This paper discusses using the ProQuest database to search for the word “Holocaust” in 1950, and the results of that search. (5 pages; 4 sources; MLA citation style)
The Holocaust is a term we now use to refer almost exclusively to the extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. The word originally meant destruction by fire but is rarely used in that sense today.
This paper will use the ProQuest database to find out what articles were published about the Holocaust in 1950.
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Methodology and Discussion
I accessed ‘The New York Times’ deep backfile directly, asking it to search for the word “Holocaust” for the period 1/1/50 to 12/31/50. The search yielded only 26 hits; of those articles, most use the word to describe something other than the Nazi exterminations.
I did however notice what seems to be a sort of “theme” running through these articles in connection with the use of the word “holocaust”—the fear of nuclear war. In fact, the usage was striking. It is instructive to examine these 26 pieces to see how many of them use the word in this context.
Of the 26, eight articles, nearly one-third of the total, use the word “holocaust” to refer to the potential for nuclear conflict. Four more use the word to refer to conventional warfare, including the war just ended. This brings the total to 13, or half the entire selection. War, both conventional and nuclear, seems to have occupied newspapers during the year 1950 to a substantial degree.
Some of the articles about the potential for nuclear conflict are well-reasoned, but several stand out for what seems a near-hysterical writing style. One of these is entitled “Civilian Defense Held Inadequate,” published February 21, 1950. In it, one Dr. George Baehr, speaking to the tenth annual Congress on Industrial Health, said that current plans for civilian defence were totally inadequate. Further, he said that since the military would be of meeting the attacks and launching counterattacks, any and all emergency plans would have to be devised and run by civilians. To quote the good doctor directly:
“The present equanimity of our people is to be ascribed largely to the fact that they do not as yet realize the full significance of the absence at this time of specific methods of protection against the catastrophic effects of atomic agents … Such protective measures are being sought by governmental agencies … and they will be found, we hope before the holocaust is upon us.” (“Civilian Defense Held Inadequate”, PG).
Obviously, Dr. Baehr has used the word “holocaust” here to refer specifically to nuclear war. He goes on that because the United States has never had to face the effects of an all-out war fought on our soil, the problems might be underestimated. He wanted to see a civilian defence program set up with its administrator equal in rank to the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, and reporting directly to the President. This article reports the opinions of a man who is quite clearly convinced that the U.S. will be the victim of a nuclear attack.
An article published April 5, 1950, is even more sensational. It is entitled “Few Attend Peace Vigil” and recounts the disappointment of one Donald Harrington, pastor of the Community Church on East 35th Street that so few New Yorkers took part in his week-long vigil for world peace:
“I am surprised and grieved at the city’s vast indifference. I see them too preoccupied with their own selfish interests even to notice that they, their children, and our whole society are being swept away to the doom of hydrogen holocausts and atomic destruction.” (“Few Attend Peace Vigil”, PG).
Note that Pastor Harrington uses the present tense: “are being swept away.” He’s convinced the attack is already underway.
One of the most lurid of all the articles for that period is an advertisement for Collier’s Magazine. It was publishing a fictional article entitled “Hiroshima, USA” in its next issue, and had taken out what appears to be a full-page advertisement to alert potential readers to the appearance of the story.
The illustration, which takes up half the page, shows a mushroom cloud soaring up over Manhattan’s shattered skyscrapers, while in the foreground, the Brooklyn Bridge collapses into the East River. The copy of the ad, which appears beneath the picture, says that the story will describe in detail the effects of an atomic attack on New York City:
“Today, Collier’s pictures, with stark realism, the destruction and horror, the panic and paralysis, that would grip New York after such a holocaust.
“Based on what did happen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this carefully documented account uses actual names of people, places, buildings, lending grim reality to a nightmare that could come true … in any American city.” (“Display Ad 65-No Title,” PG).
Collier’s assures potential readers that the idea behind the piece is not to frighten them but to provide information, but it would still be interesting to know what the circulation was for that particular issue, and how many readers were scared to death by the whole scenario.
On August 24, 1950, an article entitled “Russia is Blamed for War in Korea” appeared. The piece details a talk given by John C. Ross, the U.S. Deputy Representative in the U.N. Security Council, to the 36th annual convention of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. In his remarks to the group, he said that the Russian invasion of Korea showed plainly that “international communism was prepared to risk ‘the holocaust’” by using armed aggression against a neighbour. Clearly the holocaust referred to here is that of nuclear war.
Since we’ve looked at both 1949 and 1950, it’s interesting to note that in just the space of one year, the concerns have shifted markedly. In 1949, there were numerous articles in which the word “holocaust” was used in its dictionary sense, that of a devastating fire.
But in 1950, fully half of the articles deal with war; and of those 13, eight use the word “holocaust” to refer specifically to nuclear annihilation. Why?
The early 1950s were an unstable and frightening time. The U.S. had just passed through the ordeal of World War II, but instead of a long piece, was soon facing another perceived threat: that of Communist aggression. This was the era that saw the beginning of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and bomb shelters in the back yard; I believe it’s fair to assume the nation’s preoccupation with these things is reflected in the content of the articles.
“Civilian Defense Held Inadequate.” The New York Times, 21 Feb 1950. Retrieved 7 Nov 2003 from ProQuest, San Diego Public Library, San Diego, CA: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=5&did=000000086411679&SrchMode=1&sid=1&Fmt=10&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=HNP&TS=1068265308&clientId=9477
“Display Ad 65-No Title.” The New York Times,27 Jul 1950. Retrieved 7 Nov 2003 from ProQuest, San Diego Public Library, San Diego, CA: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=17&did=000000093191764&SrchMode=1&sid=1&Fmt=10&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=HNP&TS=1068265459&clientId=9477
“Few Attend Peace Vigil.” The New York Times, 5 Apr 1950. Retrieved 7 Nov 2003 from ProQuest, San Diego Public Library, San Diego, CA: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=7&did=000000098606771&SrchMode=1&sid=1&Fmt=10&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=HNP&TS=1068265400&clientId=9477
“Russia is Blamed for War in Korea.” The New York Times, 24 Aug 1950. Retrieved 7 Nov 2003 from ProQuest, San Diego Public Library, San Diego, CA: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=19&did=000000095802934&SrchMode=1&sid=1&Fmt=10&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=HNP&TS=106826
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