Two catastrophes have hurt the Jewish people in the twentieth century: the Holocaust and the lessons drawn from it. And today, illogical and anti-historical interpretations of the genocide of the Jews are being used, either deliberately or out of ignorance, as propaganda – in the non-Jewish world, the Jewish Diaspora, and within Israel’s own Jewish nation. This propaganda has now become one of the most serious threats to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Before beginning, I feel I must express reservations about the term ‘Holocaust’ itself, which, in its common rhetorical usage has taken on a strange and misleading power. Derived from its original sense of a complete sacrifice – a whole burnt offering – holocaust has come to signify any event characterized by the comprehensiveness and the unexpectedness of its destruction. A holocaust can be used to represent virtually any disaster – an earthquake, a fire, even a thunder storm on an otherwise sunny day – that strikes suddenly, without historical precedent or context; it is more evocative than specifying: its causes cannot be understood or analysed. In the context of World War Two, ‘Holocaust’ is a circumlocution that is semantically no different from the famous Nazi circumlocution, the ‘Final Solution’. Both terms hide the truth behind another name. ‘Final Solution’ was used by the murderers to cover up their crime; ‘Holocaust’ neutralizes the crime for those who managed to survive it. ‘The genocide of the European Jews’, while obviously more cumbersome, is in fact a more accurate representation of what actually happened, and conveys that there were specific victims of specific murderers in a specific part of the world. Unlike the almost mystical ‘Holocaust’, the term ‘the genocide of the European Jews’ allows us to understand that this terrible crime was a particular historical event that can and – we now realize – must be understood in its historical context. That circumlocutions of this sort have been used for so long reveals how complex our feelings are when we approach this subject. They also point to the tremendous hypocrisy and pretence evident in all sides involved in understanding it.