Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe

By Laura Jockusch | Go to book overview

NOTES

Introduction

1. Although I am mindful of the non-Jewish victims of the Nazi regime, this study’s use of the term “survivors” specifically relates to Jews, while Jewishness is understood rather broadly, in terms of both the religion and self-identity of the individuals as well as the racial definition imposed on them by their persecutors. For reasons of practicality, the term functions as the collective name denoting a highly diverse group whose members were dissimilar in age, gender, class, social status, education, ideology, nationality, language, and wartime experiences.

2. Khurbn (or hurban in Hebrew)—initially applied to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE—was subsequently used more generally for catastrophic events in Jewish history, such as the major pogroms in eastern Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Survivors continued to use khurbn or variations thereof even though the Nazi mass murder of European Jews far exceeded previous incidents of violence against Jews in totality of intent, global reach, method, and number of victims. Such elaborations as letster khurbn (the latest destruction), hurban bet shlishi (the destruction of the Third Temple), or specific location, e.g., khurbn Tomashov, indicate that the survivors tended to place their own experiences in the generations-long chain of Jewish persecution and suffering. See Niborski and Vaisbrot, Dictionnaire Yiddish-Français, 277.

Alternative Yiddish terms for the Holocaust among survivors in the immediate postwar period included: kataklizm (cataclysm), umkum (death), shkhite (slaughter, massacre), tragedye (tragedy), martirer veg funem yidishn folk (path of martyrdom of the Jewish people), martirologye (martyrdom), yidn oysrotung (extermination of the Jews), fartilikung funem yidishn folk (annihilation of the Jewish people), redifes oyf yidn (persecution of the Jews), di oysrotungs tkufe (period of extermination), di yorn fun redifes (years of persecution), and kidesh-hashem funem yidishn folk (martyrdom of the Jewish people).

Common French and English words included: le catadisme/catadysm and le martyr/martyrdom. The Hebrew term Shoah (destruction), which is used in Israel and beyond, was first used in 1940 when the United Aid Committee for the Jews of Poland in Palestine published the booklet Sho’at yehude Polin with documents and eyewitness accounts on persecution of the Jews of Poland after the German occupation. The term came into common use in the Hebrew language only with the Israeli parliament’s passing of the laws for a national Holocaust Remembrance Day (1951) and for the establishment of the Yad Vashem memorial site (1953). The English-language term Holocaust (initially in lowercase) was used in the 1940s to describe the mass murder of European Jews as well as for crimes against other populations during the Second World War. Derived from the Greek holokauston (burnt offering), Holocaust is the translation of the Hebrew word ‘olah, relating to a burnt offering to God in 1 Samuel 7:9.

The related term “genocide”—coined in 1944 by Polish Jewish refugee lawyer Raphael Lemkin—entered the English lexicon through its use in the International Military Tribunal’s prosecution of German war criminals and in the UN Genocide Convention of 1948.

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