In our postmodern global community of political correctness, what happens in Europe has a tendency to quickly duplicate itself in America and it is usually not a contribution that would benefit our quickly atrophying Western civilization. This is the case for the latest French educational reform.
The new manuals used by the French educational system for the 2011-2012 school year, preparing last year high school students for their exit exam “Baccalaureat”, will look different this year. Adjustments are not necessarily bad and even needed at times, as, to reprise an old Dylan song: “ The times they are A-changin”. But there are words that are better left untouched. Words that have become part of history and thus have acquired a meaning that sets them apart from other words and even possibly from the original meaning applied to them.
One such word is the word Shoah!
While not widely used in the United-States, it has been the descriptive word in Europe and Israel for the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. The origin of the word is Hebraic and means “catastrophe”. Israel has even instituted a yearly memorial to the Holocaust known as “The Day of the Catastrophe” or Yom HaShoah.
Now France is having second thoughts about its usage in school manuals. Instead of using Shoah, French educational reformers prefer the term anneantissement, which more plainly means “annihilation” and is definitely more politically correct. This of course will require to rename the French “Memorial of the Shoah” to less offensive “Memorial of the Annihilation” or “Yom HaShoah” “The Day of the Annihilation”.
Reactions have been almost immediate in France, especially by the Jewish community and/or by key contributors and proponents of the perpetuation of the memory of the Shoah. One such man is writer and movie director Claude Lanzmann whose nine-and-a-half hour documentary film on the Holocaust, titled Shoah (1985), has been recognized as the foremost movie on the topic.
Lanzmann wrote a lengthy reaction article in French newspaper Le Monde, defending the word Shoah and expressing his disgust at those who want to diminish the unique tragedy of the Holocaust by changing its name. He claims that by using the word Shoah while himself not a Hebrew speaker, he felt that it was almost as if he was not naming the unnamable, as he couldn’t find any word worthy of properly carrying the meaning and perpetuating the legacy of the Holocaust.
History grabbed hold of the word and today, it belongs to an unchangeable family of unique foreign terms for unique events such as Perestroika, Glasnost or even Intifada. On that basis, Lanzmann cry for the preservation of the word is justified.
One of the excuses given by French officials is that the word Shoah, coming from the Bible, gives the event a religious and even emotional connotation more than a historical meaning. “History must be retold from a secular perspective” they claim.
Additionally, the French minister of Education Claude Chatel made a quick comeback by stating: “I have never been opposed to the use of the word ‘Shoah’ in our programs or manuals”, insisting that the word does appear in the new schoolbooks. And they do, kinda! But how they do is of the utmost importance.
In looking at how the Holocaust is reported in the new French History manuals. They now include a chapter titled: The Second World War: A war of Annihilation of Jews and Gypsies.
To be sure, we have no ground to deny or even belittle the treatment of Gypsies by the Germans during World War II, but even by their own admitting, the Gypsies never lived the same tragedy. As a matter of fact, no one can today report an exact number of Gypsy lives lost during the time of the Holocaust. Yet, one Gypsy life taken by the Nazis was still one too many, but I don’t think that there is any validity in equating the death of both Jews and the Gypsies under the same umbrella of the Holocaust. What is next: “Homosexuals, Jehovahs Witnesses, retarded people” why not? After all, they were all targeted by the Nazi race purification war machine, so they should rightfully be recognized as well!
Finally, while changing the intensity of the descriptive word for the Holocaust, and in most cases the very use of the word Shoah, the French educational system multicultural reformers have quietly added the word Nakbah, yet another foreign word from Arabic origin meaning, well you guessed it: “Catastrophe” and that is used by Palestinians every year on May 15 (one day after Israel Independence Day) to commemorate Yam an-Nakbah, or, yes you guessed it again: “The day of the Catastrophe” or the day of the rebirth of the State of Israel.
So is the problem with the awkwardness and/or religious meaning of the word Shoah or could it be one more, subtle attempt at delegitimizing Israel and the Jewish people.
If this is not a double standard, I don’t know what is! The fate of the Holocaust memory now lays in the hands of French schoolteachers, in a country that is 11% Muslim and growing. Once all the survivors are gone, and we are approaching that day rapidly, who will be left to tell the story. Who will be left to tell the truth?
“The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference”.
Alan Shore says
Good article. See Dov Katz’s concept of “Holocaust Obfustication” re: Lithuanian revision of WW II. Or Poles who lump Jewish losses along with something they identify as a Polish national catastrophe. Whose Holocaust is it? It requires great care to preserve the reality that the destruction of European Jewry is a unique catastrophe without seeming to belittle the losses sustained by the other six mission.