The Holocaust (YIVO)

The term Holocaust is a designation for the catastrophic losses suffered by the Jews of Europe (and, to a far lesser extent, in North Africa) as a result of actions taken by the government of Germany or its allies between 1933 and 1945. The word came into common usage in the United States during the 1960s in the wake of the trial of Adolf Eichmann. It has since become current in most European languages (although in Russian, until recently, the term katastrofa was more common and remains widespread). Since the 1980s, the scope of the word as used in the United States has been expanded to encompass the losses suffered by any identifiable civilian group as a result of German government actions during the period in question, including Sinti and Roma (Gypsies), Poles, male homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, persons with mental retardation, and others. This wider usage, incorporated in the mission statement of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, has generally not caught on in other countries. Nor has it become common, as it has in the United States, to use the word more broadly as a synonym for genocide, or even as a designation for virtually any instance of catastrophic mass death. In Hebrew, the encounter between the Third Reich and the Jews was called ha-sho’ah (the catastrophe) even before German forces began systematic mass killings in 1941. In Yiddish, the encounter is usually called khurbn (destruction).

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