When did we start using "holocaust"

…as the word to describe the Germans’ systematic annihilation of the Jews? (And others.)

I am asking because I don’t remember this term being widely used to describe this event until maybe the late '70s. I remember hearing “genocide” and “Shoah.” And then the TV movie came out, and then it did become, not just the most widely used term for it, but also pretty much the only use of the word. Which before that could apply to destruction caused by a great big fire, for instance. I guess we do still use it that way in conjunction with “nuclear.”

But now the word “holocaust” seems to be being used as a synonym for genocide. When did that get going?

I had a world religion class in college in 1979. The professor (who was a Lutheran minister) spent quite a bit of time on far east and Indian religions, but only two days on Judaism. At the end of those days he asked if anyone had any questions. I asked if he was going to talk about the Holocaust, which he had totally skipped. He asked the other students if they knew what that meant, and no one did, so he asked me to explain it to the others.

I had obviously heard the term before then. I think I picked it up from watching Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man on PBS a few years earlier, about 1976.

Google Ngrams shows the term starts rising in the 1960s.

A number of major books with holocaust in the title were published at the end of the 1960s, probably precipitating this.
The holocaust: the Nazi destruction of Europe’s Jews* , by Gerhard Schoenberner - 1969

The holocaust: the destruction of European Jewry, 1933-1945, by Nora Levin - 1968

Guide to the Unpublished Materials of the Holocaust Period; by Jacob Robinson, ‎Shaul Esh - 1965

If you modify your Ngram search by selecting “case insensitive,” you get a slightly different result.

That timing sounds right. I never heard it in the term used in High School or college, even when taking 20th century history with a Jewish instructor.

I first started hearing it in the late 70s.

That’s because without the capital H the meaning isn’t specific to the OP’s question and the results you get aren’t meaningful.

I guess we’re all fans of Google’s n-gram viewer. It was the first thing I looked at before reading the rest of this thread. It’s interesting to look at it in comparison to genocide and shoah.

n-gram viewer

Note that Holocaust (The Holocaust) peaked in 2001, but genocide (any genocide) is still rising rapidly.

I beg to differ.

The generic use of “holocaust” apparently precedes the specific use of “Holocaust”. This means to me that it became associated with WW2 somewhat recently, but was in use for an unknown reason for decades before.

Yes. The lower case version dates back to at least 1800 on Ngram. The upper case version – which changes it from the generic to the specific – does not take off until the 1970s.

The term is used in the English translation of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

"Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland. "

I think the word used in the original Hebrew means ‘massacre’ or ‘slaughter,’ so perhaps somebody could dig up the earliest versions of the English translation and see what it says?

Thanks. Yes, holocaust was a word for things but not that thing, for years.

This came up during a discussion of a book. (Educated, Tara Westover) IShe shows up at BYU after being home-schooled and is ridiculed for (and embarrassed about) not knowing about the Holocaust. But she did know a little about the event, not as much as someone who had not grown up in an insular, isolated community, but something. But I was thinking that her parents, before they isolated themselves, probably wouldn’t have heard that term, either, because it wasn’t used at that time.

I forgot about the Google ngram thing. Thanks for reminding me. It seems to me that that TV movie was very influential in spreading this usage–the ngram really shoots up about that time. Of course it could just be that the usage was getting around at that time and that’s why it was picked as the name of the TV movie.

The OP’s question was “When did we start using “holocaust”…as the word to describe the Germans’ systematic annihilation of the Jews?” Obviously the OP knew, properly, that holocaust had an older generic meaning. So why take two posts to point that out?

The answer to the OP’s question is “starting in the late 1960s.” I don’t understand why we’re talking about anything else.

BTW, I don’t mean to imply that no one had ever made the association earlier. The first use and the popularization of a term are often vastly separate events.

I heard it referenced on the East Coast as “Holocaust” in the mid-1970’s.

The Hebrew word, “shoah”, means “catastrophe” or “destruction” (in the Bible, it also means “storm” and “desolation”).

Interestingly, the word “holocaust” in the English version of the DoI is actually a translation of “tebach”, or “massacre”, while the word “shoah”, which appears in the previous paragraph, is translated as “catastrophe”. That seems to indicate that the meanings of the words, and their translation, was still in flux in 1948, both in Hebrew and in English.

The OED has cites from 1942 of the word holocaust being used with respect to Nazi treatment of the Jews. Note that some at least of these usages would not refer to the explicit policy of genocide thorugh systematic concentration and murder, which was not widely known at the time; they are probably an instance of an existing usage of holocaust to refer to any great slaughter or massacre. According to the OED, specific application [the Holocaust to refer to the Nazi programme] was introduced by historians during the 1950s, probably as an equivalent to Hebrew ḥurban and shoah used in the same sense, and was popularised from there. In 1957 the Yad Vashem Bulletin talks of, e.g., “the Holocaust period”. “Holocaust studies” goes back to at least 1969; “Holocaust denial/denier” to 1984.

I thought the official programme was known in English as the Final Solution? The Holocaust was the resulting genocide, so named because it was a… holocaust.

The “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” (die Endlösung der Judenfrage) was a euphemism used by Nazi leaders to refer both to the object of eliminating Jews from Europe by killing them (as opposed to, e.g., by deportation/exile) and to the various means adopted to acheive it. I think the term first turns up in documents in the second half of 1941. The Holocaust is the dominant (English-language) term used by historians and others to refer to the same thing.

Here is a link to an article about the word being applied to the extermination of Jews by Nazis. An American Army doctor whose unit liberated the camps referred to the Holocaust in letters in 1945. It’s one of the first usages of the term.

Missed the edit window, but the article confirms what other people here have mentioned, that the Holocaust didn’t become the formal name for the Nazi program until sometime in the 70s.

As someone born in the early eighties, this is just so bazaar.

So there was this big huge event in history, and it took people decades to come up with a common name for it? :confused:

It seems like it only takes hours for the the world to come up with names for major events now. (Hint: just add -gate to the end of it!)