god.   ("For him [Wiesel] ... the God of Abraham ... has vanished forevermore ... in the smoke of a human holocaust exacted by Race, the most voracious of all idols.."(Mauriac in his introduction to Night and by far the best circulated 'religious' holocaust within a Holocaust text).
Thus if "Holocaust" employed to refer to the 'Final Solution' has any 'religious' connotation whatsoever (not fabricated over the last 25 years by scholars) that connotation is of a pagan offering to a false god. 

Like many older English words the prevalent meanings of "holocaust" have changed radically over time.  ("Prestige" once upon a time meant "illusion," "deception," or "conjurer's trick." "Lady" originally referenced a maker of bread.)  Between the world wars, essentially the only non-Catholic English language employment of "holocaust" was as a referent to a large range of major and minor secular conflagrations, massacres, and disasters, e.g. "It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson's body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete. (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925) And "The amendment ... took away in one holocaust L60,000,000 ... rendering impossible the constructive policy to which the Government had set their hands."  (Winston Churchill in Parliament 1928 -- The Times (London) 28 June 1928 p. 8:6)   In the United States of the early 1960s, about fifteen years before "holocaust" had become closely linked to Hitler's Judeocide, the word's most common referent was nuclear destruction, e.g. on the cover of 4 November, 1961 Nation: "SHELTERS WHEN THE HOLOCAUST COMES." 

(Two citations from the 1967 novel, Holocaust, well illustrate the 1960s range of meanings:  "'Holocaust and holocaust. A few terrible deaths can be termed holocaust as can be the destruction of the vitals of a single country ... the purpose [of the little holocaust here] is to prevent the final, the terminal, the all-out holocaust, the damned total destruction of our known world.'")(73)

The lower cased "holocaust," frequently modified by "Nazi," "Hitler's," and similar saw only occasional employment in the United States and England 1939-1963 in its sense of Judeocide as one of a variety of referents to that Nazi slaughter.  (A persecution and slaughter that until the 1960s received little academic or media attention.)  However, by 1963 at Israel's Yad Vashem, the only institution of the late 1950s and early 1960s regularly publishing in English on the Judeocide, "H/holocaust" had become the dominant English language referent to the Nazi murder and persecution of Jews.

Starting around 1963, burgeoning American Jewish interest in the destruction of European Jewry paralleled an increased American favoring of "holocaust" as a referent to that destruction/ the time period of that destruction, a favoring driven both by dissemination of Israeli English usage and by the advantage of associating the  Nazi Judeocide with contemporary fears of nuclear catastrophe, a catastrophe often called "holocaust" with no modifier.

Increasingly in the 1970s, "holocaust," used in the sense of the Jewish disaster, was capitalized, and by the early 1980s, mainly as a result of the popularity and impact of NBC's 1978 mini-series, The Holocaust, but also due to the decline of interest in nuclear war, the predominant and readily recognized referent of "h/Holocaust" in American English had become the Nazi persecution and slaughter of Jews.

Today, as in the past two and a half decades, while there is no ambiguity about the core referent of the capitalized word in most contexts -- concentration camp and death camp persecution and slaughter of Jews -- there is little consensus amongst users of the term on the starting date of the Holocaust and implicit disagreement as to which Nazi persecutions and murders, beyond concentration camp and death camp persecutions and slaughters of Jews, are encompassed by the term.

In addition to "the Holocaust's" employment as a referent to exclusively Jewish persecution and slaughter (1933/38/39/41-45), the term has seen significant employment, particularly since the late 1980s, as a referent to Nazi persecution and slaughter of both Jews and other groups of noncombatants. Users of the term in this latter sense are often vague as to which Nazi non-Jewish persecutions and slaughters are considered part of the Holocaust and frequently -- usually unconsciously -- radically minimize Gentile non-combatant death tolls by thinking/speaking/writing of  "six million Jews and five million others." (74) 

And years after a version of this article appeared in an academic journal (and after its main points were circulated on scholarly internet discussion forums) Holocaust scholars and major museums continue to misrepresent the history of the word "holocaust," its use in the Bible, and its connotations.  (And years after I first began protesting misleading and plain untrue representations of Holocaust era history in major museums -- particularly the minimization of Soviet losses -- these historian approved histories have, largely, not been changed -- see in this main text between footnotes 52 and 54 and also footnote 54.)

Credits: I am grateful to Dr. Ronald Zweig of Tel Aviv University who directed the production of the searchable CD-ROMs containing the entire text of the The Palestine Post, 1937-1949, and arranged for access to this rich data base. (Also see note 7.) Sally Hindman's critique of an early draft of this essay added significantly to expositional clarity.  And Tom Hunt's time, skills, and equipment made this web page possible. 


1. A version of this article with the title "The secular word HOLOCAUST: scholarly myths, history, and 20th century meanings" was published in Journal of Genocide Research 2:1 (2000), 31-63.  Jon Petrie has participated in many H-Net discussions over the last ten years and those H-net published writings are easily accessed over the web -- and use the search function top left, e.g. insert "Jon Petrie Soviet"  (H-net has roughly a hundred different moderated email lists devoted to very different topics where contributors, primarily academics, post information and dispute.)  Petrie replies to most emails:

2. The August 1939 Times "holocaust" was brought to H-Holocaust readers attention (May 1995) by Michael Thaler. (For word searching Bibles on line, Chadwick and|)]

Additional quotes/ comments:

The earliest secular referents of "holocaust" were events associated with fire, e.g. "... a party was sent to surprise Burgess at his house in order to have him burnt in his pulpit ... Burgess providentially escap[ed] ... without being made a holocaust to party zeal." (Thomas Allen, History and Antiquities of London (London: Cowie and Strange, 1828) Vol II, p. 7)

However, by 1860 well regarded writers did not need an association with fire to employ "holocaust" in a sense of "destruction": "This mode of conducting ... administrative business ... is probably destined to perish in the general holocaust which the traditions of Indian government seem fated to undergo ..." John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government (New York: Henry Holt, 1871 [first published 1861]), p. 267 (ch. 14, para. 7).)

"H/holocaust" employed in a quasi religious sense to refer to the killing of humans (plural) is almost always a sacrifice to a false god,  e.g. (And see note 28):

[T]wo hundred thousand young men ... the very pick and choice of the world's glorious ones ... And where are they now? ... prematurely aged and decrepit--or shot or stabbed in street affrays ... victims devoted upon the altar of the golden calf--the noblest holocaust that ever wafted its sacrificial incense heavenward. It is pitiful to think upon. (Mark Twain, November 1869 letter to Buffalo Express (and republished in Innocents Abroad 1872) 

And a series of quotes:

 "... full of the lurid glare of holocaust of innocent merchants, their wives and babes ..." (From a review of Songs of a Semite in Century Illustrated,  January 1883, 471 -- see main text between notes 15 and 16 for a related quote from Songs of a Semite)

"He had spent his life policing Indians ... All he could now do was to die at the head of his men ... he was going to take his men into any sort of holocaust, because his traditions were of gentlemen and soldiers, and because - he loved it for itself - the thing itself - the whirl, the unknown." (Stephen Crane 1899 in "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" --Complete Short Stories (1963), p. 548)

"... the French horse Holocauste ... intense disappointment ... it is gravely declared Holocauste slipped on a piece of orange peel ... gypsies did a roaring trade in selling bunches of hair cut from their own gray horses and palmed off as genuine Holocauste souvenirs." (New York Times, 4 June, p 4:2, 1899 -- the gray horse, ridden by an American and a French favorite, fell in the English Derby, broke a leg, and was shot.)

"The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku-Klux Klan, the lies of carpet-baggers ... left the bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for freedom." ( W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk. (New York: Penguin Books, 1989 [first published 1903]). p. 8

Holocaust, strictly a sacrifice wholly destroyed by fire ... The term is now often applied to a catastrophe on a large scale, whether by fire or not, or to a massacre or slaughter. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, 1910 / 1911)

"[T]the fuss about the Luisitania seemed almost a heartless impertinence ... When I asked ... about the holocaust of Festubert, they gaped ... the big catastrophe was too big for them to grasp, and the little one ... just the right size ... " (Bernard Shaw c. 1918, preface to Heartbreak House -- Complete Plays, 1963, Vol. I, p. 467 -- near Festubert in May 1915 the British suffered perhaps 16,000 casualties in an attack that gained one kilometer of ground.)

"Trees fell ... Row upon row of mean 'villas' replaced the roomy suburban cottages ... the old village street was scheduled for widening ... a holocaust to progress." (New York Times Book Review, 12 June 1927,  p. 6:3)

"This is the diary of a Russian girl ... 1916 ... and  continuing until ... 1920.  She emerges alive and sane from the holocaust."  (New York Times Book Review, 12 March 1933,  p 5)

"'Battleship row' was a holocaust. and the waters of Pearl Harbour were covered with oil -- patches of it flaming -- and overhead, in a sky darkened with smoke, towered a mushrooming column of flame and fire." (New York Times, 6 December 1942, p. 69:3 [an anniversary report])

"Himmler ... ordered the destruction of whole races, the extermination of Jews and Slavs ... "But they are "animals" or "criminals," he would say ... when foreign ambassadors ... remonstrated at some particularly savage holocaust." (H.R. Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler (1947),  p. 18)

"... suicide or surrender, humiliation or holocaust ... red or dead." (Archbishop of Cantebury, Dr. Ramsey, Times (London), 18 November 1961, p 6:5)

"Nazi persecution ... Hiroshima ... characteristically during massive holocaust, ... a cessation of feeling ... psychic numbing." (Robert Jay Lipton, History and Survival, 1971, p 198 [reprinting a 1968 article])

"Probably more than two hundred thousand Jews were killed or died in ... 1918-21 ... in eastern Poland and the Ukraine ... The destruction of European Jewry during World War II has obliterated the memory of that first holocaust of the twentieth century." (Yehudah Bauer, My Brothers Keeper, 1974,  p. 9)

Clue # 57: "Fiddling boss in a holocaust [Nero]" (Crossword, New York Times, 11 July 1980, C26)

"...a contemporary Armenian family ... This film-within-a-film follows the production of a historical epic about the holocaust [Armenian, 1915-17]."  (Jerusalem Post Magazine, 1 Nov. 2002,  p 17)

3. Omer Bartov, "Antisemitism, the Holocaust, and Reinterpretations of National Socialism," in Michael Berenbaum and Abraham Peck (eds.), The Holocaust and History(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), pp. 79-80. Michael Berenbaum, The World Must Know (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1993), p. 1.

Other examples: Michael Marrus: "The term Holocaust ... serves now to separate this particular massacre from other historical instances of genocide. Holokaustos... comes from the third century B.C. Greek translation of the Old Testament, signifying 'the burnt sacrificial offering dedicated exclusively to God.' ... the designation ... connoted an event of theological significance, and perhaps as well an event whose mysteries were not meant to be understood." (Michael Marrus, The Holocaust in History (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 1987), p. 3 (italicization exactly reproduced) -- Omer Bartov, cites Marrus.)  The Wiesenthal Center claims: "The term 'Holocaust' -- literally meaning 'a complete burned sacrifice' -- tends to suggest a sacrificial connotation to what occurred."  ---  The Wiesenthal Center: (January 1999). For a series of objections by various writers to "holocaust" as a referent to the Judeocide see Steven Katz, The Holocaust in Historical Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), Vol. l, p. 1, note 1. The Katz footnote refers readers to Gerd Korman's 1972 article in Societas and Zev Garber and Bruce Zuckerman's 1989 article in Modern Judaism for "the origin of the use of the term." Katz was editor of Modern Judaism in 1989 and thus bears some responsibility for the Garber/ Zuckerman piece -- key assertions made by Korman and Garber/ Zuckerman are refuted in this essay.

Peter Novick's The Holocaust in American Life was published after the original of this essay  was in draft form. Novick asserts, incorrectly, that "holocaust" before World War II was "almost always used to describe widespread destruction." [my italics, p. 133]  Novick dismisses the idea that "holocaust" necessarily carries Judeo Christian overtones but leaves the impression that mention of these overtones is a marginal phenomenon within Holocaust Studies -- "relevant only to someone looking to pick a fight" (p. 133).  Novick surely has read at least one of the statements of Berenbaum, Bartov, and Marrus quoted or referenced in the first paragraph of the main text above.  And neither Berenbaum, Bartov,or Marrus are marginal players picking fights but have been major shapers of Holocaust representation.  Novick in his The Holocaust in American Life is curiously reluctant to criticize the main players of the Holocaust scholarly establishment. Tucked away in footnote 43,  p. 335 of Novick's book is the claim that Michael Berenbaum in the journal Shoah (Fall/winter '81-'82, pp.  8,9)  stated that he was not sure that the Poles, Gypsies etc. deserved to be called "victims of the Nazis."  If Michael Berenbaum had written anything of the sort, surely the statement should be quoted and discussed within the book's main text --- Berenbaum has been one of the key players in shaping  American understanding of the Holocaust.   (Berenbaum is misquoted by Novick.  Berenbaum's statement (abbreviated) "the clash of myths ... other nationalities ... perceive themselves, correctly or incorrectly, as victims of Nazisim [e.g. the Austrians ??]."  I had an exchange with Novick on H-Holocaust late 2003/ early  2004:

4. Elizabeth Loftus and John C. Palmer, "Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction: An Example of the Interaction Between Language and Memory," Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 13:5 (1974), 585-588. For more on the subtle influence of language and vocabulary on perception: Paul Kay and Willett Kempton, "What is the Saphir-Whorf Hypothesis?"American Anthropologist 86:1 (1984), 65-79.  And for more on  the influence of a false understanding of the etymology of the word "holocaust" on the historiography of  the Nazi Jewish extermination campaign see my posting on H-Holocaust, 29 Jan 2006:

5. Zev Garber and Bruce Zuckerman, "Why do We Call the Holocaust 'The Holocaust'? An Inquiry into the Psychology of Labels,"Modern Judaism, 9:2 (1989), 207-208.

6. WorldCat combines the catalogues of many major research libraries. Not in the list of the main text: The great American holocaust by Zionism, dated 1929 by WorldCat but probably 1979 - an addendum was inserted in the work in 1980; and two religious (Catholic) works:Little Catechism ...Child Jesus as Victim of Holocaust to the Merciful Love ... (1935) and Pride - Thief of the Holocaust(1959). Capitalization in WorldCat is not always accurate; some titles words not capitalized in WorldCat have been capitalized in the text.

7. Forty-eight "holocausts" in the Palestine Post, 1937 through 1949, were found and recorded by this writer using the easily searchable CD-Roms produced under the direction of Dr. Ronald Zweig, director of Tel Aviv University's Humanities Computing Project. (Also see "Credits" following the essay.)

8. The 1910 - 1950 dates were chosen to exclude: "The days of the Black Death and the Crusades are again upon us ... In one Russian town ... we are informed by an eyewitness, there was a holocaust of Jewish souls, and the martyrs went singing to their doom. Does it not recall the tragedies of the Dark Ages, when the children of Israel, led to slaughter, perished 'as consecrated hosts of the Lord'..." (George Kohut, in a preface to a 1907 edition of Zunz's Sufferings of the Jews in the Middle Ages,as cited in Joseph Leftwich, The Golden Peacock: A Worldwide Treasury of Yiddish Poetry (New York: T. Yoseloff, 1961), p. 22). Expressions of joy at the approach of a death that will sanctify the souls of the dying and honor God are to be found elsewhere in Jewish literature. 

9. Zev Garber and Bruce Zuckerman's paper, "Why do We Call the Holocaust 'The Holocaust'? An Inquiry into the Psychology of Labels," was presented at the 1988 Oxford conference, "Remembering for the Future ..." and printed in Y. Bauer et al (eds.), Remembering for the Future (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1989), Vol. 2. A modified version of this paper is printed in Modern Judaism, 9:2 (1989), 197-211 and is reprinted in Zev Garber,Shoah: The Paradigmatic Genocide (Lanham: University Press of America, 1994). This essay cites the Modern Judaism text. For the claim that "holocaust" is the translation of olah in the King James Bible and for the primacy of the religious meaning before 1950, p. 199; for the awareness of "sacrificial connotations" at the time of first employment of the term: pp. 200, 202.

10. For a fuller "obscuritie of the Papists" quote and a reference see the third 'holocaust' quote just under title of this article. Proof of the complete absence of "holocaust" in the King James Bible is the absence of an entry for "holocaust" in [James]Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990). (Hundreds of entries are listed in Strong's Concordance under "burnt [offering(s), sacrifice].") For a concordance of the King James Bible on the web:

11. Garber and Zuckerman, "Why do we Call the Holocaust 'The Holocaust'?" 199.

12. New Century Dictionary (1927): hol-o-caust: An offering or sacrifice ... hence, anything offered or sacrificed unreservedly, as to person or cause ... more commonly ... a great and destructive fire; a great or wholesale destruction of life. American College Dictionary's (1947) first definition, "usually ... the commonest meaning": "great or wholesale destruction of life, esp. by fire." Perhaps it should also be pointed out that the most frequently encountered meaning of a particular word does not normally color another well established meaning. Consider: "He was the life of the party," and "She devoted her life to the Party."

13. E.L. McAdam and George Milne, Johnson's Dictionary: A Modern Selection (New York: Pantheon, 1963), p. 16. H.W. Fowler states: "What concerns a writer is much less a word's history than its present meaning ... etymological knowledge is of less importance to writers than might be supposed." (A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1965), p. 651.) For more on the "etymological fallacy": David Crystal,The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (1995), p. 136 and Sydney Landau,Dictionaries:The Art and Craft of Lexicography (1984), pp. 98-99, 103.

14. The Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1797 in its entry "Revolution" states: "That which is termed the revolution in Britain is the change ... when the Protestant succession was established, and the constitution restored to its primitive purity." (Vol. 16, p. 150.) For some remarks on the tension between "revolution's" meaning of "return" and its meaning of "extraordinary change": Mona Ozouf, "Revolution" in Francois Furet and Mona Ozouf (eds.),A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (Cambridge MA: Belknap Press, 1989), pp. 806-810 and also Daniel J. Boorstin, Hidden History (New York: Vintage, 1989), pp. 231-233.

15. For the 1957 claim, Gerd Korman, "The Holocaust in Historical Writing," Societas 2:3 (1972), 260 and reprinted in John Roth and Michael Berenbaum, eds, Holocaust: Religious and Philosophical Implications (New York: Paragon House, 1989), p. 46. (Korman writes: "... the word holocaust had appeared now and then. In 1951 ... Jacob Shatzky of YIVO spoke of "the Nazi Holocaust," but apparently he did not mean to apply the phrase specifically to the destruction of European Jewry. Between 1957 and 1959, however, "Holocaust" took on such a specific meaning.")  Wiesel, Wiesel's own claims, and scholarly representations of Wiesel's employment  of "holocaust" are discussed later in the essay -- see the paragraphs  starting below footnote 43.

16. Hartley Library: University of Southampton Special Research Collections (information brochure, n.d. [1998]), p. 12 -- MS 175/142/1 in the collection -- copyright J. Schonfield.

17. Weizmann to I. Goldstein, December 24 1942. Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann(London: Oxford University Press, 1979). Vol. XX, Series A (1968), p. 383, letter #360. Weizmann, in ill health and unable to leave New York, was presumably writing to Goldstein on the eve of the latter's departure to a Jewish National Fund conference in Detroit. Goldstein gave a keynote address at this conference 26 December 1942. In early December Weizmann, Goldstein, and Rabbi Wise had promoted a program of services and mourning for the "millions of Jews threatened with complete extermination." (New York Times, 2 December 1942, p. 12, col. 5) Definitive news of the Nazi extermination program reached Palestine, Britain, and the United States through different channels in late November 1942.

18. Email posting, Gerd Korman, "Re: Holocaust," H-Judaic 23 February 1998. For this posting: Select "H-Judaic," select "February 1998," and sort by author or subject.

19. Email posting, Franklin Littell, "Re Earliest Reference to Holocaust," H-Holocaust 3 May 1995. For this posting: Select "H-Holocaust," select May 1995, and sort by author or subject.

20. "La tâche qui incombe à Yad Vashem consiste à perpétuer, sur le sol de la patrie, le souvenir de tous ceux , parmi le peuple juif, qui ont péri dans l'Holocauste ..." and "... qui ont péri lors de l'Holocauste" in "Loi Sur la Commemoration Des Martyrs et des Heros - Yad Vashem 1953" (pamphlet 1953), p. 1. This pamphlet cites: Code Civil 132 (28 August 1953), p. 144. 

21. Yediot (Hebrew for news), 4-5 (1955), 27, col. 2 -- "... research into the problems of the European holocaust."

22. "... main task": Yediot 8-9 (1956) 32, col 3. Yediot 6-7 [1956], 29, col. 1 for "period of the holocaust" and 32, col. 3; 31, col. 3; 29, col. 1 and 3 and Yediot 8-9 (1956), 32, col. 1 and 3, 30 col. 1 and 2 for "Nazi holocaust" and "period of the Nazi holocaust" and Yediot8-9 (1956) 30, col. 2 for "the Holocaust." (Page numbers in Yediot run right to left.)

23. Eleven "holocausts" on one page: Yad Vashem Bulletin 1 (April 1957), 36. (In the 1950s and early 1960s, what we now know as Yad Vashem was frequently "Yad Washem." To avoid confusion, this essay replaces the "Washem" of serial titles from these years with "Vashem" in both the main text and notes.)

24. Yad Vashem Studies on the European Jewish Catastrophe and Resistance I (1957), 18: "survivors of the European holocaust," 169: "survivors of the European holocaust," 175: "memoirs written by survivors of the European holocaust, works of research into the catastrophe." Studies II (1958) 133, note 1: "archives of the Holocaust," 295: "the study of the Holocaust," 296: "a monument to the Holocaust."

25. Yad Vashem Studies V (1963), 374.

26. "Holocaust and the Heroism" first use: Bulletin 2 (December 1957), 25, col. 3. For shoah ugevurah see Dalia Offer, "Linguistic Conceptualization of the Holocaust in Palestine and Israel, 1942-53," Journal of Contemporary History 31:3 (1996), 573-577.

27. The Chicago Manual of Style, Fourteenth Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 260. For a 1960 American / Israeli capitalized use see the penultimate sentences of note 35. The 1980 Congressional bill that lead to the establishment of the U.S. Holocaust and Memorial Museum did not capitalize "holocaust" -- see note 53. Another 1980 uncapitalized use: "this is a study not about the holocaust - a term singularly inappropriate ..." Walter Laquer,The Terrible Secret(1980), p. 7.

28. Two other examples:

"ALC[IPHRON] [I] shou'd like well to see the Druids and their Religion restored ... CRI[TO]. How wou'd you like ... that now and then, a Number of Layman shou'd be crammed together in a Wicker-idol, and burnt for an Offering to their Pagan Gods ? LYS[ICLES] ... And I make no doubt but these Druids wou'd have sacrificed many a Holocaust of Free-thinkers ... No Druids or Priests ... for me." ((Bishop) George Berkeley, Alciphron: or the Minute Philosopher (London: J. Tonson, 1732), vol. I, pp. 270-272 (fifth dialogue, section 3). 
THE SENSE OF THIS 'HOLOCAUST' IS MISREPRESENTED IN THE OED.  See the appendix following these notes.

[H]ave you still faith in that Baal of a Lord Wellington ? ... Do you still believe that this ... idol of England has power to send fire down from heaven to consume the French holocaust you want to offer up ?" (C. Bronte, Shirley (1849), p. 50 - from Chadwyck-Healey on line)

And an early prediction of a Nazi 'holocaust' of Jews was immediately preceded by a reference to a pagan god: "... like an exterminating god, he writes his distaste in brimstone ... The inflammatory fever which has been consuming Germany in recent years threatens a holocaust, a wholesale incineration ... The progress of the sickness can be examined in ... Mr. Warburg's account of racial persecution [of Jews]."  (Times Literary Supplement (London), 26 August 1939, Philip Tomlinson, "Flamens" (lead article), p. 503:2 -- the first well circulated "holocaust" referencing the fate of Jews in Nazi Europe)

29. Voltaire: Le Grand Robert de la Langue Francaise (1986), "Holocauste" entry. Flaubert: Grande Larousse (1972), "Holocauste" entry. Charles Baudelaire: Nouveau Dictionnaire de Citations Francaises (Hachette/Tchou 1970), p. 1004, # 11389. George Sand in La Petite Fadette, 21 Dec 1851, wrote:   "[L]'horreur profonde du sang versé de part et d'autre, et une sorte de désespoir à la vue de cette haine, de ces injures, de ces menaces, de ces calomnies qui montent vers le ciel comme un impur holocauste, à la suite des convulsions sociales." (See "

30. Two meanings of "sacrifice" given in Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary: "to destroy; to kill." And two quotations given with the definitions: "He that sacrificeth of things wrongfully gotten, his offering is ridiculous" (Ecclesiasticus). And, "Moloch besmear'd with blood of human sacrifice" (Milton).

31. New York Times, 20 June 1953, p. 17, col. 2.

32. Solomon Bloom, "The Great Unsolved Crime," Commentary 19:1 (January 1955), 89, 90. The referent of "the only ... comprehensive account" is Gerald Reitlinger's The Final Solution; however, the review also covers Leon Poliakov's Harvest of Hate. In 1955 these two books were the only comprehensive accounts of the Jewish catastrophe.

33. William and Sarah Schack, "The Books of Doom," Commentary 22:4 (0ctober 1956), 336. An unusual appellation in this article, "Third Destruction" (exactly reproduced, p. 336) and a more typical referent from the same article, "the massacres" (p. 337). Books on the Jewish catastrophe were not economically viable before the mid 1960s -- Hilberg's Destruction of European Jewry (1961) was rejected by numerous publishers and printed only thanks to a subsidy from the Petschek Foundation. Wiesel's Night (1960) had poor sales in its first years. (See Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run to the Sea (1995), p. 325.)  Wiesel's name first appears in the  New York Times (apart from book reviews) 30 May 1963 (p. 15:5) in a short report filed in Paris:  "Elie Wiesel, literary critic for the Jewish Daily Forward in New York, received tonight the $200 Prix Rivarol for four novels written in French.  Mr Wiesel, a native of Rumania, was imprisoned [sic] by the Nazis. He studied here after the war, and emigrated in 1956."

34. "We have buried ..." is from Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, Jewish Survival (New York: Philosophical Library, 1949), p. 183. For a discussion of American Jewry's avoidance of any engagement with the European Jewish catastrophe see L. Jick, "The Holocaust: its Use and Abuse within the American Public," Yad Vashem Studies XIV (1981), 304-310 and David S. Wyman, "The United States" in David S. Wyman (ed.), The World Reacts to the Holocaust (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1996), pp. 719-722. Other chapters in this book briefly discuss the unwillingness of Jews in France and Britain during the 1950s to confront the Judeocide. For the avoidance of the Jewish tragedy in American classrooms see Gerd Korman, "Silence in American History Textbooks," Yad Vashem Studies VIII (1970), 183-202. Perhaps during the 1950s disinterest within elite gentile circles in the history of the Third Reich is part of the explanation for Jewish disinterest in the Final Solution. William Shirer had difficulty getting a $10,000 advance for The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and was lead to expect small sales. The book was published in late 1960 and sold over a million copies within 12 months. (See Gavriel Rosenfeld, "The Reception of William L. Shirer's ...," Journal of Contemporary History 29:1 (1994), 100.)

35. Additional American, and one British, use of "holocaust" as a referent to the destruction of European Jewry: "Jews of Poland ... Those of us who survived that holocaust are freaks of nature." (Bernard Goldstein, The Stars Bear Witness (1949), p. 295) "But the White Paper (limiting immigration to Palestine) added greatly ... to the number ... who perished in the immeasurable holocaust ..." and "Holocaust in Europe" (chapter title) and "Tzivya Lubertkin, 'the mother of the ghetto,' who survived the holocaust ..." (Rufus Learsi, Israel: A History of the Jewish People (1949) pp. 645, 654) "Haggada on the Holocaust and the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt" (I. Schwarzbart, Remembering and Rebuilding (mimeographed pamphlet: The World Jewish Congress) (1955), p. 13, heading) "The Israeli Government opposes transferring the ashes of Nazi concentration camp victims ... to a projected tomb in Paris for Jewish victims of the Nazi holocaust ..." (New York Times, 30 June 1956, p. 3, col. 7) "American Jews ... principal heirs to the Jewish norms and values whose bearers perished in the European holocaust." (I. Jakobovits [British Chief Rabbi], Journal of a Rabbi(1967 - the quoted words date from April 1957), p. 68) "The Nazi 'calculations' of the number of victims of the holocaust are not worthy of serious reply ( e.g. ... only 300,000 murdered Jews)." (Hans Lamm, "Note on the Number Of Jewish Victims of National Socialism," Jewish Social Studies 21:2 (April 1959), 132). "[A]t least the material written after 1945, is practically unanimous in the condemnation of the Holocaust." (Salo W. Baron in a foreword to Jacob Robinson and Philip Friedman's Guide to Jewish History under Nazi Impact (Series No. 1, 1960), p. xix. This work, a joint project of YIVO and Yad Vashem, was the first comprehensive bibliography on the Jewish experience in the Nazi period. The upper cased "Holocaust" appears occasionally in the main text, e.g., p. 3, p. 15, but "Catastrophe" is the primary referent.)

36. Leon Poliakov, Harvest of Hate (Philadelphia: Jewish publication Society, 1954), p. 117. (Italics added.)

37. "... such a holocaust": Carl O. Dunbar, "The Menace of Atomic Warfare," The Yale Review 38 (spring 1949), 538. Richard H. Minear's, "Atomic Holocaust, Nazi Holocaust: Some Reflections" in Diplomatic History 19:2 (Spring 1995) lead me to an October 1945 letter written by James B. Conant, a principal in the Manhattan project, "... unless precautions are taken ... an [atomic] attack would destroy our power ... It would seem wise to arrange matters so that survivors of a holocaust could carry on ..." (James G. Hershberg's James B. Conant [1993] p. 241).  Another 1945 usage (from the OED's entry "pin-prick":  "R. A. KNOX God & Atom v. 71 Other men's lives are at stake; those..of British or American airmen who might be shot down in trying to pin-prick the targets of Hiroshima one by one, instead of devoting it to a general holocaust." The New York Times of 1932 employed language we now associate with atomic destruction: "1,000 civilians slain ... largely by airplane bombing ... four huge mushrooms of smoke overhang Chapei [Shanghai] ... During the holocaust ..." ( New York Times, 30 January 1932, p. 1, 2)
Possibly the earliest atomic "holocaust": "...  Moscow ... beneath them ... The 'plane staggered wildly ...  a horrible greenish pallor ... a crash like a crack of Doom ! The echoes of this Holocaust rumbled and rolled ... a distinct smell of sulphur ... atomic destruction." (Reginald Glossop, The Orphan of Space (London: G. MacDonald, 1926) pp. 303, 306 -- the words prior to "atomic destruction" are all on p. 303. The atomic weapon of the book is not dropped from the "'plane" but is hand delivered to the office of the Soviet dictator who, with German help and Chinese mercenaries, is preparing the occupation of Western Europe -- a strangely prescient book, biological warfare, cellular phones, an atomic weapon, and a version of the Gaia hypothesis.

38. The Reporter 25:3 (17 August 1961), 52. Commentary 32:4 (October 1961), 283. Nation 194 (20 January, 1962), 43. The cover of the 4 November 1961 Nation advertises two article titles in upper casing, the first title: "SHELTERS WHEN THE HOLOCAUST COMES." The Nation's last employment of an unmodified [nuclear] holocaust in a title: "From MARV to Holocaust" (26 March, 1977). 

39. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade In Europe (New York, Doubleday, 1948), opposite p. 208 -- "Smoke Pall Shrouds Cassino as Bombing Begins" follows the uppercased caption quoted in the main text. Journal of Negro History (July 1953), 284, 285 (Jack Abramowitz wrote the cited words.). Augustine on line:, ch. 14, section 22 of Albert Outler's 1955 translation. Sylia Plath,New Yorker, 27 March 2000, 109, 110 [In November 1962 Plath wrote "... The ovens glowed like heavens, incandescent / It is a heart, / This holocaust I walk in / O golden child the world will kill and eat." ("Mary's Song")]. Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 350. (1915, not 1916, was the year of the principal massacres; Lewis corrected the date in the 1965 reprinting.)  The King quote is from The Times (London), 16 September 1963, p. 10:6. 

Per the Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (Bergen and Cornelia Evans, New York, Galahad Books, 1957): "holocaust" is employed to denote an event only within a subset of disasters, disasters that cause great loss of life and/or associated with fire, but Plath's 1956 employment, Fizgerald's in Great Gatsby, the 1946 Palestine Post's “... holocaust of housework” (and other employments) contradict this claim. "Holocaust" was, however, more likely to be associated with loss of life in the years 1900-1957 than the word "disaster."

40. Arendt's New Yorker articles preceded by a couple of months Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem. Per the New York Times Book Review (19 May 1963, p. 1), "The series of [Arendt] articles ... stirred controversy as a strong wind agitates the waters of a lake. The book ... follows the articles as a gale succeeds a rising wind ..." For more on the reactions to the articles and book see Hannah Arendt Karl Jaspers Correspondence 1926-1969 (1992), pp. 510-511, 515-516 and Amos Elon, "The case of Hannah Arendt," New York Review of Books 44:17 (November 6 1997), 25, col. 4, 29, col. 1. Arendt on the sea change in American culture: "Kennedy's election has worked a major change in the atmosphere ... Lowell ... wrote me: The world is green again. This new atmosphere is also making itself felt among students ..." (Hannah Arendt Karl Jaspers Correspondence, pp. 421-422.) "The Deputy," a play questioning the Pope's unwillingness to publicly condemn the Nazi slaughter of Jews, stirred controversy and additional engagement with the Nazi Judeocide after the reaction to the Arendt articles had peaked. "The Deputy" was first staged in Germany in 1963 and in the United States in 1964. ("Fiddler on the Roof", an affirmation of Jewish pride and difference, also came to the American "stage" in 1964.) The apparent threat to Israel's existence in 1967 and the Arab Israeli war that followed that threat renewed Jewish identification amongst many secular Diaspora Jews and partly as a consequence produced greater interest in the Jewish experience of the Hitler years. Perhaps too as Deborah Lipstadt has suggested the "Redemptive victories of the Jewish State" resulted in the Holocaust becoming "history" and not "probability." (Quoted in Tim Cole,Selling the Holocaust, p. 10.) And no doubt as Norman Finkelstein suggests, the Nazi slaughter was increasingly invoked by Jewish leaders in order to place Jews and Israel on the moral high ground.

41. A sample of "holocausts" employed to refer to Jewish destruction in American serials and texts January 1960 through June 1963: "Dr. Wertheimer ... was fortunate enough to die a natural death a few weeks before the holocaust." (Alfred Werner, "Before the Flood," Jewish Frontier 28:8 (August 1960), 22) "[W]hen the great holocaust had ceased, the principal Jewish concentrations ... were no more." (Ira Rosenswaike, "The Jewish Population of Argentina," Jewish Social Studies 22:4 (October 1960), 205) "'God ... has vanished forevermore, beneath the gaze of this child, in the smoke of a human holocaust exacted by Race, the most voracious of all idols.'" (Alfred Kazin quoting Mauriac, "The Least of These" (review of Night), The Reporter 23:7 (27 October 1960), 56) "[W]ith the onset of the mobile killing operations, the armed forces found themselves suddenly in the very center of the holocaust." And, "As the holocaust came closer only a handful of Jews could afford to buy their lives" And, "... Jewish action machinery ... was at a standstill ... The holocaust was unopposed." (Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of European Jewry (1961), pp. 178, 370, 719 - Hilberg's primary terms of reference are "Jewish catastrophe," "catastrophe," and "destruction.") "... the reality of the holocaust." (Marie Syrkin in the Jewish Frontier (January 1962), 17:2) "It is perfectly true that the policy of destroying the European Jews ... was Hitler's. Without Hitler, the holocaust would not have happened." (H.R. Trevor Roper, "Nazi Bureaucrats and Jewish Leaders," Commentary 33:4 (April 1962), 351) "... after the holocaust of six million..." (Editorial, Jewish Frontier (September 1962), 5:2)  "The holocaust, then, was a product ... [of] a bureaucracy of ... irresistible efficiency." (Oscar Handlin, "Jewish Resistance to the Nazis," Commentary 34:5 (November 1962), 401) And a well circulated "holocaust" not included in the main text to avoid overcrowding: "'... history of the holocaust'" (Arendt quoting "witnesses in Jerusalem," New Yorker 38:40 (16 February 1963), 42.)

42. Re "to my knowledge" and similar phrases in this essay: perhaps they should have been employed more often. The text of the New York Times, Commentary, etc. from the 1950s and 60s was not on CD-Roms or online when I researched this article and thus without the expenditure of months it would be impossible to be confident that every use of "holocaust" in the publications cited is known. I have spent days checking New York Times indexes and reading New York Times articles on Holocaust related subjects, and extensively browsed through journals cited, but I am unable to always assert with full confidence that a particular "holocaust" was a first use or, for example, that three and only three "holocausts" appear within a hundred pages of a Yad Vashem journal.

43. "Mass meetings were held ... [per] the Palestine Post ... a "last hour plea for opening our gates to the survivors of the Nazi holocaust." (9 October 1945, p. 5:1); "The Nazi holocaust which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe ..." (from the Israeli Declaration of Independence -- 15 May 1948, p. 2, col. 3); "The Israeli Government opposes transferring the ashes of ... camp victims ... to a projected tomb in Paris for Jewish victims of the Nazi holocaust ..." 30 June 1956, p. 3, col. 7; and a report on the dedication of a shrine in Israel "to the memory of our six million ... who perished in the Nazi holocaust ..." (May 30, 1959, p. 5, col 5).

44. "I am afraid I am the one who introduced the word into this framework ... I cannot use it anymore ... Whatever mishap occurs now, they call it 'holocaust.'" (Katz, The Holocaust in Historical Context, p. 1, note 1). Katz introduces this Wiesel comment with the remark: "Wiesel ... is usually credited with introducing the term into the discussion." And Norman Davies in Europe: A History (1997, p. 1025) states: "Elie Wiesel is credited with turning the term 'Holocaust' to its present usage." For the claim that the New York Times credited Wiesel with "coining of the term, 'The Holocaust' to characterize the Jewish genocide," Garber and Zuckerman, "Why do we Call the Holocaust 'The Holocaust'?" 202.  In a revised version of the essay (within Double Takes [2004] -- see p. 9) the authors retain a reference to "a number of newspapers" and eliminate any reference to the New York Times.  (No names or dates of newspapers are provided.)

45. Ann-Vera Sullam Calimani, "A Name for Extermination," Modern Language Review 94:4 (October 1999), 990. (I wrote the editor of the Modern language Review shortly after Calimani's article appeared asking for half a page to point out factual errors in the Calimani article, listing some of the errors. My request was denied.) For the claim "...Wiesel has commented in a number of places regarding [his joining] of holocaust/sacrifice to the Akedat Yitshak ...": Garber and Zuckerman, "Why do we Call the Holocaust 'The Holocaust'?" 202, 203.

46.  For the "poetic" quote, Irving Abrahamson (ed.), Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel (New York: Holocaust Library, 1985) Vol I, pp. 185, 186; and for the 1986 "no words" Comprehending the Holocaust, Cohen et al eds. (Verlag Peter Lang, 1980), p. 13; for the "Biblical term" quote, Abrahamson (ed.), Against Silence, Vol II, p. 278.

47. The French Wiesel quote is from an interview in L'Express, 6 Juin 1963 (#625) p. 34 -- the interview is subtitled "D'Auschwitz a Hiroshima."  (As far as I know this interview has never been translated into English  and has never been referenced by a Wiesel scholar -- in the interview Wiesel's account of his meeting with Mauriac that lead to the publication of Night is a bit different than other accounts.)  The New York Post quote is from Abrahamson (ed.), Against Silence, Vol III, p. 311.  And per Irving Halperin ("Postcript to Death," Commonwealth (13 March 1964) #79, p. 713.) the Wiesel of the early 1960s "believe[d] that one of his essential purposes as a writer [was] to keep alive the horrors of the concentration camp past in a world where the road from Auschwitz ... may well lead to a nuclear holocaust."  Some of Wiesel's "holocausts" to refer nuclear catastrophe before his 1980 Holocaust/ Akedah reference: December 1978, April 1979, August 1979  (Abrahamson (ed.), Against Silence, Vol I, p. 162, Vol. III p. 155 and p. 314). 

48. Garber and Zuckerman, p. 202, cite a private communication from Wiesel "recall[ing]" his first use in the New York Times of 27 October 1963.  Wiesel made a similar statement in an interview reprinted in Abrahamson, Vol. I, p. 185. The reprinting in Against Silence (Vol. II, p. 267-270) of Wiesel's August 1963 New Leader and October 1963 New York Times book reviews could mislead: "holocaust" was not capitalized in the original printings but is capitalized in Against Silence. The Against Silence versions of Wiesel's 1960s Forward articles could also mislead (e.g., Vol. II, p. 181). These articles were originally printed and written in Yiddish and the "Holocausts" of the translations presumably date from the 1980s.
And Bruno Bettelheim: "Anne Frank ... I have no criticism ... of the Franks. But I do have [of the glorification] of such passive acceptance ... Hertzl did not passively accept the position into which his time had projected him, but ... transcended it ... This we all need to do ... if we want to escape an impending holocaust." "Comment," Midstream 7:2 (Spring 1961), 86.  And "... the only people who can save the world from an atomic holocaust." Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, Fail-Safe (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962), p. 230.

49. A reviewer  of The Diary of Anne Frank (New York Times Book Review, 15 June 1952, p. 1) compared the Franks' fear of the "Gestapo's knock on the hidden door," to the American family's fear of the "knock of [atomic] war." Norman Mailer in The White Negro (City Lights, n.d., pp. 1-2; first published in Dissent, summer 1957) wrote: "... we shall never be able to determine the psychic havoc of the concentration camp and the atom bomb on the unconscious mind of almost everyone alive ... A stench of fear has come out of every pore of American life." And A. Alvarez in The Atlantic Monthly (December 1962, p. 70) wrote: "[P]erhaps the concentration camps have kept a tight hold on our imaginations ... because ... we see them as a small-scale trial run for a nuclear war."

50. Wiesel, despite his 1978 protest about the neglect of the Gypsy experience in Holocaust literature, generally has resisted any employment of "Holocaust" to denote the Nazi murder of Jews and non-Jews. See Abrahamson (ed.), Against Silence, Vol. I, pp. 42-43 and also Isabel Fonseca, Bury Me Standing (1995), p. 276. The source for the 1967 "The Holocaust has had a great impact ..." is Abrahamson, Vol. I, p. 235. Possibly "h" should be substituted for "H," Abrahamson, as mentioned earlier, is not scrupulous in his reproduction of casing.  For more on Wiesel: Naomi Seidman, "Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish Rage," Jewish Social Studies 3:1 (Fall 1996).

51. "No one is interested in Hitler": Jick, "The Holocaust: its Use and Abuse within the American Public," 306. For the use of "Holocaust" in thesis titles: "Dissertation Abstracts International on CD-Rom." Per this data base, fifteen theses in 1997 had "Holocaust" in their titles. According to Garber and Zuckerman twenty one PhD. theses titles 1970-1975 contain the word "Holocaust" (p. 210, note 14). The figure per "Dissertation Abstracts" is four. Garber and Zuckerman's figures for "Holocaust" in theses titles after 1975 are also incorrect.

52. For a short account of the impact of the TV series The Holocaust: Edward T. Linenthal, Preserving Memory (New York: Viking, 1995), p. 12. For the change in the New York Times annual indexes see the subheading "Nazi Policies Toward Jews and Foreign Nationalities."  Gerald Green wrote the screenplay of NBC's *The Holocaust* and presumably chose its title.  A Gerald Green 1956 employment of "holocausts": "The notion [that] his timorous wife ... seeing imagined holocausts on the hour and half hour ... ever putting up with ... the eternal complaints of a tenant, upset him." The Last Angry Man (New York: Scribner, 1956),  p. 245 -- and in the Pocket Books edition,  p. 263)

53. For the 1978 and 1979 Carter definitions of "Holocaust" and the political background: Linenthal, Preserving Memory, pp. 17-20, 27-28, 38-41. Congress, in its 1980 Museum enabling legislation, had a less inclusive view of the referent of "H/holocaust" than that of the 1979 Executive Order: "The holocaust has been recognized as the systematic act of extermination of nearly 6 million Jews in Europe before and during World War II. During this same period millions of people suffered death and destruction at the hands of those who embraced the Nazi philosophy." (P.L. 96-338, 1980, p. 4)   (An ecumenical "holocaust" in the 1943 Congressional Record was quoted earlier in the main text. Other ecumenical employments: "Millions of surviving victims of the Nazi holocaust, Jews and non-Jews, will stand before us in the years to come." Morris Cohen. in the forward to Siegfried Goldschmidt's Legal Claims Against Germany (New York: Dryden Press, 1945), p. vi. (Cohen dates his forward September 1944.) And also consider Chaim Bermant's 1977: "Not only did six million Jews die in the holocaust, but twenty million Russians, and millions of others ..." (The Jews, London Sphere printing of 1978, p. 1).)

For Wisenthal's employment of an "eleven million" definition before the Carter formulation see Yehuda Bauer, "Whose Holocaust," Midstream 26:9 (November 1980), 43.  For Bauer's remark: "The Wiesenthal-Carter definition appears ... to be an unconscious reflection of anti-Semitic attitudes ... " pp. 45-46.  For more on Wisenthal and Carter and the five million number see Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life, pp. 214-220. Novick in these pages directs attention to the arguments over whether the "five million" are to be considered part of "the Holocaust."  He does not appear to be concerned that historians and the general public have embraced an invented number that has no historical reality.  No historian, to my knowledge, has drawn attention to the significant difference between Wisenthal's five million civilian "others" and five million non-combatant "others."  And no historian has pointed out that the circulation of the five million number has contributed to a significant under appreciation by English speakers of the massive death tolls suffered by non-combatant Slavs at Nazi hands.

Jews (and Roma) were murdered systematically, Jews for the most part in purpose built death factories. Non-Jews, for the most part, were murdered less systematically -- they died primarily from being deprived of food and/or shelter.  Slavs, the most numerous of the Nazi's victims, had no intrinsic right to life per Nazi racial ideas but were not, per se, seen as threats -- living  Jews were seen as an existential threat. Roughly two of every three European Jews lost their lives in the Nazi period, as did roughly two out of every three Soviet POWs.  About one out of every seven Soviet citizens lost their lives 1941-1945.  For a discussion of figures for Soviet death tolls, H-Russia (23 Feb 2003) "1941-1945 - Soviet excess deaths/ losses/ military deaths"  ( For a good report of Soviet POW losses in a back-water of the Simon Wisenthal Center's web site  For remarks on Nazi camp death numbers and the representation of these numbers see note 68.

If one enters "word holocaust" on the Google search engine [2003] within the first half dozen hits is the web site of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.  This web site defines  "the Holocaust" as "the historic event that resulted in the mass murder of six million Jews, and five million others, at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators ..."  An email to the Commission asking for a breakdown on the numbers of "others" has gone unanswered.

For the definition of "Holocaust" that includes "millions of non-Jews": United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Historical Atlas of the Holocaust (New York: Macmillan, 1996), p. 9. For an ambiguous definition see the Museum's Mission Statement .

54.  For "The Holocaust, though, works every time." Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life, p. 188.  And: "1991 ... 85% of American Jews were reporting that the Holocaust was 'very important' to their sense of being Jewish - a higher figure than those attributing a similar degree of importance to the Torah, God, or the state of Israel." in Elliott Abrams, "Faith and the Holocaust," Commentary 101:3 (March 1996), 68.

For more on the Holocaust's centrality to American Jewish identity, Novick pp. 7, 8; 170-203. Per p. 174: "[In the late 1960s] Kahane's [right wing activist] Jewish Defense League ... popularized ... 'Never Again' ... The responsive cord struck by Kahane's repeated invocation of the Holocaust gave rise to a fear among established Jewish organizations that [Kahane] was establishing a kind of rhetorical ownership ... In order to block this takeover ... they themselves began to talk more about the Holocaust.")
Novick should also be consulted on the usefulness of Shoah memory to main stream Zionism: pp. 10, 39, 145, 149, 155, 159, 165-169. And for a critical short consideration of assimilated American Jewish "sacramentalizing of the Holocaust": Phillip Lopate, "Resistance to the Holocaust" in David Rosenberg, Testimony (New York: Times Books, 1989), pp. 304-305.

Norman Finkelstein in Holocaust Industry passionately argues that "the Holocaust" is too often a commodity  employed to promote certain Jewish and Israeli agendas. Per Finkelstein, Jewish obsession with the Holocaust began with "Israel's victory in the 1967 Six Day ... [Since then] too many public and private resources have been invested in memorializing the Nazi genocide. Most of the output is worthless, a tribute not to Jewish suffering but to Jewish aggrandizement. The Holocaust has proven to be an indispensable ideological weapon. Through its deployment, one of the world's most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, has cast itself as a 'victim' state, and the most successful ethnic group in the US has likewise acquired victim status. Considerable dividends accrue from this specious victimhood - in particular, immunity to criticism, however justified." 
For more on Finkelstein's views

To my knowledge only my review of Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners took issue with "the book['s] restricted view of the victims":  "Barely mention[ed in Willing Executioners is the killing] more or less willingly [of] millions of Gentiles.  Only the mass killing of Jews is deemed worthy of serious discussion.  By glossing over the mass murder of Gentiles, the mass murder of Jews is decontextualized from general mass murder and Jewish lives are privileged over Gentile lives ... Once the mass killing of Gentiles is brought into focus — killing by ordinary Germans unmotivated by any deep enmity — it becomes evident that ordinary Germans almost certainly would have been willing to kill Jews without being deeply antisemitic ... Surely in a book that criticizes Holocaust scholars for their neglect of the extraordinariness of the act of mass killing (p. 13), in a book concerned with the ideological basis for the mass killing of Jews, both the contemporaneous killing of Soviet POWs by sometimes the same Germans who killed Jews and the ideological basis for this killing warrant serious attention.  Instead, Goldhagen devotes six lines, in a text of about 600 pages, to the German killing of Soviet POWs ... : "Despite the ardent and until then decisive ideological opposition to the employment of Russian 'subhumans' within Germany — a purely ideological stance that had lead the Germans to kill, mainly by starvation, 2.8 million young, healthy Soviet POWs in less than eight months — the policy was reversed during this period.  In l942, owing to ever more pressing economic need, the Germans stopped the decimation of Soviet POWs . .  ." (p. 290) ...  Goldhagen's blindness to the extraordinariness of killing millions of Soviet POWs, and his minimizing and excusing German killing of Poles will probably not be noticed by other American reviewers.  Privileging Jewish life over Slavic life, privileging eliminationist antisemitisim over other pernicious ideologies such as rabid anticommunisim is part of the air that American scholars breathe, part of the spirit of this age and country ..."  See Petrie review,

In my view a powerful academic/ museum Holocaust establishment discourages meaningful dissent.  All the major players in the establishment know each other from conferences, conferences (sometimes organized by the D.C. Holocaust Museum or the Imperial War Museum).  They rely on each other to place graduate students, to support grant applications, for invitations to lecture, for book reviews.  The Holocaust Museum has a scholar in residence program and dolls out research funds.  Michael Bernbaum has edited half a dozen books and sits on the board of important Jewish magazines and Holocaust educational institutions. He could be a dangerous man to cross if one was trying to build a career. And fear of being lumped with Holocaust deniers and minimizers, useful people for institutions to point to when fund raising, also discourages dissent.

The effects of political campaign financing is the subject of a large academic literature as well as frequent press comment.  Major medical research institutions have started to recognize that research can be corrupted by interested parties. (Per Sheldon Krimsky, studies demonstrate physicians who receive funding or benefits form important biases without realizing they have formed the bias:  "They develop trust and confidence in their sponsors.")  But almost no attention is paid to historians and the ways in which their 'facts', conclusions, and evasions are corrupted by money, guild loyalty, and ambition.  A rare essay: Michael Pinto-Duschinsky's 23 Oct 1998 Times Literary Supplement, "Selling the Past: the dangers of outside finance for historical research." Worth reading also is the exchange of letters that followed this article. (6 Nov. from Barkai, Feldman et al and another from Mommsen & 27 Nov. from Gregor & 18 Dec. reply from Pinto-Duschinsky).

I have had short private correspondences with well known Holocaust historians regarding what I regard as minor points of Shoah history; when I broach what I consider more important matters such as the D.C. Holocaust Museum's minimizing of Soviet 1941 losses then correspondence either ceases, or correspondents becomes evasive, or questions are asked about my ideological interest in critiquing. 

For more:

55. William Shawcross, The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust, and Modern Conscience (London: Fontana, 1985), p. 421.

56. R. Hadzewck et al. editors, The Great Famine in Ukraine: the Unknown Holocaust (Jersey City: Svoboda Press, 1983), p. 9.

57. Larry Kramer, Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist (London: Penguin, 1990 - first published, New York: 1989), p. 265.

58. A sampling of titles with "holocaust" referring to nuclear destruction -- if a British publisher "UK" before publication date:  Holocaust (1967); Specter of Middle East Holocaust: ... Israeli Nuclear Weapons ... (1973); Holocaust 2000 (1978 - a book and a movie - nuclear Armageddon); Invitation to a Holocaust: Nostradamus Forecasts World War III (UK, 1981); The Chosen Few: Surviving the Nuclear Holocaust (1982); Nuclear Holocaust and Christian Hope(UK, 1983); How to Eliminate the threat of Nuclear holocaust: A Policy Proposal (1983); Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984(1987). An alliterative 1997 headline from a San Francisco political tabloid: "Housing or Holocaust Weapons?" (Street Spirit 3:9, p. 1). Another headline from a Bay Area newspaper: "Oil Pipeline Holocaust in Nigeria [more than 250 killed]" (Oakland Tribune, 19 October 1998, p. 1). An Indian book title: Environmental Holocaust in Himalaya (1989). (The online Encyclopaedia Britannica employs the phrase, "the uninhabited site of the holocaust," referring to the site of a massive Alaskan volcanic eruption -- see "Ten Thousand Smokes, Valley of ...") And a headline from the front page of a Flemish newspaper's book review section: "Holocaust in Belgisch Congo" (De Standard [Antwerp], 24 September 1998 -- "Holocaust" is a new word for Flemish speakers. King Leopold's exploitation of the Congo resulted in six to eight million deaths.)

59. Amos Elon, The Israelis: Founders and Sons (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971), pp. 215-217, 220.

60. William Hermanns, The Holocaust (New York: Harper & Row, 1972). p. v.

61. Elie Wiesel (1979): "Memory may perhaps be ... our only hope to save the world from the ultimate punishment, nuclear holocaust." (Abrahamson (ed),Against Silence, Vol III, p. 155)

62. John Roth and Michael Berenbaum (eds), Holocaust, pp. 72, 77.

63. Ronald Sanders, Shores of Refuge: A Hundred Years of Jewish Emigration (New York: Schocken Books, 1988), chapter titles: p. viii; "worst holocaust": p. 358. In David Roskies' 1989 The Literature of Destruction, a Yiddish khurbm, denoting World War I massacres of Jews in Galacia, is translated as "holocaust" (p. 212).

64. Minear, "Atomic Holocaust, Nazi Holocaust," 356.  And; for the New Jesey statement (August 2003). 

65. Phone conversation with Lynn El-Hoshy at the Library of Congress. The Library also considered broadening the category to include non-Jews.

66. Yad Vashem Studies V (1963), 191, 373.

67. Kristallnacht and the start of the Holocaust: New York Times, 1 November 1988, p. 20, col. 2.

68. The limiting of "Holocaust" to concentration / death camp slaughter in the Random House Webster's College Dictionary definition reflects an all to common misapprehension of the extent of mass slaughter beyond the barbed wire of the camps. Garber and Zuckerman (p. 208) write of "eleven million people ... killed by the Nazis in the concentration camps." About four and a half million people - perhaps 85% of these Jews - were killed in Nazi concentration and death camps. (See the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust p. 313 and p. 463.)

Mass murder of Jews -- as I understand the term "mass murder" in this context -- began with the Einsatzgruppen shootings in the summer of 1941. Assuming a "Jewish mass murder" definition of "Holocaust," the Holocaust started in the summer of 1941. If "Holocaust" is defined as "concentration / death camp mass murder of Jews," the Holocaust began in December 1941 at Chelmo.  If "Holocaust" is defined as "systematic mass murder of Jews and non-Jews," then arguably the Holocaust began in 1939 with the euthanasia program. And if "Holocaust" is defined as "Nazi organized mass killings with genocidal intent" then arguably the German decimation of Polish elites in 1940 began the Holocaust.

69. Gavriel Rosenfeld writes: "[E]fforts to analyze the Holocaust as an example of genocide ... [have] been hampered by the absence of a widely accepted definition of the term 'genocide.'" And in an endnote Rosenfeld refers readers to fifteen pages of a book text -- a "brief survey" of genocide definitions. "The Politics of Uniqueness: Reflections of the recent Polemical Turn in Holocaust and Genocide Scholarship," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 13:1 (Spring 1999), 32 and 51, note 19.

70. Tillich: Reconstructionist 31:14 as reprinted in Out of the Whirlwind (Albert Friedlander, ed., New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1968), p. 516. "Shoah" in a mid 1960s title:Bibliography ... on the teaching of the Shoah (Los Angeles: Bureau of Jewish Education, 1966). The first use of "Shoah" as a reference to the Judeocide in a PhD thesis abstract, per Dissertation Abstracts, was in 1989, the first use in a PhD title was in 1992. Per Article1st data base, in 1997 seven article titles contain "Shoah" (but two are references to Lanzmann's movie) and 170 titles contain "Holocaust," virtually all references to the Nazi murders. In 1994 two titles used "Shoah" and 115 "Holocaust." Katz uses "Shoa'h" occasionally in his 1994 Holocaust in Historical Context, e.g., p. 491. For "Shoah" used as a synonym for "Holocaust" in contexts where "Holocaust" is a referent to both Jewish and non-Jewish Nazi slaughter see the inside of the dust jacket of Michael Berenbaum and Abraham Peck's (eds) The Holocaust and History.  Also An example of British Jewish newspaper practice: "NATION'S SHOAH DAY: The Jewish community welcomed the ... proposal to hold a national Holocaust day ..." (London Jewish News, 4 December 1998, p. 1).

71. The Epstein and Rivlin Hebrew-English Dictionary of 1924 translates shoah as devastation and destruction; the 1939 Waldstein Hebrew-English dictionary translates shoah as desolation. And the 1936 Krupnik Hebrew dictionary definesshoah with Hebrew words that mean roughly "tempest". Every modern Hebrew dictionary I have consulted gives the non-specific sense of shoah. (e.g. Comey/ Tsur User-Friendly Hebrew-English Dictionary (1997), shoah 1) holocaust 2) vast destruction, catastrophe.) With a modifier shoah is employed occasionally to refer to major economic catastrophe, nuclear war, and aspects of the Arab Palestinian history. (See Shabatai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Holocaust (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996), p. 72 for this last use.) To denote the Nazi catastrophe shoah is normally preceded by ha, the Hebrew equivalent of "the." Like "the Holocaust," ha-shoah, unmodified, can refer to the Nazi mass murder of Jews or the Nazi mass murder of both Jews and non-Jews. In Hebrew, to make an unambiguous reference to the Judeocide when context might lead to ambiguity, one writes shoat h'am h'juydit.

Like "holocaust," the etymology of shoah is biblical.  And, as perhaps by now might be expected, the prevalent scholarly representation of shoah's biblical use incorrectly claims a religious meaning for the word. For example, "[a]ll biblical meanings of the term [shoah] clearly imply Divine judgment and retribution." (Uriel Tal, "On the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide,"Yad Vashem Studies XIII (1979), 51 and quoted in Roth and Berenbaum (eds), Holocaust, p. 44. And for a similar statement: Ofer, "Linguistic Conceptualization," 568, and in October 1999 Ann-Vera Sullam Calimani in Modern Language Review (94:4) 980.)

Many biblical employments of shoah do imply Divine judgment but in Job 30:3 and 38:27 the word is used with no such implication.  The standard Jewish English language edition of Job intended for synagogue use contains this commentry: "The Hebrew phrase SHOAH UMESHOAH ... appears again in 38:27 translated desolate and waste. It describes the ruin and waste of the desert." And the translation of  Job 38:1-27 reads: "Then the Lord answered ... Who hath cleft a channel ... cause it to rain ... to satisfy the desolate and waste ground." (Job [Hebrew with English translation] (Socino Press, 1946), commentry by Victor Reichert)

Some early uses of shoah in reference to events in Nazi Germany: in Do'ar Ha-yom 3 Febuary 1933: "[Hitler's] regime will not lead to a shoah" And a Davar headline 17 March 1933: "In the hour of the shoahof German Jewry". (From Benny Morris, "Response of the Jewish Daily Press in Palestine to the Accession of Hitler, 1933", Yad Vashem Studies 27 (1999) pp. 373, 374. -- I have used an English word order closer to the Hebrew of the Davar headline than Benny Morris's.)

Clearly if different secular Hebrew newspapers used shoah within months of Hitler's ascent to power and with no explanation of the word's meaning, then shoah in its general sense of destruction and devastation -- with no religious connotations -- must have been widely understood by Hebrew speakers before 1933.

Some additional employments of shoah within Zionist political circles: In 1934 Weizmann, speaking in German, described Hitler's rise to power as a katastrophe. Katastrophe was translated into Hebrew as shoah. In 1937, Moshe Sharrett referred to the Nazi persecution of Jews as a shoah. And in June 1939, Ben-Gurion spoke of the possible destruction of European Jewry: "... a war will visit upon us a shoah ... [Hitler will destroy] first of all the Jews of Europe." (Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Holocaust, p. xxix, xxxvi) Teveth argues (p. 98) that shoah as late as 1943 did not have a meaning of mass murder, and thus by implication that Ben-Gurion in 1939 was not thinking of mass murder when he used the word shoah. I find Teveth's reasoning unconvincing. Ben-Gurion had read Mein Kampf in 1933 and in 1934 warned that "Hitler's rule places the entire Jewish people in danger ... perhaps only four or five years ... stand between us and that day of wrath." [Teveth, p. xxxv, xxxvi])

An analogy: in certain contexts the two ordinary English words, "clearances" and "troubles" unmodified, preceded by 'the', and perhaps uppercased, refer to traumatic national events. ("During the Clearances [Scottish], the sheep forced most of the people from around here to the New World..." Ben Macintyre in The Times (London), 31 March '01, p. 22:2   And: "This site contains information ... on 'the Troubles' in Northern Ireland ..." The ordinary Hebrew word shoah in certain contexts, preceded by "hu" has also come to refer to a particular Jewish disaster. In the case of shoah the nearness of the event combined with the event's centrality in Jewish Israeli consciousness to some degree discourages the use of shoah in its more general older meaning.

And a curious 'Shoah' versus 'Holocaust' report: "In the film ... "God is Great, I'm Not" [2002] it was possible to see the extent to which the Holocaust has become a kind of label that young Jews wear on their clothes to differentiate them from their surroundings. The film tells the story of the love between a young Parisian Jew and a young woman who is not "one of us" (the actress who plays her is Audrey Tautou, the heroine of the French film "Amelie"). She tries to appeal to him through books about "le Holocaust," but he shoves them away, and scolds her that "Holocaust" is a hateful word that was invented by the gentiles and it means [sic] sacrificial victim and the right word is "Shoah" and only "Shoah," even in French."   From 
(accessed 26 Dec '05) "Boston Reading Diary, Part III: A slave of ethnic genetics", Benny Ziffer

72.  James Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), pp. 87-88. (My ellipses in the text represent several paragraphs but I think I fairly represent what Young intends to convey.) Readers interested in exploring this idea might look at Daniel Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners: Chandler quotes John Fiske, "it is often easy to read connotative values as denotative facts" and, as I understand Chandler, one of the main aims of semiotic analysis is to provide the analytical method and the frame of mind to guard against such misreading.

73.  Anthony McCall, Holocaust (New York, Trident, 1967), pp. 162, 190. The "holocaust there," a pre-emptive nuclear strike against China, is to be triggered by the "holocaust here" - - a Presidential assassination, a bombing of an American installation, and the destruction of an aircraft carrier, all, per planted evidence, organized by the Chinese government.

74. Of twenty-five employments of "H/holocaust" in Christian Science Monitor headlines between January 1980 and September 1986, three were "nuclear holocausts," one a "hidden holocaust" (the Ukrainian famine), and twenty-one were references to the Judeocide and associated events. Of twenty-five employments in the same paper's headlines between February 1990 and February 1999, all were references to the Nazi slaughter of noncombatants and twenty-four would probably have been understood by most readers as referring to the slaughter of Jews, and Jews only. (Data compiled using the user friendly search engine at Of thirty newswire stories containing the word "H/holocaust" in the Northern Light data base for the period 18 February through 26 February 1999, one contained a reference to an "environmental holocaust," and another referred to the destruction of the American Indian peoples as "a holocaust." The remaining twenty-eight stories dealt with such events as Swiss banks releasing funds to Holocaust survivors and the establishment of a new Yad Vashem data base of Holocaust victims. The term "Holocaust" was used, on average, approximately three times in each of these twenty-eight stories, thus in the sample of thirty news stories only about two percent of the uses of "H/holocaust" refer to events unconnected to the Jewish catastrophe. In the twenty-eight stories employing "Holocaust" as a referent to the Nazi slaughter, three employed the words "Nazi Holocaust" and twenty-five an unmodified "Holocaust." (Data compiled 27 February 1999 from

An August 2003 "five million others": "The Holocaust is the historic event that resulted in the mass murder of six million Jews, and five million others, at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators in Europe during the period 1933-1945." New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education


Appendix: A critique of the 1989 Oxford English Dictionary's entry "holocaust, n." 

Critical remarks are within brackets [ ].  The dictionary's own definitions and cites (illustrative quotations) are preceded by *** and come from the online 1989 OED (Oxford English Dictionary);  (14 Feb. 2002).)

***a. F. holocauste (12th c.), ad. late L. holocaustum, a. Gr. ... whole + ... burnt.

***1. A sacrifice wholly consumed by fire; a whole burnt offering.

[The LATEST citation in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) illustrating this sense of "holocaust" is from 1847. The OED could usefully indicate that sense 1 and the religious senses of 2a & b (below) are now both rare and restricted primarily to Roman Catholic writings.]

***c1250 Gen. & Ex. 1326 Ysaac was leid at auter on, So men sulden holocaust don.

[A compelling quote but certainly not the first employment of the word by writers of English. A word search of the Old English Corpus -- writings from before c. 1100 at; turns up English "holocausts."]

***1526 TINDALE Mark xii. 33 A greater thynge then all holocaustes and sacrifises.

[Tindale employed "holocaust" once and only once in his poorly circulated first New Testament and then eschewed the word.  In his post 1526 translations Tindale employed "burnt offering," "burnt sacrifice," and similar but never "holocaust." The OED's Tindale cite, while technically accurate, badly misleads.  Tindale's 1526 vocabulary has only curiosity value; his slightly different post 1526  vocabulary has had enormous impact:  the King James Bible is based largely on Tyndale's post 1526 Bibles (but relies not at all on his 1526 Bible). The Wycliffe Bible (the most important English language Bible c. 1380-1525), Tindale's important Bibles, and the King James Bible do not employ "holocaust." And yet the OED's first two cites leave the impression that "holocaust" is firmly linked to the English Bible.  (Only English Catholic Bibles employ "holocaust" with any regularity.  A non-misleading set of OED quotes illustrating biblical "burnt offering" meanings would explicitly cite Catholic usage and include the only holocaust of human beings in the Catholic Bible: "... to burne their children with fire for holocaust to Baalim." (Jeremiah 19:5))]

***1680 H. MORE Apocal. Apoc. 101 In the latter part thereof stands the altar of Holocausts.
***1732 BERKELEY Alciphr. v. §3 Those Druids would have sacrificed many a holocaust of free-thinkers.

[The OED's eleven word cite has four minor textual inaccuracies -- George Berkeley employed an upper cased "Holocaust" and an upper cased "Free," wrote "wou'd have" not "would have" and "these" not "Those."  And Berkeley did not intend "Holocaust of Free-thinkers" to be understood as a "whole burnt 'offering,'" the meaning the OED is supposedly illustrating. Berkeley's "Holocaust" within a meaningful context:

"ALC[IPHRON] [I] shou'd like well to see the Druids and their Religion restored ... CRI[TO]. How wou'd you like ... that now and then, a Number of Layman shou'd be crammed together in a Wicker-idol, and burnt for an Offering to their Pagan Gods ? LYS[ICLES] ... And I make no doubt but these Druids wou'd have sacrificed many a Holocaust of Free-thinkers ... No Druids or Priests ... for me." ((Bishop) George Berkeley, Alciphron: or the Minute Philosopher (London: J. Tonson, 1732), vol. I, pp. 270-272 (fifth dialogue, section 3).

Berkeley's information about Druid practices probably came from Caesar's Gallic Wars (6:16). Per Caesar, Druid priests organized sacrifices in which "images of enormous size, woven out of twigs, were filled with men and set on fire ... [and while criminals were the preferred victims] lacking criminals, they will even stoop to punishing the guiltless." (Strabo's Geography 4.4:5 has a similar description.)  Berkeley/ Lysicles, unsympathetic to the Druid religion or the Druid priests and perhaps echoing Caesar, identifies with the free-thinkers (the guiltless)  To my mind the OED's 1732 "sacrificed many a Holocaust of Free-thinkers" does not reference a "religious whole burn offering of the Free-thinkers" but "religiously sanctioned slaughter of the Free-thinkers."  (Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary gives as a meaning of sacrifice, “to destroy; to kill.”)

(Incidentally, Berkeley believed "the great obstacle to knowledge is the misuse of words... [i]t is "the mist and veil of words" that has chiefly obscured from us the true nature of reality."   And Berkeley almost certainly wrote Alciphron in Rhode Island, his residence 1728-1732, and thus "Holocaust of Free-thinkers" is probably the first recorded 'American' "H/holocaust.")]

***1847 GROTE Greece II. xxxii. (1862) III. 162 A holocaust of the most munificent character.

 [The OED's one citation in its "holocaust" entry referencing classical pagan sacrifices is non-concrete, non-memorable, and unclear. The OED seems to go out of its way to downplay "holocaust's" employment in classical texts. Yet an educated Protestant Englishman in the period 1600-1940 would have encountered "H/holocaust" as a referent to a pagan sacrifice in translations of (or references to) Latin and Greek texts but never in his Bible. Two examples of classical pagan holocausts: 1) "With Holocausts he Pluto's altar fills." (Dryden's 1697 Aeneid, Book VI)  2) "'Jupiter opposes you, and I fear that you have neglected to sacrifice to him in the manner I used to offer for you in Athens, that is, by presenting him a holocaust.'" (Smith's 1827 translation of Xenophon's Anabasis, p. 540 -- Xenophon is the first known user of the Greek "holocaust" (c. 365 BCE) and Anabasis is the usual introductory text for students of classical Greek.]

***2. transf. and fig. a. A complete sacrifice or offering. b. A sacrifice on a large scale.

[The OED could usefully distinguish between the non-religious and the religious meanings of "holocaust" by placing all religious meanings and their accompanying illustrative quotations under numeral 1 and all non-religious meanings under 2 -- the quotes below mix religious and non-religious meanings. The lack of separation between the secular and religious meanings of "holocaust" is a major failure of the OED's explication of "holocaust."]

***1497 BP. ALCOCK Mons Perfect. Ciija, Very true obedyence is an holocauste of martyrdom made to Cryste. 1648 J. BEAUMONT Psyche XXIV. cxciv. (R.), The perfect holocaust of generous love. 1688 in Lond. Gaz. No. 2401/1 We..humbly offer our Lives and Fortunes..which is that true Holocaust which all true honest-hearted Scotsmen will give to so good..a Prince. a1711 KEN Anodynes Poet. Wks. 1721 III. 477 While I thy Holocaust remain. 1868 M. PATTISON Academ. Org. v. 139 By another grand holocaust of fellowships we might perhaps purchase another respite.

[The pagan offering sense of "holocaust" of senses 2a & b is completely missed by the OED cites.  A jocular pagan "holocaust" from the 1989 OED's "Moloch" entry (removed from the 1992 OED online entry):  "W. Cory Lett. &. Jrnls. (1897) 237 ``This holocaust, this human incense, this Moloch-squeezing of innocents [a hot Sunday in school chapel].'' (Non jocular examples are given in the preceding "Secular Word ..." essay.)]

***[2]c. Complete consumption by fire, or that which is so consumed; complete destruction, esp. of a large number of persons; a great slaughter or massacre.

[2c's sense,"massacre," is very different from the same 2c's sense, "complete consumption by fire." The two senses deserve separate identities and thus separate letters.  And, as stated above, the "destruction" and "massacre" meanings deserve their own arabic numeral to clearly separate "holocaust's" secular meanings from its now rare religious meanings.]

***1671 MILTON Samson 1702 Like that self-begotten bird In the Arabian woods embost, That no second knows nor third, And lay erewhile a Holocaust. a1711 KEN Christophil Poet. Wks. 1721 I. 442 Shou'd gen'ral Flame this World consume.. An Holocaust for Fontal Sin.

[This "Fontal Sin Holocaust," authored by Bishop Ken, with its clear religious coloring belongs under 2a,b (or better a new 1c) and not under 2c.]

***1833 L. RITCHIE Wand. by Loire 104 Louis VII..once made a holocaust of thirteen hundred persons in a church.

[The three dots conceal another "h" word and thus the alliteration in Ritchie's sentence.  Alliteration has often been a reason for a writer's choosing "holocaust" over "disaster," "massacre," or another synonym.  A fuller Ritchie quote shows the alliteration (and conveys the ironic spin) missing from the short OED quote: "Louis VII ... a man of nice honor, (although he once made a holocaust of thirteen hundred persons in a church), divorced his wife on the instant."]

***1883 B. M. CROKER Pretty Miss Neville III. 124 When Major Percival has made a holocaust of your letters. 1940 Hansard Commons 6 Mar. 416 The general holocaust of civilised standards. 1944 H. F. RUBINSTEIN Hated Servants 167 The siege will take a heavy toll, and few who live to the end of it will survive the holocaust that must follow. 1987 Sunday Tel. 23 Nov. 15 (heading) Aids: the new holocaust.

[The OED within its "holocaust" entry misses completely "holocaust's" sense of nuclear destruction, the word's most frequently encountered meaning circa 1960-1965.  And the OED provides no quotations illustrating the occasional employment of "holocaust" as a referent to a minor disaster unrelated to fire.  An example: "Arrived in Paris early Saturday evening exhausted from sleepless holocaust night with Ted in London." (Sylvia Plath, Journals, 26 March 1956 / New Yorker, 27 March 2000, 109. "Ted" was Ted Hughes.) 

The number of OED cites illustrating "holocaust's" non-Nazi secular senses is significantly less than the number of cites illustrating "holocaust's" religious senses, thus the OED appears to give greater authority to the word's rare religious meanings than to its more common non-Nazi secular meanings.  And not a single cite is given for the years 1883-1940.  And none of the post 1800 quotes given under the OED's 2c sense are from well know authors, authors whose names would add authority to "holocaust's" common non-religious meanings.  Citations from Crane, Shaw, and Fitzgerald from the period 1883-1940 are given in my "Secular Word" essay. Two Winston Churchill quotes that convey the authority a famous name gives to usage:  "As for the Turkish atrocities ... helpless Armenians, men, women, and children together, whole districts blotted out in one administrative holocaust -- these were beyond human redress." (Winston Churchill, The Aftermath, 1929, p. 158) And:  "What a holocaust!"  [Churchill's handwriting on the margin of a typed confidential note detailing Pearl Harbour losses -- the American public was not informed of the full extent of Pearl Harbor losses until after the end of World War II] (M. Gilbert, Churchill (1983), Vol VI, p. 1269.) ]

***d. the Holocaust: the mass murder of the Jews by the Nazis in the war of 1939-1945. Also used transf., of the similar fate of other groups; and attrib.

["Holocaust," preceded by "the" is capitalized above, but over half of the OED's cites below employ the lowercased "holocaust" and often in the OED cites below "holocaust" is not preceded by "the." The uppercased "Holocaust" became the preferred form for sense 2d circa 1980.  And before about 1980 "H/holocaust" needed a modifier or a context to be readily understood in the 2d sense.  Another difficulty, 2d totally ignores a common meaning of the capitalized word: Nazi persecution and murder of Jews.  (The Nazi persecutions began in 1933. The mass killings began in 1941, not as the OED implies, 1939.)   

Another important sense of "H/holocaust" missed completely by the OED definitions: the killing (and also, sometimes persecution) of both Jewish and non-Jewish non-combatants in Nazi Europe.  A 1945 employment in this ecumenical sense is to be found within the OED's own cites (below). Another example: "The Holocaust ... the extermination of six million Jews and some five million other peoples ..." (President Carter in his 1979 executive order creating the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The five million figure, infrequently questioned by historians, significantly minimizes death tolls of Gentile non-combatants at Nazi hands.) 

(And one last minor point, since "holocaust" had the meaning of "massacre" before 1941, the employment of "holocaust" to refer to Nazi killings of non-Jews was, until the Judeocide meaning became dominant after 1978, not normally "transf." (transferred) from "H/holocaust's" Judeocide meaning.)]

***The specific application was introduced by historians during the 1950s, probably as an equivalent to Heb. hurban and shoah ‘catastrophe’ (used in the same sense); but it had been foreshadowed by contemporary references to the Nazi atrocities as a holocaust (sense 2 c): see quots. 1942-49.

[A curious statement: references to "the Nazi holocaust" and similar did not cease in 1945 only to be resumed by historians in the 1950s. A quote from the Israeli Declaration of Independence: "The Nazi holocaust which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe proved anew the urgency of the re-establishment of the Jewish state ..." (New York Times, 15 May 1948, p. 2:3)  And from the 1949 Israel: A History of the Jewish People: "But the White Paper (limiting immigration to Palestine) added greatly ... to the number ... who perished in the immeasurable holocaust ..." and "Holocaust in Europe" (chapter title) and "Tzivya Lubertkin, 'the mother of the ghetto,' who survived the holocaust ..." (Rufus Learsi, Israel ..., pp. 645, 654)]

***The term is in common use among Jews, but seems to be otherwise relatively rare except among specialists.

[A false statement: the OED entry was written circa 1987, nine years after "The Holocaust," NBC's mini series dramatization of the Judeocide, had been seen by upwards of 100 million English speakers. The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature for 1985 in its Holocaust, Jewish section lists eight titles in non-Jewish non-specialist magazines containing an unmodified "Holocaust," e.g. "Heroes of the Holocaust" from the Canadian news magazine Macleans and "Holocaust Twins ..." [re survivors of Mengele's experiments] in Psychology Today.]

***1942 News Chron. 5 Dec. 2/2 Holocaust...Nothing else in Hitler's record is comparable to his treatment of the Jews...The word has gone forth that..the Jewish peoples are to be exterminated...The conscience of humanity stands aghast. 1943 Hansard Lords 23 Mar. 826 The Nazis go on killing..If this rule could be relaxed, some hundreds, and possibly a few thousands, might be enabled to escape from this holocaust. 1945 M. R. COHEN in S. Goldschmidt Legal Claims against Germany, Millions of surviving victims of the Nazi holocaust, Jews and non-Jews, will stand before us in the years to come. 1949 Proc. Amer. Acad. for Jewish Research XVIII. 193 Problems of Jewish Hurban research.

[I am supposing the "... Jewish Hurban research" quote above is intended to document the supposed disapearance of "holocaust" in its Judeocide sense between circa 1945 and circa 1957, the date of the next quote in the OED's list. But "(Nazi) holocaust" saw some significant use 1949-1957 and Hurban was an uncommon signifier of the Judeocide in English language publications. "Disaster" (uppercased) and "catastrophe" were the prime competitors of "H/holocaust" 1945-1957.  The increasing favoring of "H/holocaust" as an English translation of the Hebrew SHOAH at Yad Vashen, 1955-1962 lead in turn, after the Eichmann trial, to an increasing favoring of "H/holocaust" as a name for the Judeocide in the English speaking world.]

***1957 Yad Washem Bull. Apr. 35/2 (heading) Research on the Holocaust Period. 1958 Ibid. July 2/2 The catastrophe which overtook us...The not the same as the Holocaust. 1962 B. GLANVILLE Diamond xviii. 296 The holocaust..was the inevitable end, the logical conclusion of the pogroms, the Mosley marches, the hatred. 1965 A. DONAT (title) The holocaust kingdom. 1967 N. COHN Warrant for Genocide ix. 208 By the autumn of 1944 the holocaust was nearing its conclusion. 1968 Manch. Guardian Weekly 25 Apr. 10/4 There is now within modern history a compartment of holocaust studies dealing with the wholesale destruction by the Nazis of European Jewry. 1972 F. FORSYTH Odessa File 306 The mausoleum of Yad Vashem,..the shrine to six million of his fellow Jews who died in the holocaust. 1980 Jewish Chron. 18 Apr. 9/3 A memorial mark Holocaust Day. transf. 1973 T. BIELECZKI & L. SZYMANSKI Warsaw Aflame 5 Genocide against the Polish as well as the Jewish sections of the population...Warsaw Aflame was..written by men who lived through the holocaust. 1981 N. DAVIES God's Playground II. xx. 454 From 1941, Poland became the home of humanity's Holocaust. 1981 F. RECTOR Nazi Extermination of Homosexuals vi. 115 The number of gay Holocaust victims is substantial. Ibid. 116 At least 500,000 gays died in the Holocaust. 1985

[The OED with this quotation circulates and lends its authority to a wildly untrue statement.  The number of homosexuals who lost their lives to the Germans because of their sexual orientation was under 20,000 -- see]

***A. RAMATI And Violins stopped playing (1986) 7 The Germans don't even admit that there was a Gypsy holocaust..there are memorials in Auschwitz for all the nations whose people died there, except for the Gypsies!