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The Americanization of the Holocaust

- Abstract

Although it is far from clear that he actually coined it, the writer Elie Wiesel had a prominent role in popularizing “Holocaust” as the term of choice to designate the Nazi assault against the Jews. In Wiesel’s usage and, following him, in that of countless others, the word “Holocaust” points to the sufferings and intended genocide of European Jewry at the hands of the Nazis.

Others, however, have widened the application of this word, in the first instance to include all of those who perished under the Germans and their allies. Following Simon Wiesenthal, for instance, President Jimmy Carter, speaking on Holocaust Remembrance Day in Washington in 1979, referred to eleven million victims, among them six million Jews and five million non-Jews. And more recently, the language of “Holocaust” has been widened still further; now it is regularly invoked by people who want to draw public attention to human-rights abuses, social inequalities suffered by racial and ethnic minorities and women, environmental disasters, AIDS, and a whole host of other things.

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