Professor condemned for view on Holocaust

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The Independent Online
It was never likely to take off as an idea. To suggest that the term "Holocaust" should be dropped is something few would dare do. But Dr John Fox, a lecturer in Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, although not himself a Jew, has no fear of being labelled an infidel.

The term Holocaust should be abandoned, he says, because it is being "tampered with to create an explicit, negative anti-British thrust". In his lecture to the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies last night, Dr Fox who lectures at both University College and Jews College, London, attacked the "ignorant, ill-informed and hysterical" attacks on Britain's alleged indifference to the Jews' plight.

Academics and members of the Jewish community condemned Dr Fox's proposal. Antony Lerman, director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a Jewish thinktank, said: "It's just absurd. What earthly purpose would be served by making such a change? It makes you think: `What's the motive in saying this?'" Professor David Cesarani, the Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Southampton, believed that to drop the term would be "silly and futile".

Dr Fox's main source of grievance seems to be the reaction to the Government's release earlier this year of wartime German messages deciphered by Bletchley Park, which showed that the Nazis were slaughtering thousands of Soviet Jews as early as June 1941. He was outspoken at the time about how wrong it was to conclude that Britain should - and could - have done more.

"The ill-informed comments about Britain's wartime record on the European Jewish question under Nazism that appeared this summer confirm me in my view that the time has long passed for the complete abandonment of the term, `The Holocaust'," he said. "These comments underline the attempt of some people to rewrite the history of that tragic part of the Second World War in an anti-Allied sense for irresponsible and politically-motivated reasons."

The general view, however, is that it is Dr Fox who is being irresponsible. "The term is part of university courses, it's part of popular culture. To drop it would upset the whole body of scholarship that goes on in relation to teaching the Holocaust," said Mr Lerman.

Professor Cesarani admitted that there were problems with the misuse of the term, but argued that the conclusion to be drawn was that historians should take care to define what they meant when they used the word `Holocaust' and the public should not adopt it to refer to other tragedies. The way in which the term has been adopted by other people who have suffered genocide as well as, for example, the Aids community and the animal rights lobby, is unhelpful in understanding either the Holocaust or these particular tragedies.

The second problem, according to Professor Cesarani, is the application of the term include everything that happened to the Jews from Hitler's seizure of power to the end of the Second World War. "There's clearly a qualitative difference between terrorisation, expulsion and genocide," he said.

- Clare Garner