What’s in a name? From ‘The Final Solution of the Jewish Question’ to ‘The Holocaust’

Holocaust Memorial Day lecture in collaboration with the Institute of Historical Research

Event Information and Booking

30th January, 2024
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Birkbeck, University of London, Clore Lecture Theatre, Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL
Jane Caplan, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford
Free event – book your place below

How did the Nazis’ attempt to annihilate the Jews of Europe come to be known as ‘The Holocaust’? And what historical vision does this word entail? It is now the default name recognised by politicians, historians and the public alike, so it may be hard to recall a time when, in the words of the pioneering Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, writing in 1961, ‘the vocabulary with which to describe what had happened had not yet been developed’.   

The status acquired by the word ‘Holocaust’ in the 1970s depended on the retreat of several alternatives which carried similarly existential connotations. But parallel to them ran a distinctive term, widely used in major academic works from the 1950s to the 1970s, ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’ (Endlösung der Judenfrage), which echoed the Nazi regime’s own usage.

Clearly these two terms are not historically or ethically equivalent: we cannot imagine a memorial day for the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’. Professor Caplan will examine the terms used to name Nazi policies and practices. She will demonstrate how the language we use is tightly entangled in the sort of research historians undertake and the interpretations they offer. 

Jane Caplan was Professor of Modern European History and Director of the European Studies Centre at St Antony’s College and was elected to an Emeritus Fellowship in October 2012. She has worked mainly on the history of Nazi Germany and the history of the documentation of individual identity. Her publications include: Nazi Germany: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2019) and Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany: The New Histories, with Nikolaus Wachsmann (Routledge, 2010). Her current research focusses on the proof and policing of identity in Nazi Germany.

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