This year, Pacific Lutheran University decided to use the term “shoah” instead of “holocaust” for the symposium on genocide and war crimes: “Legacies of the Shoah.” Holocaust and Shoah, these are two words that are used to refer to the murder of over six million Jewish people, but each word comes with different implications. The term “holocaust” means a Jewish sacrificial offering that is burned. The term “shoah” translates to catastrophe. Robert Ericksen, Professor of History and Chair of Holocaust Studies History Department, said, “[shoah] is seen as more appropriate by some, since Jews were the primary victims of the Holocaust. It also is simply a reference to ‘complete destruction’ without any religious connotation.”
Tamara Williams, the executive director of the Wang Center at PLU, says about the term “holocaust,” “why should killing six million Jews be considered a sacrifice? Sacrifice implies something good will come of it.” Williams says her sensitivity to the word “holocaust” comes from what she is learning from the Jewish community at PLU.
When asked about the two terms, Matt Freeman, the director of health and counseling services at PLU and a member of the Jewish community, says, “I don’t think there’s a single right way to describe what happened.” However, Freeman says, “holocaust, in my opinion is the preferable term because people know what it means. It’s not the ideal word, but it conjures up the images of what happened.”
Although Freeman thinks the term “holocaust” is better to use for the general public, he also says, “I like that PLU is introducing the term.”
“It is what it is,” Williams says of the term “shoah,” referring to the fact that the murder of six million Jewish people is a catastrophe, making it a more appropriate term for Pacific Lutheran University. “It is important for us to adopt the term that is most appropriate to use,” Williams says on behalf of PLU.
In order to give a better description, and to be sensitive, of what the subject matter of the symposium is, PLU decided on the term “shoah,” as opposed to “holocaust.”