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I often hear or read the phrase "Never again" used as a reference to the Holocaust. It is the motto of the Jewish Defense League and in the title of at least one historical account of the Holocaust. For what it's worth, the same reference was made in a South African political cartoon (Zapiro: April 19, 2002) about the Israel-Palestine conflict, and by the character Magneto at the climax of the most recent X-Men film. More recently, the phrase has been used to refer to genocide in general, but I'm pretty sure it started as a Holocaust reference.

My question is, what is the origin of this reference? Was it from a speech following World War II? A letter or prominent book? The best I've ever found is the article The Persistence of Genocide at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, which opens:

According to the great historian of the Holocaust, Raul Hilberg, the phrase “Never Again” first appeared on handmade signs put up by inmates at Buchenwald in April, 1945, shortly after the camp had been liberated by U.S. forces.

Is this correct? Did use of the phrase spread from here?

I hope no offense is taken because of the potentially sensitive subject. I have asked here because it's a question about the etymology of a phrase.

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    Neat question, but it is not about ELU. More for a history site.
    – Mitch
    Aug 24 '11 at 15:05
  • Yeah, this is yet another question that I'd vote to migrate to the History stackexchange site, if it ever got off the ground. Note that most Jews interned in Buchenwald wouldn't have spoken English, so if this is true, the sign was probably not in English. German or Yiddish seems much more likely.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 24 '11 at 15:12
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    @Mitch, this is definitively about ELU; it might be even more related to history, but it is definitively about ELU. I don't think we should ignore questions that are related to ELU, just because they touch on other subjects (for which there might or might not be other SE sites; question do not have to belong to a single site). Having said that, Warrick you might try judaism.stackexchange.com if you need more detail or better references
    – Unreason
    Aug 24 '11 at 15:29
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    @Unreason: As much as I sympathize and support the acknowledgment and remembrance of the Holocaust, the fact remains that why a certain group of people chose a certain set of words as a rallying cry is not the domain of EL&U.SE. As you haven't offered any reasons to support your assertion that this question is "definitively about ELU*, I am voting to close as off topic.
    – Robusto
    Aug 24 '11 at 15:35
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    I did first look for a History.SE, but found it didn't exist. I was blissfully unaware of Judaism.SE though, and I've just seen that they do have Holocaust-related questions there. I don't mind if this is closed and/or moved.
    – Warrick
    Aug 24 '11 at 16:11
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It's associated with the Holocaust for this reason:

While the phrase “Never Again” was in use before World War II — it was the title of several early American films — it has, for Jews, become shorthand for an ongoing commitment to remembering the Holocaust. The phrase was first popularized as a Jewish rallying cry by militant Zionist leader Meir Kahane in his 1972 book “Never Again!: A Program for Survival.”

The book of a Zionist leader has made this phrase of special meaning to the Jews. The book was about the survival of the Holocaust attempt of the Jews.

The usage of "Never Again" might have first appeared on handmade signs put up by the inmates, but it didn't gain special meaning until Meir Kahane wrote his book.

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  • This is useful :) Good answer :)
    – Abid
    Aug 24 '11 at 14:38
  • "the Holocaust attempt of the Jews" - this phrasing kind of makes it sound like the Jews were the perpetrators rather than the victims, and "attempt" makes it sound like the Holocaust didn't happen.
    – nnnnnn
    Jun 24 at 11:30
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There are some historical events about which people would say: "Never again" (should this happen).

The Holocaust would "top" many people's lists of such events.

The phrase might not have originated with this event, but became associated with it as an egregious example.

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