Sunday, March 02, 2008

Words that trivialise the Holocaust

A piece in The Age yesterday (by Dvir Albramovich) listed various ways the Holocaust has been trivialised by western comedians. I agree that such humour is in poor taste (although I disagree that the movie 'Life is Beautiful' starring Roberto Benigni, that Albramovich criticises, trivialised the Holocaust – it was, in my view, unrelentingly anti-Nazi even if it was unorthodox*).

In the same edition of The Age Israel is recorded as warning the Palestinians that they face a ‘holocaust’ if they continue to launch rocket attacks on Israel. The report is overall very hostile toward Israel. Presumably the Age got this report from Reuters or the BBC.

Melanie Phillips argues that the word ‘Holocaust’ is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word ‘shoah’ which generally means disaster. The word is used to describe the holocaust but describes a broader set of calamitous situations than the Holocaust. It is not an innocent mistake. For example, the word ‘death’ includes the idea of ‘murder’ but it is wrong to say when a ‘death’ occurs that that is inevitably a ‘murder’.

The misrepresentation seems to have first been made by Reuters. It provided Hamas with one of their vile, deceitful propaganda victories – the Jews are ‘new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people’. This is a convenient deception and exaggeration as Hamas continues to pour rocket attacks on Israel and Israel asserts its right to defend itself.

If Phillips is correct The Age – and numerous other newspapers who took the Reuter’s story - has again indulged itself in poor quality journalism. They should clarify matters quickly and immediately.

Update: 54 Palestinian's were killed yesterday and 2 Israeli's as Hamas continues to fire rockets and shake its fist at Israel. Why did the Palestinians elect such so-called leaders? Hamas is a terrorist organisation that attacks innocent civilian communities in Israel and then feins shock outrage when Israel responds with force to terrorist attacks. Hamas argues that Israel is trying to destroy it. Hmmmm.

*Many others, including Robert Manne, have criticised this movie on similar grounds. The movie won 3 Oscars and gets my award for a touching poignant analysis.


Anonymous said...

If Griffiths is correct The Age – and numerous other newspapers who took the Reuter’s story - has again indulged itself in poor quality journalism. They should clarify matters quickly and immediately.

Why are you assuming it's poor quality journalism, harry. Why not simply brand them as anti-semites and let them deal with that accusation.

You're being far too nice in assuming these people are simply poor journalists. They are taking a definite anti-jew position in he battle.


Anonymous said...

Harry, actually, Shoah is often translated as not just holocaust, but the Holocaust.

As in the Vatican's 1998 document, "We Remember: A Reflection On The Shoah".

Here is an extract, from a letter by Pope John Paul II.

"On numerous occasions during my Pontificate I have recalled with a sense of deep sorrow the sufferings of the Jewish people during the Second World War. The crime which has become known as the Shoah remains an indelible stain on the history of the century that is coming to a close"

(The Vatican web site has the full text.)

So you and Melanie Phillips (not Griffiths - have you confused her with the actress Melanie Griffith? I thought she was great in Something Wild, but I digress) have got your knickers in a knot over nothing. Reuters habe not deliberately mistranslated Shoah into Holocaust. If it's an error, it's one of long standing.


Anonymous said...

And Albramovich is definitely barking up the wrong tree when he criticises The Producers. It's the best ridicule of the Nazis that has ever been made.

Jeez Louise, I suppose he disapproves of Hogan's Heroes as well. The actors who played the Germans on that program - made just 20 years after the war - were all Jewish, and some of them had suffered personally at the hands of the Nazis.

Taking the piss out of the perpetrator of a crime is not a trivialisation of the crime or a sign of disrespect for the victim.


Anonymous said...

To complete the lesson, the definitive treatment can be gound in thge web site of the Shoah Resource Center, which says

"The biblical word Shoah (which has been used to mean “destruction” since the Middle Ages) became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of European Jewry as early as the early 1940s. The word Holocaust, which came into use in the 1950s as the corresponding term, originally meant a sacrifice burnt entirely on the altar. The selection of these two words with religious origins reflects recognition of the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the events. Many understand Holocaust as a general term for the crimes and horrors perpetrated by the Nazis; others go even farther and use it to encompass other acts of mass murder as well. Consequently, we consider it important to use the Hebrew word Shoah with regard to the murder of and persecution of European Jewry in other languages as well."

So Phillips is wrong when she says

"In Hebrew, the word ‘shoah’ is never used to mean ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ because of the acute historical resonance"

and her case against Reuters and the BBC, Age etc, vanishes.


Anonymous said...

Sorry guys.

"shoah" disaster, destruction etc

"hashoah" (the Holocaust, the "ha" prefix acts as a definite article)

Of course in certain contexts, hashoah can refer to a specific disaster being talked about.

However, Vilnai used "shoah", not "hashoah". His exact words in Hebrew (transliterated) were:
"Yamitu al azmam shoah gdolah yoter" which translates "will bring upon themselves a greater disaster."

Genocide of other peoples is "rezach am", literally "murder of a people."

hc said...

I wish you had indicated your identity last commenter. You sound like you know Hebrew and can settle this issue intelligently and definively.

I think you are broadly agreeing with my position.

Anonymous said...

Harry, you are alleging bad faith by Reuters (and by extension the Age); that they deliberately distorted the minister's words to give the impression that he was threatening the Palestinians with a holocaust.

There's no evidence of any bad faith. At worst, there was a misunderstanding of the subtle difference between a shoah and the shoah.

If anything, it is Melanie Phillips who misled her readers by saying that the word shoah is never used to mean the Holocaust, when clearly it is.


rabee said...

In modern usage shoah is best translated as holocaust.

ha-shoah is the-Holocaust

Vilnai (the idiot) said

will bring upon themselves _an_ even bigger shoah

he did not say will bring upon themselves _the_ shoah

the word shoah should be used exclusively to describe the genocide committed by Nazis against European Jews in the second European War. It is disgraceful to do otherwise. No one in Israel uses Shoah to describe anything happening to the Palestinians. That would be disgraceful.

Vilnai's intention was probably to say that they will bring an even greater Nakba upon themselves. That would have been clearer. But the racist fool simply couldn't resist using the memory of the Holocaust to warn residents of Gaza.

Vilnai should resign for this sentence and he probably will be forced out.

derrida derider said...

This is sick. An Israeli minister says, on the most charitable interpretation, to a whole people "we will bring upon you an even bigger holocaust"**. And instead of denouncing such a threat you try and defend it?

You should know, Harry, that collective punishment is a recognised war crime.

** note the small "h"

Anonymous said...

This is sick. An Israeli minister says, on the most charitable interpretation, to a whole people "we will bring upon you an even bigger holocaust"**. And instead of denouncing such a threat you try and defend it?

Oh, yes. Rockets raining down on Israel from Pali territory ought to be a policing issue. Quick send in the serious crime aquad!

It ain't an act of war at all. An act of war would only be recognized once every israeli is dead and then it's too late to do anything.


rabee said...

Yes JC

The problem is that the Olmert Government is doing to Hamas what it did to Hizbollah; increase their popularity and solidify their prestige.

All in all one has to admit that Olmert is a fool. There is a recurring theme coming out of his government which involves a lot a machismo rhetoric coupled with either inaction or ineffective military posturing. A few more flareups like this will see Israel's military prestige and deterrence disappear.

hc said...

I changed the careless 'Griffiths' to the correct 'Phillips'. My apologies to the actress and the journalist.

With that change my statement reads "If Phillips is correct..." a very conditional comment - I know nothing of Hebrew. So derrida derrida your claim is false. Of course I do not seek a 'Holocaust' directed at Palestinians.

On the other hhand a military attack on civilian areas housing those with missiles would be a disaster for the Palestininans which might be translated as 'holocaust'.

And I cannot see any alternative to collective punishment if terrorists such as Hamas launch missile attacks from civilian areas as is their standard practise.

Should Israel tolerate the bombardment?

Anonymous said...

It's worth reflecting that Hamas was made what it is today by successive Israeli governments because they thought it would be smart to create a Palestinian opposition to Yassir Arafta's Fatah movement.

So Israel has got itself an adversary that is motivated not by rational calculation of self interest (which could fairly describe Arafat, though he made a terrible job of it) but fanatical Islamists, and we all know how easy it is to deal with them (not).

Which demonstrates yet again that you should be careful what you wish for.

As always, it is ordinary Palestinians who are the biggest losers from this ungodly mess.


rabee said...

Harry, my impression is that Gaza is an small overcrowded prison housing over a million inmates:
men women and children who were born and grew up in an unimaginable environment. For two generations Israel directly occupied this mass of humanity and the military involved itself in every aspect of these peoples lives.

Then Israel decided to withdraw from Gaza but at the same time retain control of all its borders. There were no negotiations and the withdrawal was not coordinated with the emerging leadership in Gaza. Instead Israel destroyed the infrastructure of the Palestinian leadership there. This made way for a takeover by the roughest most violent inmates who are now lobbing deadly mortars into the surrounding suburbs of this prison.

Gaza is a mass of humanity there is no public space there and people live in overcrowded conditions. They cannot leave gaza and are dependent on handouts. Bombing any area of Gaza is bound to kill many civilians. Unlike the Israeli cities that are being targeted by tens of mortars every month, Gazans have no where to hide.

The situation in Gaza has become a tragedy that needs to be solved. The only solution to my mind is for international troops to enter Gaza to protect its civilian population and to ensure that they have a measure of freedom as well as an environment that is safe. Gaza needs international evolvement similar to what Kosovo got. This entails international protective military presence that also disarms Hamas.

I don't know why Israel was reluctance to even allow significant increases of Egyptian police presence on Gaza's borders. The international community should not be waiting for Israel's approval to enter and control Gaza.

Similarly the Kosovo model should be applied to the West Bank. Israel has well defined borders and the areas outside these borderers should for the foreseeable future be controlled by the international community.

It is time for the international community to impose a settlement. One simply cannot allow this tragedy to continue. Both parties seem to incapable of sorting out this mess and millions of Palestinians have been paying the price.

My view is who cares what either party wants. Just role in the UN tanks and black choppers. We are all familiar with the concept of internationally recognized borders.

Anonymous said...

Shorter Spiros:

Well it's Isreal's fault....


badmofo said...

"And I cannot see any alternative to collective punishment if terrorists such as Hamas launch missile attacks from civilian areas as is their standard practise."
That's an excellent piece of reasoning Harry, a fine counterbalance to constant Leftist shouts of war crimes & the abominable comparisons with Nazi actions in WWII. Perhaps you should consider giving this argument a name of its own - how about the Lidice defence? Or maybe the Oradour-sur-Glane defence?