Posted by: Lister | February 29, 2008

‘Shoah’ mistranslated as ‘Holocaust’

The defense minister merely meant ‘disaster’, according to Melanie Philips:

This reported remark by deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai caused widespread shock and absolute horror. For an Israeli minister to use the word ‘holocaust’ to describe a limited war of Israeli self-defence, when for Jews of all people the ‘Holocaust’ means one thing: genocide — and this at a time when the calumny of the ‘Jews as Nazis’ is rampant around the world, putting Israel and the Jewish people at risk — was simply beyond belief.

It was indeed without any credibility — because Vilnai never said it. It was an appalling mistranslation by Reuters

[…] Reuters translated the Hebrew word ‘shoah’ as ‘holocaust’. But ‘shoah’ merely means disaster. In Hebrew, the word ‘shoah’ is never used to mean ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ because of the acute historical resonance. The word ‘Hashoah’ alone means ‘the Holocaust’ and ‘retzach am’ means ‘genocide’. The well-known Hebrew construction used by Vilnai used merely means ‘bringing disaster on themselves’.

Haaretz (an Isreali newspaper) disagrees with Philips and says that the term “Shoah” is commonly used to refer to the Holocaust:

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai went as far as threatening a “shoah,” the Hebrew word for holocaust or disaster. The word is generally used to refer to the Nazi Holocaust, but a spokesman for Vilnai said the deputy defense minister used the word in the sense of “disaster,” saying “he did not mean to make any allusion to the genocide.”

“The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves,” Vilnai told Army Radio on Friday.

So I would say that it was an honest mistake on the part of Reuters.

The main wiki page on the Holocaust uses the term “Ha-Shoah”. But the page for names of the Holocaust uses “Shoah”. And says:

The biblical word Shoah (שואה), also spelled Shoa and Sho’ah, meaning “calamity” in Hebrew (and also used to refer to “destruction” since the Middle Ages), became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the early 1940s. Churban Europa, meaning “European Destruction” in Hebrew (as opposed to simply Churban, the destruction of the Second Temple), is also used.

The Hebrew word Shoah is preferred by some Jews and non-Jews due to the supposed theologically unacceptable nature of the word “holocaust” whose original Greek meaning indicates a sacrifice to a god.

I didn’t know that origin of “holocaust”.

I think the term “Ha-” is a prefix to a noun assigning it the definite article “the”.

And it seems that the BBC article refered to by Philips has been updated:

Matan Vilnai said Palestinians risked a “shoah”, the Hebrew word for a big disaster – and for the Nazi Holocaust.

[…] The BBC’s Katya Adler in Jerusalem says many of Mr Vilnai’s colleagues have quickly distanced themselves from his comments and also tried to downplay, them saying he did not mean genocide.

“We’re getting close to using our full strength. Until now, we’ve used a small percentage of the army’s power because of the nature of the territory,” he added.

That the DM’s colleagues have distanced themselves from the comments implies, to me, that they must have an impact in Hebrew too. (Assuming those colleagues heard the comments in the original Hebrew, of course).

The DM made his comments after Hamas rockets reached Ashkelon, about 15km from the Gaza border.



  1. shoah to me means diaster. Yahuah will bring shoah upon all peoples who does not keep His Torah.

  2. by the way i am a Natsarim(guardians of the Torah) Yahudai.

  3. what is the Hebrew word for ‘being drowned’ or overwhelmed? Transliterated it sounded like shoe. Shachah is reported as originating from it. I am trying to find the words and roots relating to ‘worship’.
    Thank you

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