What is the difference between “Holocaust” and “Shoah”?

“Holocaust” is the English term and “Shoah” the Hebrew term used to describe the genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany during World War II.Both terms have a theological or cosmic dimension. “Holocaust” is derived from the Greek for burnt offering and is generally defined as a vast destruction caused by fire or other non-human forces. “Shoah,” meanwhile, has its biblical root in the term “shoah u-meshoah” (wasteness and desolation) that appears in both the Book of Zephaniah (1:15) and the Book of Job (30:3).

In the United States and Britain, “Holocaust” is the more usual term, while in continental Europe the term Shoah has proved more resonant.

Rabbi Morris Dembowitz reburies Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Dembowitz served as a US Army chaplain during WWII. Among his activities was the overseeing of the exhumation and reburial of Jewish victims of the Holocaust (1945). Photo credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of David Dembowitz