Geoff Eley

Geoff Eley a professor of history at Ann Arbor, Michigan, is the author of Reshaping the German Right.

Holocaust History

Geoff Eley, 3 March 1983

‘A sacrifice wholly consumed by fire; a whole burnt offering … A complete sacrifice or offering … A sacrifice on a large scale … Complete consumption by fire, or that which is so consumed; complete destruction, esp. of a large number of persons; a great slaughter or massacre’: such is the OED’s definition of the word ‘holocaust’. As always, the etymology discloses a finer nuance of meaning. In their excellent compilation, The Jew in the Modern World (1980), Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz point out that the term’s origin is theological. More specifically, it ‘derives from the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scripture into Greek from the third century BC, in which holokaustos (“totally burnt”) is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew olah, the burnt sacrificial offering dedicated exclusively to God’. The progression of meanings in the OED reflects a secularisation of usage, so that by the 19th century it denotes simply any example of vast devastation, particularly by fire. A term, in other words, of no particular political or cultural charge.


E.H. Carr

10 January 1983

SIR: Your issue containing Norman Stone’s extraordinary obituary of E.H. Carr (LRB, 10 January) has just reached us on this side of the Atlantic, and we are sure that by the time you receive this letter other voices will have been raised in Carr’s defence. There is perhaps little that can be said in the space of a letter to counter the promiscuous distortions, half-truths and omissions Stone has...

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