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Find a new word for horror

If the organizers of the upcoming memorial ceremony make a comparison with the events of the last century, we will be the main victims of the devaluation status of the Holocaust.

‘I saw the smoke coming out of the burning synagogue’, one of the soldiers described the scene, ‘I saw those who tried to escape through the windows… they watched the horror of their deaths in terrible agony of hundreds of people, including women and children, and watched them burn to death.’ This text describes the abuse and murder committed by the Nazis on the Jews of Bialystok and is taken from the book “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (Daniel Goldhagen).

Last year, on Holocaust Day, the scenes of horror that we all viewed were seen as something from the old, black-and-white world, existing only in museums and memorial films. On this coming Holocaust Day, such descriptions will take on a completely different context. People will hear about Vilna but think of Be’eri, listen to descriptions of children hiding in an attic and immediately connect to a disaster in Nir Oz or Ofakim.

65 years after the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance was enacted, at a time when the last of the survivors are leaving us, Holocaust Day will be held this year for the first time under the connotation of a recent event and not necessarily a historical one.

And yet, we must not compare! The ‘Holocaust’ must remain in its historical and founding place, without the events competing with 7th of October and being compared to it. On the 7th of October there were thousands of Israelis and Jews who experienced events similar to a holocaust, there is no doubt about that, but it is not a holocaust!

Those who were shot in Lodz, died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen, or murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz had previously undergone dehumanization processes for years. Their status as a person and as a citizen were denied, their property was taken, they were starved, their family were separated, and above all – their only hope was that foreign armies would come to save them.

It is important to remember that the term “Holocaust” was not the first and immediate name of the Jewish genocide during the Nazi period. In the first years after the establishment of the state, there was talk of “the destruction”, “the catastrophe”, “the sunset” and “the days of wrath”. Each sector gave a different nickname that expressed their ideological viewpoint.

The Hebrew word “Shoah” denotes disaster, and it appears for the first time in the Bible. When we say “Holocaust” today, we assume that our viewers come with prior knowledge and will understand that we are referring to the specific event that took place in the years 1939-1945. Many people in the world today try to use the Holocaust for their own agenda- to make a political statement and to present themselves as victims of genocide while reducing the parameters of the Holocaust of the Jewish people, such as Volodymyr Zelensky’s words in the Knesset about Ukraine “going through a Holocaust” by the Russians.

The comparison to the Holocaust may coincide with the arguments of those whose art you have denied, those who regularly cheapen the Holocaust, try to seize it from the Jewish people and turn it into a mere “event”.

The October 7th massacre was an atrocity, and the Hebrew language is rich enough to find the right word. The ‘Holocaust’ should be left as a unique and defining event in which six million Jews were murdered in World War II.

Published in the Hebrew version of Israel Hayom 8/4/24

About the Author
Raheli has Ph.d degree from faculty of Medicine in the field of "Family Resilience". She served as an IDF officer for 15 years in a variety of posts. Among other things, she leveraged numerous educational programs on marine environment protection, for which she received the Shield of the Minister of Environmental Protection. Over the years, she has managed complex infrastructure projects for the IDF and for civilian construction companies. In 2015 she published a children's book entitled "A Special Brother". The book addresses educational issues relating to the siblings of children with special needs, and is written from the siblings' point of view. Since 11/20 she is the Head of the Department for Combating Antisemitism and Enhancing Resilience.
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