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What is the Shoah?

Millions of Jews were imprisoned and died in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
The Shoah was the murder of millions of Jews in Nazi Germany, led by Adolph Hitler.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Patryk Kosmider, Recuerdos De Pandora
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2014
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The Shoah is another word for the Holocaust. It comes from Hebrew, and literally means catastrophic upheaval. The Holocaust, or Shoah, refers to the Nazi party's attempt in the late 1930s and early 1940s to mass execute the Jewish people of Europe. Included in this genocide was the murder of other minority groups like homosexuals and political dissidents but the real focal point of Hitler's "Final Solution" was the Jews. Approximately six million Jews were murdered in the Shoah, mostly en mass in gas chambers.

The Shoah is the culmination of centuries of misguided and hate-based thought regarding Jews. The Egyptians enslaved the Jews and later the Romans. They were scattered to the winds of every European country, then subsequently chased out of these countries. When so many Jews settled in Germany, Poland and Austria, the consequences during WWII were mind-numbingly horrific.

Holding an extremely important place in Jewish history, the Shoah is not just a memory of unimaginable suffering and death, but also the impetus for developing a Jewish state. After the Shoah, many Jews became more interested in creating a homeland from which they could not be persecuted or chased away.

The effects of the Shoah are still strongly felt by the few remaining survivors, the families of victims and survivors, and others. In Israel and the United States and other countries around the world, Jews and non-Jews alike formally observe the Shoah on Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Often on Yom HaShoah the names of victims are read aloud throughout the day to try to get some understanding of how many lives were lost. Candles are often lit, poems read, talks held, and Holocaust survivors are often invited to tell their stories. Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, is held on the 27th day of Nissan according to the Jewish calendar. On the Western calendar, that typically falls on a day at the end of April or beginning of May.

Additionally, on 1 November 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated the 27the of January as Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some also participate in the annual “March of the Living,” a vigil held at Auschwitz, the main Nazi death camp located in Poland.

The reason for these remembrance days and activities is to remember the victims and prevent such atrocities from happening again. The promise of "Never Again" was made after the holocaust. But with the genocides that subsequently occurred in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia, some argue that the international community didn't uphold that promise. Others however counter argue that those genocides did not rise to the levels of the Holocaust.

It is especially difficult for the modern Jew and others, in these times, to remember the Shoah while combating the indifference and sometimes utter denial of the Holocaust by some. Some people with anti-Jewish beliefs argue that much fewer than six million were killed, claiming the figure to be around one million. Others emphatically declare that the Holocaust never happened.

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