The English word holocaust is derived from Latin holocaustum and Greek holocaustos/holokautos. Holo meaning “whole,” and kaustos/kaustos meaning, “burnt.” Appearances of the second are recorded on more than two hundred occasions in the Septuagint, generally translated to ola literally meaning “that which goes up.” One of the most common, multipurpose, and ancient forms of ancient Israelite sacrifice is the burnt offering, discussed in Leviticus 1, Numbers 15. The slaughtered sacrificial animals, bird, or unblemished four-footed males like sheep, goats, or cattle were wholly burned on the altar, with the exception of the skin, which was given to the priest who performed the ritual (Leviticus 7:8). The holocaust offering is mentioned three times in the New Testament (Mark 12:33 and Hebrews 10: 6, 8). Although the sacrificial system ended with Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, rabbinic literature included traditions about and discussions of the burnt offering, the earliest of which is in the Mishnah, especially tractates Zebahim and Tamid.
Established with the Babylonian exile during the 6th century BC, the Jews were dispersed all through the Mediterranean area from the 8th century BC, principally after the devastation of Jerusalem in 70 AD. By maintaining a separate and highly distinct identity time and again made them the focus of hostility and prejudice. Jews spread to most parts of the world, while continuing to look upon Israel as their homeland. The most important centers of diaspora were, in ancient times, Babylonia and Egypt. By the beginning of the Middle Ages, Spain was the main hub of Jewish scholarship, until the Inquisition expelled all Jews in 1492. During the European medieval times the discrimination of Jews became the widespread answer to financial or societal crisis reinforced by religious intolerance and resentment of the business activities of the Jewish population. Christians were prohibited to practice usury, but Jews were allowed to lend money at interest to Christians. Having taken on this role they became connected in the popular mind with extortion. By the late nineteenth century anti-Semitism crystallized as an explicit doctrine, based on conjectures of cultural determinism. This factored greatly into a major ideology of Nazism, which reached its apex in The Holocaust.
The meaning of “holocaust” has evolved from complete burnt consumption in sacrifice to include complete or massive destruction, especially of people. It was used in this context in the aftermaths of World War I and World War II. In the beginning were pogroms or mob attacks that were condoned or approved by authority brought about most often against religious, ethnic, or national minorities; most often against Jews. The original pogram transpired in the Ukraine following the 1881 assassination of Alexander II. Subsequently, there were numerous pogroms throughout Russia, and Russian Jews began to move abroad to the US and parts of Western Europe frequently giving their support to Theodore Herzl's Zionist campaign. After the revolution of 1905, anti-Semitic persecutions grew and were carried out on a large scale in Germany and Eastern Europe after Adolf Hitler came to power.
After World War II the State of Israel was created in 1948. The holocaust endowed Zionism with an unanswerable case, and with strong American support Zionism has sustained a tough domestic presence in Israel, maintaining the principle that all Jews have a right to live in Israel as Israeli citizens. The World Zionist Congress still exists to support Jewish emigration to Israel. The conflict between this belief and the rights of Palestinians has not, however, been resolved.
There was an enormous exodus of Jews from Russia and Poland with the German holocaust destroying many old European communities and since the 1950s, “The Holocaust” has come to refer to the Nazi murder of approximately two-thirds, some six million Jews from many European countries between 1933 and 1945). After the Nuremberg Laws were enacted in Germany Jews lost civil liberties, the rights to hold public office, practice professions, inter-marry with Germans, or use public education. Their homes and commerce were inventoried and sometimes appropriated. Persistent acts of violence were committed against them, and official propaganda urged Germans to hate and fear them. One such notable incident was the German night of glass or Kristallnacht. Mobs led by Nazi brownshirts (Sturm Abteilung) roamed Austrian and German towns on the nights of November 9th and 10th in 1938. Setting fire to synagogues and smashing windows of the homes and businesses owned by Jews became the first intimation of the coming desolation. The deliberate and anticipated effect was mass flight, halving the half-million German and Austrian Jewish population by the onset of World War II. This act led many academic Jews who later developed the atomic bomb in the United States to also flee Germany. The 2001 Macmillan Encyclopedia defines one of the ugliest episodes in history as being divided into two stages:
During the first (1935-41), Jews in Germany and Austria were deprived of their civil rights under the (anti-Semitic) Nuremberg Laws (1935) and subjected to officially sanctioned acts of terror. The result was mass emigration. During the second phase (1941-45), Jews throughout occupied Europe were brutally massacred, initially through mass shootings and forced labour but then (following the adoption of the so-called "final solution" at the Wannsee conference of 1942) through (Adolf Eichmann's final solution) policy of systematic extermination in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. The Jewish populations of eastern Europe were the most grievously affected. Nearly half the victims of the holocaust (about 2.6 million people) were from Poland, where some 85% of the Jewish population perished: other countries to lose vast numbers of Jews included Romania, the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Lithuania. The holocaust has raised serious questions about the nature of European civilization in general and German culture in particular. Pope Pius XII, who knew what was happening to the Jews in Germany and occupied Europe, brought the Roman Catholic Church into disrepute by failing to criticize, or even comment upon, the genocide being perpetrated by the Germans.
An estimated six million Jews were systematically exterminated in the camps, as well as almost a half million gypsies; in addition, millions of Poles, Soviet prisoners-of-war, homosexuals, and other civilians perished. Anti-Semitism, found its most violent expression in The Holocaust, most European Hasidic
communities did not survive and today by extension, “holocaust’” is sometimes used to designate massive atrocities against or a case of large-scale destruction or slaughter, principally by fire or nuclear war. For example the movie Waterworld
(1995) is described as an ecological-holocaust fantasy.
However, the biblical religious-sacrificial origins and connotations of the word are troubling to some who prefer the word used most often in modern Hebrew to refer to the Nazi attempted extermination of European Jewry, Sho’ah, whose biblical meanings include devastation, desolation and ruin.
The Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001
Metzger, Bruce Manning & Coogan, Michael D. The Oxford Companion to the Bible , "Holocaust," Oxford University Press, 1993.
Oxford Paperback Encyclopedia, Oxford University Press 1998 .