Wednesday, January 27, 2016


While this is International Holocaust Day many Jews find the word "holocaust" which means "burnt offering" offensive as a description of the annihilation of six million Jews during WW2. Instead they use the word "shoah," which is translated as "calamity." The systematic destruction of a third of the world's Jews by the Nazis was a staggering calamity, an unspeakable evil.

Unfortunately, whatever word or phrase we employ, awareness of the horror of the extermination camps may be fading in our society as the years go by.

Some of you may remember a documentary entitled Shoah released in 1985, a tour de force of nearly ten hours created by Claude Lanzmann, who is still alive at age 90.  In his review at the time, the late Roger Ebert called it "an enormous fact, a 550-minute howl of pain and anger in the face of genocide."

The toll on Lanzmann as he explored the darkness was enormous. A couple of days ago I listened to a CBC interview with Adam Benzine, the director of Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, nominated for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at this year's Oscars. He observed:

"It kind of broke him in almost every sense — financially, mentally. In some ways Shoah was the longest relationship of his life.It was like a bereavement for him. It took many months to recover. I think he's still recovering," 

Filming Shoah, which took a decade,  included convincing survivors to reopen their wounds, and covertly filming SS guards. The latter mission nearly got Lanzmann killed.

Shoah is available on YouTube, if you are interested. I think I would like to see Benzine's doc, although I imagine it would be both disturbing and insightful. At times we would prefer to simply turn away from evil, yet our faith, rooted in redemption and hope, acknowledges the reality of sin, both individual and systemic.

Did any of you see Shoah? Did you know this is International Holocaust Day? Do your children and grandchildren have an understanding of the Holocaust/Shoah?


Judy said...

My children have a good understanding of what the holocaust was - not sure about my grandchildren - we have never talked about it. I expect they learned about it in school . I am presently reading "All the Light you cannot See" and will pass it on to my granddaughters.

Frank said...

Sometimes it boggles my mind that some, apparently, simply do not know. I'm reminded of the political candidate running for a federal seat in the last election. This person was a school board trustee in Ontario and claimed not to know what the "holocaust" was. Or, perhaps, we should start using the term "shoah" for this terrible episode, along with "nakbah" (catastrophe) for the palestinian experience.

David Mundy said...

It would be worth asking Judy. You might be surprised by their response because there isn't much emphasis. Excellent novel.

Yes Frank, both those terms should become part of our vocabulary.