the meaning of words

As part of its educational missions, the Shoah Memorial undertakes a series entitled «the meaning of words». More than ever, it is important to understand that words have a meaning and a precise definition. The Shoah Memorial must emphasize the importance of the meaning of words, their use and use.


  • a place of confinement
  • a place of forced labour
  • a place where living conditions are very difficult and can lead to death: in France, 40% of political deportees have not returned from the Nazi camps.

Why does it exist?

Historically, concentration camps are intended to “re-educate” through the work of people who are resistant to the totalitarian ideology of the regime (political opponents, resistance fighters, etc.). In fact, they are places of repression providing free labour.

And what about today?

Several researchers and NGOs consider, for example, that the internment conditions of hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in Xinjiang (China) have a concentration camp character.


It’s just a prison. In a concentration camp, political opponents are usually locked up, who have not had the right to a fair trial. Prisoners do not enjoy the common rights of a litigant (adversarial principle, presumption of innocence, etc.).

An internment camp. In an internment camp are gathered people defined as “undesirable”, placed away from the rest of society and put under surveillance.

A killing center, sometimes called extermination camp by the general public. A killing center aims to commit mass murder.



a legal concept that refers to acts committed in the context of a widespread or systematic attack against an entire civilian population. These acts can be: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, serious forms of sexual violence, persecution, etc.
an imprescriptible crime

Since when is this concept used in law?

The concept of crime against humanity was first defined in 1945 by the statute of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal. This first definition was modified and expanded several times, notably in 1998 when the International Criminal Court was created.

16 of the 24 Nazi officials tried by the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal were convicted of crimes against humanity.

And what about today?

The 1998 Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court represents the most recent and comprehensive consensus of the international community on this issue. In France, crime against humanity entered the law in 1964. A 1994 law defines it precisely in French law taking into account the jurisprudence (trial Barbie in 1987 and Touvier in 1994).


Synonymous with genocide. Genocide refers only to intentional and systematic extermination of persons related to nationality, ethnicity, race or religion. The scope of the crime against humanity is much broader and can concern a variety of acts: arbitrary arrests, slavery, persecution, etc.

If I’m told, “a crime against humanity is also a war crime.”

I answer: No, unlike a war crime, crime against humanity is not necessarily linked to an armed conflict. An act committed in peacetime can therefore be considered a crime against humanity.



A legal concept defined in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly in the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
According to this convention, “genocide is any of the following acts committed with the intention of destroying, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. murder of members of the group;
  2. serious damage to the physical or mental integrity of members of the group;
  3. Intentional submission of the group to conditions of existence which must entail its total or partial physical destruction;
  4. measures to impede births within the group;
  5. forced transfer of children from the group to another group.”

When and how did the term «genocide» appear?
The term appears in the pen of Polish Jewish jurist Raphael Lemkin in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe in 1943.
Already marked by the mass murders of the Armenians during the First World War, he wanted to forge a neologism, composed of the Greek genos for «race» and the Latin suffix cide meaning «kill», to describe the Nazi policies of systematic murder.

And what about today?

The 1948 Convention is now ratified by 153 states. Some of them have integrated the crime of genocide into their domestic law, like France in 1994. Since 1948, two special international courts established under the auspices of the UN have issued convictions for the crime of genocide: the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (1994-2015) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (1993-2017). Since 1998, the International Criminal Court has been the only permanent international court with jurisdiction to prosecute those responsible for the crime of genocide.

Mass murder is not…

Genocide: the definition adopted by the 1948 Convention is based on specific criteria as to the nature of the target group. Massacres committed on political and social criteria are thus excluded from this legal definition.

If I am told, “To challenge a mass murder as genocide is to reduce its severity.”

My answer is no. Genocide is a legal concept based on specific criteria and does not have a moral dimension. If, in fact, this term having acquired a strong symbolic significance is misused in order to mark the spirits, the motivations which led to its creation were not to create a hierarchy between the crimes, but to establish the specificity of certain crimes in the field of law.



In the strict sense, the denial of the existence of the Holocaust; in the broad sense, the denial of other genocides and other crimes against humanity.
With regard to the Holocaust, the deniers claim that the Jews invented it in order to guilt the Westerners in order to allow the creation of the State of Israel and extend their influence on the world.

When and how did the term «denial» appear?

In the 1970s and 1980s, denialist discourses gained an audience, particularly in certain academic (the Faurisson affair began in 1978) and political (the «retail» affair of Jean-Marie Le Pen, 1987). Relayed in the press, these speeches become audible.
In the late 1980s, historian Henry Rousso proposed the term «negationism» to replace that of «revisionism», which he considered insufficient and misguided by personalities like Robert Faurisson in order to give a scientific appearance to their speeches.

What about today?

In France, the modification of the press law of 1881 nicknamed «Gayssot law» provides since 1990 that “Those who contest the existence of one or more crimes against humanity as defined by Article 6 of the Statute of the International Military Tribunal annexed to the London Agreement of 8 August 1945…shall be punished by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of €45,000.”
In 2007, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the denial of the Holocaust.
Since 2017, the crime is no longer limited to the crimes of Nazi Germany: it has been extended to other genocides and crimes against humanity.

Denial is not

A reinterpretation of historical facts, as some deniers try to make them believe. As Henry Rousso points out, denial is a system of thought, an ideology and not a scientific or even simply critical approach.