Holocaust "Survivor" or (in Hebrew) "Nitzol" - Active or Passive?


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Sara Gabai
Why are Holocaust survivors called "nitzolim" in Hebrew, which sounds passive, as if they were "saved", without the active connotation of the English "survivor"? Using a short English autobiographical story by an Israeli survivor, I have discussed this issue with high school students in both English and Translation classes.

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Holocaust "Survivor" or (in Hebrew) "Nitzol" - Active or Passive?

  1. 1. ETAI International Conference - Jerusalem 2010 Holocaust "Survivor" or (in Hebrew) "Nitzol" - Active or Passive ? Sara Gabai – ORT Rabin Gan Yavne Israel sarag@netvision.net.il You do not need to know Hebrew in order to understand the talk! Hana Lustig Greenfield, born in Kolin, Czechoslovakia, was 15 years old in June of 1942, when the Nazis sent her to Ghetto Terezin. After passing through Auschwitz and a slave labor camp in Hamburg, she was sent to Bergen-Belsen. She was liberated on April 15, 1945, when the British captured the camp. Greenfield, an Israeli and a resident of Jerusalem, writes in English. Excerpt from "Grandfather" – Fragments of Memory by Hana Greenfield (pages 4-5) "From his pocket he took a pocketknife, peeled the potatoes, cut them in slices, and shared the portions with me. We looked at each other with a smile . . . This was a moment of happiness we shared amidst the sad realities of our daily life in the Ghetto." …. "When the past becomes a dim memory and the future holds no hope, maybe that was the last and only free choice that remained. Heroism demonstrates itself not only when we fight with guns; there is also a heroism in fighting with what is left to us. " From Eitan Elhadez's article "Nitzol Shoa: 'I was 18 years old and weighed 32 kilo.'" Sasha Miezlesh spoke at an alternative Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in 2008. He opened his remarks with the sentence "Don't call me ‫( ניצול שואה‬nitzol shoa). I am a Holocaust survivor." In Hebrew: ".‫"אל תקראו לי ניצול שואה. אני שורד שואה‬ Translation Class From "Survivors Break the Silence" Fragments of Memory by Hana Greenfield (pages 58-62): The war ended and the concentration camps were opened. . . . Most (1)survivors were not well equipped to start a new existence. The majority of survivors were young people – old ones were either killed or didn't (2)survive the harsh realities of daily prisoner's life. Students' comments on translating "survivors": • "The Hebrew word ‫ ניצולים‬has an emotional connotation for Jews, and more specifically for Israelis, because it is connected to the Holocaust, and so is more appropriate than ‫".שורדים‬ • "The English collocation 'Holocaust survivors' is better translated to the Hebrew collocation ‫, ניצולי שואה‬and not to ‫ ,שורדי שואה‬which does not exist as a collocation in Hebrew. And because it is a part of the collocation, ‫ ניצולים‬is a more appropriate translation for the word survivors than ‫".שורדים‬ • "We call them '‫ 'ניצולים‬because actually they were saved from that period of horrors." Note: The noun ‫ ניצול‬is not based on a passive verb. The Academy of the Hebrew Language informed me that the ‫ נפעל‬construction of Hebrew verbs is not always passive, and some ‫ נפעל‬verbs, among them ‫ ,ניצל‬are "just regular intransitive verbs." Bibliography Elhadez, Eitan. "Nitzol Shoa: 'I was 18 years old and weighed 32 kilo.'" SCOOP: Israel Online News Site. 1 May 2008. Web. 3 August 2009. Greenfield, Hana. Fragments of Memory: From Kohn to Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Gefen, 1990. Print. (New edition – 2006) Teacher's guide at www.israelbooks.com If there is time at the end of the session, I will talk about the book Skibell, Joseph. Blessing On the Moon, A. New York: Algonquin Books, 1997. Print.