Whole libraries have been written to document and explain the Holocaust/Shoah, but more research is still needed if we are ever to understand an event so complex and devastating. The word holocaust comes from the ancient Greek: it means a sacrifice completely burnt on an altar. Today ‘holocaust’ is generally used as a euphemism for mass murder, genocide in its most brutal and vicious form. Shoah is a Hebrew word which specifically denotes the Nazi effort to annihilate the Jews, as distinct from other instances of genocide against other peoples throughout history.
In specific terms, the Holocaust or Shoah refers to the systematic annihilation of six million Jewish people by Germany’s Nazi regime over the period 30 January 1933 to 8 May 1945. The Holocaust is a unique event in the history of humankind, in that one specific people, the Jews, was marked for destruction as a basic ideology of the state. It should be remembered that other groups and individuals (including Gypsies, homosexuals, political dissidents and the intellectually and physically disabled) were also targeted by the Nazis.
Two other factors which make the Holocaust/Shoah unique are the gigantic scale of the persecution, oppression, enslavement and extermination of human beings and the ‘industrialisation’ of the process of doing so. However, if the Holocaust was unique, its lessons are universal. They include the potential for evil in totalitarian regimes, the need for active opposition to such evil wherever it occurs and the obligation to cherish the individual freedoms and human rights that people take for granted in democracies such as Australia.
For comprehensive information about the Shoah, visit www.holocaust.com.au.
For answers to FAQs about the Shoah, visit www.holocaust.com.au/jn/o_faq.htm
The Worlds Reaction to the Holocaust
“Indifference” and “apathy” are often used to describe the world’s reaction to the Holocaust at the time it was going on. The real failure, however, is better described as “inaction”. Although there were honourable exceptions, the sad truth is that most politicians, diplomats, church leaders, military strategists, industrialists, business and community leaders did little to assist the Jews and other Nazi victims. They did even less to directly attack or disrupt the machinery of mass murder.
The character and aim of Australia’s immigration policy up to the 1930s was aptly summed up by Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce in 1925. Bruce wanted Australians to remain “essentially and basically a British (and white) people”. In general, the Australian community supported this ideal and favoured policies which prevented alien immigrants from competing for (white) ‘Australian’ jobs. Until 1939 there was official support across the political spectrum for the policy of 97 per cent of immigrants being Anglo-Saxon. All migrants from Europe were considered “alien”.
Policy regarding the acceptance of Jewish refugees into Australia was set in the context of this restrictive thinking. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Australians were still experiencing the hardship of the economic Depression. Most Australians were looking inwards to pressing domestic concerns, as one third of the workforce was unemployed. Nevertheless, the dramatic resurgence of Germany under the Nazis figured prominently in foreign news reports.