The Holocaust: What does it mean, exactly?

I’ve always heard the term used as a name for Hitler’s extermination of Jews. Was it used by Hitler himself, or did the Jews or someone else come up with the name? Also, did it apply specifically ONLY to the extermination of Jews, or did it include the various other groups (Poles, Gypsies, etc.) that Hitler killed?

From the OED:

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.
The specific application was introduced by historians during the 1950s, probably as an equivalent to Heb. {hdotbl}urban 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. The term is in common use among Jews, but seems to be otherwise relatively rare except among specialists.

Other groups being Gypsies, Homosexuals, Communists, political opponents, etc.

In Hebrew, it’s called Shoah, which means (IIRC) something like a catastrophy or a catastophic upheaval.

“Holocaust” is from Greek for “all burned up.” It refers to something being completely incinerated. A misnomer, you say, since some survived?

Ah, but it translates “Shoah”-- a kind of burnt offering in the ancient Israelite Temple Cult which was to be completely incinerated.

I don’t know who first decided that “Shoah” was a better name than “That continent-wide pogrom,” but I think it has a mystical/religious meaning. Then “Holocaust” got applied as a sort of translation…

Or, that’s what I was told once. I need a good cite…


The term “Holocaust” meaning the Nazi genocide was only widely used after the TV miniseries of that name.

Yeah, when I was a kid, “Final Solution” was the catchphrase.

It seems that there is a distinction between the word holocaust and the term The Holocaust. Based on what I’m reading in this thread, the former can refer to a variety of atrocities throughout history, while the latter refers to those committed by the Nazis around the time of WWII. Correct? Now, does the latter refer ONLY to the Jews, or to all of the groups?

You mean this miniseries?

Do you have a cite?

According to the OED: “… The specific application was introduced by historians during the 1950s…”

I doubt this very much. Cite?

I’m absolutely certain that it’s wrong. I only hope he was joking.

It was probably used in academic circles that far back, but it took years for the term to trickle down to the general public. I remember it gaining acceptance around the time of the movie (probably a little before). When I was growing up in the 60s, I never heard the usage at all and, when I finally did, I didn’t particularly like it. We used to refer to it as the concentration camps, Nazi genocide, or final solution.

But I had never heard the term attached to the Nazi genocide until after I had graduated from college in 1974.

I’ll see your anecdote and raise you one anecdote. I heard the term in High School in the late 60s/early 70s. In fact, I’ve heard it used for as long as I can remember.

I vaguely remember Claude Lanzmann stating that he coined the the term “Shoah” but had borrowed it in some way from a rabbi. But my memory on this, assuming Lanzmann is right is very blurry…

I meant of course coining it as a word used in reference to the nazi genocide…

Second that – I went to high school 1976-1980, and clearly recall “The Holocaust” description. I’m still getting over viewing the Auschwitz films at that time.

An earlier thread on the subject.

Also, on a program called “The History of Britain” which I saw on the History Channel, “holocaust” (or the Middle English equivalent) was referred to a purge of Jews in Britain as early as the 12th or 13th century. The modern usage might have arisen independently, though.

Personally, the first time I ever heard the term in this connection was in the miniseries QB VII (1974). That was the name of the book written by Abraham Cady. I never read Uris’s book (1970), so I don’t know that that same name was used in it.

I believe rfgdxm is misquoting the trivia section on that Imdb page:

[bolding mine]