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Like sheep to the slaughter

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Like sheep to the slaughter" (Hebrew: כצאן לטבח‎) is a phrase which refers to the idea that Jews went passively to their deaths during the Holocaust. It derives from a similar phrase in the Hebrew Bible which positively depicts martyrdom in both the Jewish and Christian religious traditions. Opposition to the phrase became associated with Jewish nationalism due to its use in Josippon and by Jewish self-defense groups after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. During the Holocaust, Abba Kovner and other Jewish resistance leaders used the phrase to exhort Jews to fight back. In postwar Israel, most Holocaust survivors were demonized as having gone "like sheep to the slaughter" while armed resistance was glorified. The phrase was taken to mean that Jews had not tried to save their own lives, and consequently were partly responsible for their own suffering and death. This myth, which has become less prominent over time, is frequently criticized by historians, theologians, and survivors as a form of victim blaming.

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<i> ♪</i> <i>Announcer: The following</i> <i>is a presentation of</i> <i>Tomorrow's World.</i> The world we once knew no longer exists and many are concerned. People have the feeling that something is terribly wrong and they are helpless to change it. There is trouble in the Middle East and North Africa. It appears that a new cold war is breaking out between Russia and the Western nations. But geo-politics is only a small part of a much greater sea change in our world. At home, you are likely seeing dramatic and disturbing social behaviors and changes. Behaviors that once were condemned and not spoken of in polite society, are now part of our public discourse. Living together prior to marriage appears to be the norm. Insurance forms and government document no longer use husband or wife, but have substituted the generic word, partner. Same-sex marriage is not only acceptable, but you and I are being pressured to celebrate it. And just look at us. People of all ages have given themselves <i>facial and body piercing:</i> <i>pierced eye brows,</i> <i>pierced lips,</i> <i>pierced tongues and cheeks.</i> <i>Some have so much facial</i> <i>hardware you wonder</i> <i>how they get through</i> <i>airport security!</i> <i>Then there are</i> <i>the ear stretchers.</i> How long will it be before we see nose bones? Tattoos in civilized society were once the domain of drunken sailors, who woke up the next morning after shore leave to find they'd been initiated, with a hula dancer on their calf, or an eagle on their chest, but no more. Tattoos are found everywhere, even among fully mature men and women. It's difficult to find <i>a sports figure without</i> <i>his arms covered, and no doubt</i> <i>many of you watching</i> <i>today's program have taken</i> <i>the plunge and are sporting</i> you own "body art." Some years ago I was directing a discussion with teens at one of our summer camps. I asked them whether they were leaders or followers, and one young man gave an answer I'll never forget. He said, totally sincerely, "I want to be an individual just like all my friends." There's a conflict in our nature that drives a desire to stand out, to be an individual on one hand; but then there's a side that wants to fit in. Without realizing it, this young man was saying he wanted to chart his own course, meaning one that is different from his parents and adult society, but he also craved acceptance from his peers. So where does that leave you? Are you an individual? Or are you, just like all your friends? On what basis do you make your decisions? Do you first look which way the wind is blowing? Most of us think we are not influenced by society around us, but is that what the facts show? Have our western nations become nations of sheep? And if so, who is doing the leading? Where is our world heading? The Bible reveals the answer. Stay tuned! ♪ Welcome to Tomorrow's World, where we not only report the news, but give the meaning behind the news. In the last 50 years our world has undergone a total moral transformation. Moral limits, and responsible behaviors that politicians once trumpeted only a handful of years ago, if spoken today, can be enough to end a promising career. Business owners and civil servants who stand on moral conscience have been fined and thrown in jail. But these are the exceptions, as it seems the majority are following the course of the world, drifting with the wind, <i>as sheep to the slaughter.</i> <i>One must wonder,</i> "Why is the world going in the direction it is, and who's behind it?" Once you understand WHO'S behind it, you can understand WHY the world is going in the direction it is?" A traditional religious hymn, revived by Amy Grant is titled, "This is my Father's World." I can remember singing it in church services when I was quite young. It has a catchy tune and the lyrics sound good on the surface. For example, the third verse declares: For those of you viewing this program, I'm sure there is little question as to WHO created <i>the rocks and the trees,</i> <i>the skies and seas.</i> God truly is above all, and is the Creator of the entire universe. But there's a problem with this hymn and here's what many church goers don't understand. This is NOT God's world! As shocking as that may sound, that's what your Bible says! The Apostle Paul verifies this in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4: Yes, the god of this world is blinding people's minds to the true gospel of Christ. Many know Satan as our enemy, but do they realize he is, "the god of this age?" Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus referred to the ruler of this world on several occasions. Without naming him, it is evident from the context that He was not referring to His Father, but to Satan the Devil. Notice John 12:31: Jesus tells us in John chapter 14, and verse 30: Yes, it IS true that God HAS created the physical world of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; but to say that "this world," it's course and direction, is that of Almighty God of the Bible, is neither scripturally accurate, nor does it match what we see around us. To claim that this is our Father's world, meaning God's world, is, to put it mildly, misleading. But few church goers today understand this. They don't realize that SATAN is the true ruler of this present evil age. Think about it. What do your eyes and experiences tell you? Consider all the wars that have been fought. Virtually the whole of man's history can be summed up as a chronicle of wars. <i>Consider the starvation</i> <i>that is taking place</i> <i>on a scale that few of us</i> <i>in so-called first world</i> <i>countries can imagine.</i> <i>Consider the crime and violence</i> <i>committed by selfish,</i> <i>uncaring, and brutal thugs.</i> <i>Consider the state</i> <i>of our marriages and families</i> <i>where nearly half of all</i> <i>marriages break apart.</i> <i>And consider the millions</i> <i>who simply move in together,</i> <i>sometimes have children,</i> <i>part when things don't</i> <i>go according to their liking,</i> <i>and leave children wondering</i> <i>where they belong.</i> Is this really our Father's world? <i>Yes, He did create the rocks</i> <i>and trees, the skies and seas,</i> BUT He definitely is NOT, the God of this world! In a moment I'm going to tell you some things that may make you uncomfortable, but first I'd like to offer you some truly GOOD NEWS. How often have you said, we need some good news? Well here's your chance to read the best news this world has ever been given. So if you really mean it, if you really do want to read some good news, our absolutely free booklet, "The World Ahead: What Will It Be Like" is available to you just for the asking. I'm sure you've never read anything like it. This is a book of prophecy that tells in advance WHO the rulers of the future will be and where they will rule. So if you want to know the future in advance, call, write, or download your FREE copy! It's that simple. <i> ♪</i> <i>Announcer: To receive this</i> <i>program's offer</i> <i>absolutely free,</i> <i>or if you would like more</i> <i>information, call the</i> <i>number shown or visit</i> <i>our website online</i> <i>at</i> <i>Or you can write us</i> <i>at the address shown.</i> <i> ♪</i> <i>Announcer: With this offer,</i> <i>you will also receive</i> <i>your free subscription</i> <i>to "Tomorrow's World" magazine</i> <i>full of timely articles</i> <i>and unique insights</i> <i>on today's important issues.</i> <i>"Tomorrow's World" magazine</i> <i>keeps you up to date</i> <i>with world trends,</i> <i>bible prophecy,</i> <i>and the very meaning</i> <i>of life itself.</i> <i>"Tomorrow's World"...</i> <i>Call now!</i> Welcome back. Before the short break I mentioned that I would tell you some things that might make you a bit uncomfortable. Why do YOU do the things that YOU do? It seems that today everyone has to get a tattoo. Probably many of you watching this program have gone under the needle. Why? Is it to glorify God? Now please don't get me wrong. There are far greater problems in this world than tattoos and some mistakes in life are best left alone. But tattoos do not glorify God, and here's why. God reveals to us HIS will in Leviticus 19:28 When someone does something outrageous, such as tongue piercing, I figure he or she wants people to notice it, and I hate to disappoint. My wife gets embarrassed, but sometimes I can't help asking a waitress, in the nicest way I know how, "Why would a lovely young lady, such as you, take a nail and put it through your tongue? That must have hurt!" The answers you get are telling. One young waitress looked at me with a quizzical expression and replied, "I don't know. No one ever asked me that before. I'll have to think about it." And every time this otherwise very clean cut and very nice waitress came back to our table, she let me know she hadn't forgotten the question and was still thinking about it. She never found the answer, at least while we were there, but I left her a nice tip for being a good sport about it, giving us good service. Now based on my personal observation, tongue piercing may be on the decline. <i>However, tattooing</i> <i>is going ahead full bore. Why?</i> <i>Why do we see people</i> <i>of all ages and stations</i> <i>in life cover themselves</i> <i>with ink?</i> <i>Tattoo parlors are springing</i> <i>up everywhere.</i> <i>Television reality shows</i> <i>are built around body art</i> <i>and bad ink.</i> <i>And tattoo removal services</i> <i>are doing a brisk business.</i> Is it because people think through the benefits and long-term risks? Or is it because they want to be an individual, just like all their friends? Why has this generation so easily and quickly given itself over to these practices? Why do we allow ourselves <i>to be led about like sheep?</i> <i>The Apostle Paul spoke to</i> the Christians at Ephesus, explaining that they once followed the one who is directing the fads, fashions, and trends of this world. Here it is in Ephesians 2, beginning verse 1: Satan the devil is here described as the one who directs the course of this world. How does he do it? Notice that the scripture calls him the prince of the power of the air. Right now, wherever you are, there are probably dozens, perhaps hundreds of voices, pictures and other forms of messages passing right by you, but you can't hear them, or see them; that is, unless you have a receiver, such as a radio, television, or other electronic device. One of those voices is from Satan. He is truly, as we have just read, the prince of the power of the air, but he doesn't normally transmit audible words. <i>Instead, he transmits moods,</i> <i>feelings, attitudes,</i> <i>and thoughts.</i> <i>He does this all the time,</i> <i>to the point that</i> <i>we don't realize</i> <i>what is going on in our minds.</i> <i>That is how he rules the world.</i> <i>He broadcasts his moods,</i> <i>thoughts, and attitudes into</i> <i>the minds of men</i> <i>and women everywhere.</i> Jesus plainly understood the source of wrong attitudes and thoughts. We read of an interesting incident as Jesus and the disciples were traveling through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem. and Luke 9:53 it tell us: Now these two disciples were looking to a past biblical account to validate their attitudes and desires. They thought they knew what needed to be done, but they failed to realize that their situation was very different from that of Elijah's. Their pride was hurt by rejection, and Jesus knew the source of their pride: Yes there was a spirit influence that they failed to recognize. On another occasion, Jesus began to show His disciples that He would be killed in Jerusalem and resurrected three days later. Peter's bold profession to defend Jesus against death appeared to be an act of loyalty and courage, but was something quite different. We read of this in Matthew 16 beginning in verse 22 We would not normally expect Peter's comments to elicit such a harsh response, but Peter was opposing God's will, and was unknowingly influenced by the prince of the power of the air. Through his subtle and relentless broadcasting, Satan is able to shape the course of this world. This is why our world is going in the direction it is. Conflicts between individuals and nations continue unabated. Government officials are caught up in one scandal after another. Morals continue on a downward spiral. Religions fail to provide the right answers, but instead follow the course of this world and its pagan traditions. <i>While we see great improvement</i> <i>in science and technology,</i> <i>making life easier,</i> <i>we see no such improvement</i> <i>in human behavior.</i> So where does that leave you and me? Is there a solution to man's problems, and if so, what is it? Here at Tomorrow's World we recognize there is ultimately only one solution and it was written in advance in amazingly explicit detail. Future rulers are named in advance, giving specific details of who they will rule. So if you'd like to know the truly good news in your future, call, write, or download our FREE publication, "The World Ahead: What Will It Be Like?" You've probably said, "We need more good news." Now do you really mean that? Because if so, here it is. All you have to do is request it. <i> ♪</i> <i>Announcer: Today's offer</i> <i>is yours absolutely free,</i> <i>no cost, no obligation.</i> <i>Visit us online at</i> <i></i> <i>Find us on Facebook,</i> <i>watch us on Youtube,</i> <i>and follow us on Twitter.</i> Jesus Christ never tried to fit in with the world. On the contrary, He spoke out against the world, whether the religious world or the immoral culture of His day. Some of the Pharisees came to Him one day to test Him. They brought to Him a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery. What would He do? Knowing the foul spirit behind their question, He said nothing, but began to write on the ground. Now there are many speculations as to what He wrote, but the Bible doesn't tell us. All we know is that those who brought the woman to Him began to leave, beginning with the oldest to the youngest; and when no one was left but the woman, He didn't condemn her, but gave her a strong warning: "Go and sin no more." He didn't condone the sin. He didn't abrogate the 7th commandment that says, "You shall not commit adultery." He wasn't unambiguous on this subject. He taught in Matthew 5, verses 27 and 28: Yet today, adultery is rampant, <i>and as seen from this</i> <i>scripture, adultery of the</i> <i>heart, by means of pornography,</i> <i>is also a grievous sin.</i> Fornication, that is, sex prior to marriage, is also condemned in the Bible, as is homosexuality. However, these sins are taken lightly by most western nations and none can legitimately claim the moral high ground. This 2006 Barna Group survey reveals what many already know about American culture, and the moral landscape has deteriorated dramatically in the last 10 years since this report came out: Christ's disciples are sometimes referred to as sheep, but the Shepherd they follow is Jesus Himself. While they follow the Leader, it is evident that they have considered who it is that they want to follow. Sadly, the majority of our Western nations are sheep who have not considered who they are following. Without realizing it, they're following the course of this world as directed by the one who wants to destroy them. On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus prayed to His Father regarding His disciples. Here it is in John 17, beginning verse 14: Even in the world of religion, there is the course of this world. Sadly, too few realize that Satan also has His churches and His ministers and they don't call themselves by Satan's name. Jesus tells us people would actually use His name to deceive. Notice in Matthew 24th chapter and verses 4 and 5: <i>[In other words, saying that</i> <i>Jesus is the Christ]</i> He even said that people would claim miracles in His name, but they don't belong to Him. The Apostle Paul chided the Corinthians for not discerning which spirit they were following and he showed that the god of this world has his own ministers and they will look good to the sheep of this world. Here it is in 2 Corinthians 11, verses 13 and 15: God's words are strong. Our society is crumbling beneath us, succumbing to the moral atrocities that mortals have created with Satan the devil's influence, who thrives during these times, taking pleasure in those who go against God and His word, as he continues on stronger, knowing that his time is short before Christ returns, to take back dominion and government over the world. Don't wait until it's too late to find out about these coming events. Satan may be the god of this world now, but our great Creator God has a much bigger, more exciting plan for all of mankind than we could ever fathom. <i> ♪</i> <i>Announcer: To receive this</i> <i>program's offer</i> <i>absolutely free,</i> <i>or if you would like more</i> <i>information, call the</i> <i>number shown or visit</i> <i>our website online</i> <i>at</i> <i>Or you can write us</i> <i>at the address shown.</i> <i> ♪</i> <i>Announcer: With this offer,</i> <i>you will also receive</i> <i>your free subscription</i> <i>to "Tomorrow's World" magazine</i> <i>full of timely articles</i> <i>and unique insights</i> <i>on today's important issues.</i> <i>"Tomorrow's World" magazine</i> <i>keeps you up to date</i> <i>with world trends,</i> <i>bible prophecy,</i> <i>and the very meaning</i> <i>of life itself.</i> <i>"Tomorrow's World"...</i> <i>Call now!</i> Welcome back! So far today we have discussed events that will impact all of you watching, directly and personally, in the years to come! So where is all this leading? The Bible speaks of a time of trouble greater than there ever has been before or ever will be after. In Jesus' Olivet Prophecy, He tells us it is going to get so bad that all intelligent life would be snuffed out if He didn't return to stop it. Matthew 24:21-22: Our world is rapidly changing. The god of this world is leading mankind like sheep to the slaughter, and the sheep don't know it. That spirit being has convinced foolish mankind to think that he can out-vote God when it comes to what is right and wrong, <i>and the end will be disaster.</i> <i>But there IS good news!</i> <i>We call this program</i> <i>Tomorrow's World,</i> <i>because there IS a better world</i> <i>prophesied to come.</i> <i>That's why we are offering you</i> <i>a FREE copy of</i> <i>"The World Ahead:</i> <i>What Will It Be Like?"</i> In prophecy after prophecy the Bible describes this very different world when Jesus Christ is King over all the earth. Then it WILL BE our Father's world! Be sure to come back next week, same time, same station, when Richard Ames, Wallace Smith, and I will fearlessly challenge you to consider the choices you make. See you next time! <i> ♪</i> <i>Announcer: To view the</i> <i>Tomorrow's World telecast,</i> <i>or request today's free</i> <i>offer, visit us online at</i> <i></i> <i>Remember to find us on</i> <i>Facebook, and be sure to</i> <i>follow us on Twitter.</i> <i> ♪</i> <i>Announcer: The preceding</i> <i>program is produced by the</i> <i>Living Church of God.</i>




In Isaiah 53, a chapter in the Hebrew Bible,[1][2] a virtuous servant is murdered but does not protest: "Like a sheep being led to the slaughter or a lamb that is silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). His silence is praised because there was no "deceit in his mouth" (Isaiah 53:9). However, Rabbi Abraham Heschel pointed out that the context is more ambiguous, because Isaiah himself protests against God's punishment of the Jewish people.[1] In Psalm 44, the martyrdom of Jewish people persecuted for their religion is presented positively: “Nay, but for Thy sake are we killed all the day; / We are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered” (Psalms 44:23).[3][4] Jewish liturgy uses the phrase in Tachanun, a prayer derived from Psalm 44, which is traditionally recited each Monday and Thursday in the Shacharis (morning prayers):

Look from heaven and perceive that we have become an object of scorn and derision among the nations; we are regarded as the sheep led to slaughter, to be killed, destroyed, beaten, and humiliated. But despite all this we have not forgotten Your Name—we beg You not to forget us.[5]

In Christianity, the phrase was interpreted as the virtue of meekness, related to Jesus allowing himself to be crucified; Jesus was symbolized as the Lamb of God. Presbyterian theologian Albert Barnes wrote that "the fact that [Jesus] did not open his mouth in complaint was therefore the more remarkable, and made the merit of his sufferings the greater". He considered that Isaiah 53 was prophetic typology which had been "fulfilled in the life of the Lord Jesus", a typology which would be continued as part of Christian interpretations of the Holocaust.[6]

The Hebrew phrase in the Bible, "like sheep to be slaughtered" (כְּצֹאן טִבְחָה, ke-tson le-tivhah) is distinct from the later variant, "like sheep to (the) slaughter" (כצאן לטבח, ke-tson la-tevah).[7]


The inverse of the phrase, contrary to what had been previously believed, was coined by the writer of the 10th century Jewish history Josippon, which quoted Mattathias, a leader of the Maccabean Revolt, as having said, "Be strong and let us be strengthened and let us die fighting and not die as sheep led to slaughter".[8][9] In a different context, the phrase was used by United States founder George Washington in 1783 to warn of the dangers of removing the right to freedom of speech: "the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter".[10][11]

The inversion of the phrase was revived by Jewish self-defense leagues in the Russian Empire in the wake of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, although it remained rare compared to other imagery of victimization.[12] In reference to the pogrom, the New York Times reported that "The Jews were taken wholly unaware and slaughtered like sheep".[13] Yosef Haim Brenner's Hebrew novella Around the Point featured a protagonist who asked, "Were the Jews like sheep to be slaughtered?" but immediately rejected the idea. By 1910, the second version of the phrase, invented in Josippon, was more commonly used.[14] In a 1920 article titled "Will They Make Jerusalem into a Kishinev?" Zalman Shazar, later the third president of Israel, argued against negotiating with the British Mandatory Palestine authorities because "The brothers of the Tel Hai heroes will not be led as sheep to slaughter."[15]

In Yizkor, a 1911 book memorializing Jews killed by Arabs, the inverse was attributed to Ya'akov Plotkin, the leader of a Jewish self-defense organization in the Ukraine, who had immigrated to Palestine and was killed during the intercommunal conflict in Palestine. According to Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, later Israel's second president, Plotkin had previously used the phrase in regard to defense against the pogroms in the Russian Empire. The book was widely read among Zionists in Eastern Europe. Yael Feldman suggests that this is the probable source for the verbiage employed by Abba Kovner in his declaration of 1 January 1942.[16]

In the Holocaust context

During the Holocaust

During the Holocaust, Abba Kovner was the first to use the phrase as a call for action in a 1 January 1942 pamphlet[10] in which he argued that "Hitler is plotting the annihilation of European Jewry".[9] Kovner urged the Jews in the Vilna Ghetto to resist the Germans:[10][17]

We will not be led like sheep to slaughter. True we are weak and helpless, but the only response to the murders is revolt. Brethren, it is better to die fighting like free men than to live at the mercy of the murderers. Arise, Arise with last breath.

— Abba Kovner, Let us not go like sheep to the slaughter! [he]

Instead of viewing the Jews as sheep, Kovner instead attempted "to cause a rebellion against the very use of that term", according to Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer.[18][19] In a speech that Kovner gave to members of the Palmach after arriving in Israel in October 1945, he explained that his phrase had not meant that Holocaust victims had gone "like sheep to the slaughter" and attributed that interpretation to non-Jews, such as a Soviet partisan commissar. Kovner also said with regard to the inability of so many victims to fight back that “All and everyone did go like this!” including Soviet prisoners of war, Nazi collaborators killed by their former allies, and Polish officers.[20]

The pamphlet was smuggled to other ghettos where it inspired similar calls for resistance.[21] In the Kraków Ghetto, Dolek Liebeskind said, "For three lines in history that will be written about the youth who fought and did not go like sheep to the slaughter it is even worth dying."[21] During the Grossaktion Warsaw, the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto beginning 22 July 1942, Jewish archivist Emanuel Ringelblum criticized the brutality of the Jewish Ghetto Police during roundups and the passivity of the Jewish masses. Ringelblum asked "why have we allowed ourselves to be led like sheep to the slaughter" and concluded that Jews were ashamed and disgraced because their "docility" did not save their lives. He concluded that the only option was armed resistance, even as a symbolic gesture.[22]

After the war

In Israel

In the immediate postwar period in Israel, before the Eichmann trial, survivors who had not fought with the partisans were stigmatized for having allegedly gone like sheep to the slaughter.[23][24] In response, some child survivors pretended to be sabras (native Israelis), and other survivors never mentioned their experience.[25] Armed resistance was glorified, partly because the establishment of the State of Israel also required armed conflict.[26] For example, the most popular textbook for elementary school students devoted 60% of its Holocaust coverage to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.[27] In contrast, other reactions to the Holocaust were demonized:[26] one textbook approved by the Ministry of Education read that "the heroic stand of the Ghetto Jews also compensated for the humiliating surrender of those led to the death camps" and that Holocaust victims had gone "as sheep to the slaughter".[27]

British historian Tom Lawson argues that the idea of Jewish passivity during the Holocaust confirmed stereotypes of diaspora Jews held by the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, which contributed to their ascendance.[28] Israeli historian Yechiam Weitz argues that the "sheep to slaughter" trope "insinuat[es] that millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust did not measure up" and, if they had fought back, Jewish national honor would have been preserved.[29] Israeli historian Idit Zertal writes that Holocaust survivors were blamed for not choosing Zionism in time.[29]

Israeli historian Hanna Yablonka criticizes this perception, arguing that Holocaust survivors shaped Israeli memory.[29] Feldman describes the myth as deriving from traditional European antisemitic stereotypes of Jews as "the dishonorable antithesis of all the "virile" qualities deemed necessary by modern nationalism".[30] An alternate explanation, advanced by Israeli historian Tom Segev, is that the sheep metaphor enabled Israelis to downplay the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust as a defense mechanism against cultural trauma.[31] Initially, little was known about the Holocaust, leading to over-generalization.[26] According to the just world hypothesis, Holocaust victims and survivors must have done something to deserve their fate.[32]

Kovner's speech of October 1945 was not available to the public for four decades, and many falsely attributed the accusation against Israeli Holocaust survivors to him.[33] Disturbed by this, Kovner said in 1947 that one who had not witnessed the events of the Holocaust could not use the phrase appropriately; "like sheep to the slaughter" meant something different in Israel than it had in the Vilna Ghetto in 1942.[34] Meanwhile, he continued to claim authorship of the inversion of the statement despite the previous precedent.[33]

The Israeli attitude towards Holocaust survivors was revolutionized by the highly publicized trial of Adolf Eichmann, a key Holocaust perpetrator, in Jerusalem. During the trial, prosecutor Gideon Hausner went beyond proving Eichmann's guilt.[35] He attempted to educate Israelis about Nazi crimes[36] and "assumed the role of defense attorney for the dead and the living Jewish people" and called many survivors as witnesses.[35] The public questioned whether resistance was an option for the masses, and the activity of rescue groups such as the Aid and Rescue Committee was viewed in a more positive light. Public opinion shifted to blaming the perpetrators exclusively. Revisionist Zionist poet Uri Zvi Greenberg said, "It is a crime to say that, in the time of Hitler, Diaspora Jewry could have gone to their deaths differently." The Labor Zionist writer Haim Guri wrote,

We should ask forgiveness from countless numbers for having judged them in our hearts.. .We often generalized categorically and arbitrarily that these poor souls [went to their deaths] "as sheep to the slaughter." Now we know better.[37]

Outside of Israel

After the war, the passivity of Jewish Holocaust victims and survivors was reinforced by photographs of liberated Nazi concentration camps depicting emaciated survivors. Because Nazi propaganda films were often the only source of footage, their use in postwar documentaries supported the idea of Jewish passivity, as did the iconic Warsaw Ghetto boy photograph. The claim that Jewish concentration camp prisoners were more passive than non-Jewish prisoners often obscured historical fact, such as the fact that six of the seven uprisings in concentration or death camps were launched by Jews.[38]

Survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote a bestselling book in 1946, Man's Search for Meaning, based on his own experiences, in which he claimed that a positive attitude was essential to surviving the camps. Consequently, he implied that those who died had given up. Historians have concluded that there was little connection between attitude and survival.[39] In 1960, Jewish psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim claimed that "Like lemmings, [millions] marched themselves to their own death" and that Anne Frank and her family were partly to blame for not owning firearms.[40][17] In his 1961 book The Destruction of the European Jews, historian Raul Hilberg characterized Jewish resistance as an extremely marginal phenomenon. However, he evaluated the resistance solely by the number of Germans killed.[17][41] Instead, he argued that Jews had "speeded the process of destruction" by obedience to German orders conditioned by the passivity of Jewish diaspora culture. In the 1985 edition, Hilberg quoted Ringelblum to support this argument.[42]

Hannah Arendt explicitly rejected the idea that Jewish victims had gone "like sheep to the slaughter", because all victims of Nazi persecution had behaved similarly. She argued that Bettelheim expected that Jews would somehow divine Nazi intentions more than other victims and privately criticized Hilberg for "babbl[ing] about a 'death wish' of the Jews".[43] Although she criticized Israeli prosecutor Gideon Hausner for asking survivors why they had not resisted,[43][44] she also described Jews as obeying Nazi orders with "submissive meekness" and "arriving on time at the transportation points, walking under their own power to the places of execution, digging their own graves, undressing and making neat piles of their clothing, and lying down side by side to be shot", a characterization which American Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt found "disturbing". Instead, Arendt blamed the Judenrat for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis, an assessment that is not commonly accepted today.[44] Despite her more nuanced portrayal, her arguments in Eichmann in Jerusalem were equated with those of Hilberg and Bettelheim and harshly criticized.[45]

After the first three decades, the trope became less of a driving force in Holocaust historiography, according to Lawson.[28] However, Richard Middleton-Kaplan cites the 2010 film The Debt, about a Nazi war criminal who taunts and escapes from his Jewish captors, as a recent example of a work perpetuating the perception that Jews passively acquiesced to their fate, because the Nazi's claims to that effect are not rebutted.[46] Israeli settlers protesting evacuation from the Gaza Strip said "we will not go as sheep to slaughter" which was considered hyperbole.[47]


The phrase became so widespread and widely believed that historians of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust used it as the title of works challenging perceptions of Jewish passivitity.[48] Daniel Goldhagen criticized the "maddening, oft-heard phrase ‘like sheep to slaughter'" as a "misconception" in his blurb on the 1994 book Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The entry on Jewish resistance in Eastern Europe in the 2001 The Holocaust Encyclopedia opens by debunking the "false assumptions" behind questions such as "Why did the Jews go like sheep to the slaughter?"[49]

Yehuda Bauer has argued that "those who use it are identifying, even unconsciously, with the killers," who denied the humanity of their victims.[19] He notes that "Jews were not sheep. Jews were Jews, Jews were human beings" who were murdered, not slaughtered.[18][19] American sociologist Nechama Tec says that she is frequently asked "Why did Jews go like sheep to the slaughter?" which she describes as "a blatantly false assumption" because the opportunity for resistance was not often present, and many Jews employed creative survival strategies. Tec strongly criticized the idea that "the victims themselves were partly to blame for their own destruction".[17] According to Holocaust historian Peter Hayes, "nothing in the literature on the Shoah is more unseemly than the blame cast by some writers on an almost completely unarmed, isolated, terrified, tortured, and enervated people for allegedly failing to respond adequately".[50]

Survivors including Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi have also criticized the tendency to blame the Jews for their plight during the Holocaust, which Wiesel described as "The height of irony and cruelty: the dead victims needed to be defended, while the killers, dead and alive, were left alone."[51] Psychologist Eva Fogelman argues that the victim-blaming tendency stems from the desire to "avoid confronting the question: What would I have done? And would I have survived?" According to Fogelman, "Blaming the victims not only distorts history; it also perpetuates their victimization."[52]

Rabbi Emil Fackenheim wrote that “the loose talk about ‘sheep to slaughter’ and ‘collaborationist’ Judenräte" is caused by willful ignorance of the facts of the Holocaust because "it is more comfortable to blame the victim".[53] Rabbi Yisrael Rutman argued that the "true meaning" of the phrase is the spiritual strength of Jews who had no opportunity to resist their murder.[11] Rabbi Bernard Rosenberg writes that to understand the fallacy of the "sheep to the slaughter" myth, one must consider the lived experience of survivors who had no opportunity to fight back against their oppressors.[54] Rosenberg argues that survival and the effort to rebuild lives, communities, and the Jewish state after the Holocaust was a form of fighting back, as is preserving Jewish tradition today.[55] Rabbi Shmuley Boteach describes the phrase as a "double insult to the martyred six million" because it both accuses them of cowardice and blames them for their fate.[56]



  1. ^ a b Middleton-Kaplan 2014, pp. 3–4.
  2. ^ Cohen & Mendes-Flohr 2010, p. 369.
  3. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 4.
  4. ^ Feldman 2013, p. 147.
  5. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, pp. 4–5.
  6. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, pp. 5–6.
  7. ^ Feldman 2013, pp. 147, 151.
  8. ^ Feldman 2013, p. 155.
  9. ^ a b Feldman & Bowman 2007.
  10. ^ a b c Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 6.
  11. ^ a b Rutman 2002.
  12. ^ Feldman 2013, pp. 156–157.
  13. ^ Gordis 2010, p. 164.
  14. ^ Feldman 2013, p. 157.
  15. ^ Feldman 2013, p. 158.
  16. ^ Feldman 2013, pp. 143–145.
  17. ^ a b c d Tec 2013.
  18. ^ a b Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 7.
  19. ^ a b c Bauer 1998.
  20. ^ Feldman 2013, pp. 145–146.
  21. ^ a b Middleton-Kaplan 2014, pp. 6–7.
  22. ^ Lawson 2010, pp. 235–236.
  23. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 9.
  24. ^ Bar-On 2004, p. 106.
  25. ^ Bar-On 2004, p. 107.
  26. ^ a b c Yablonka 2003, p. 5.
  27. ^ a b Porat 2004, p. 622.
  28. ^ a b Lawson 2010, p. 236.
  29. ^ a b c Yablonka 2003, p. 10.
  30. ^ Feldman 2013, p. 143.
  31. ^ Bar-On 2004, pp. 107–108.
  32. ^ Bar-On 2004, p. 108.
  33. ^ a b Feldman 2013, p. 146.
  34. ^ Ofer 2000, p. 43.
  35. ^ a b Yablonka 2003, p. 17.
  36. ^ Porat 2004, pp. 623–624.
  37. ^ Yablonka 2003, pp. 17–18.
  38. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 8.
  39. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, pp. 9–10.
  40. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 10.
  41. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 11.
  42. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, pp. 11–12.
  43. ^ a b Lipstadt 2016, p. 53.
  44. ^ a b Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 14.
  45. ^ Lipstadt 2016, p. 54.
  46. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, pp. 24–25.
  47. ^ Feldman 2013, p. 152.
  48. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 15.
  49. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, pp. 22–23.
  50. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 25.
  51. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 17.
  52. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, pp. 21–22.
  53. ^ Middleton-Kaplan 2014, p. 21.
  54. ^ Rosenberg 1999, pp. 18–20.
  55. ^ Rosenberg 1999, pp. 20–21.
  56. ^ Boteach 2014.

Print sources

  • Bar-On, Daniel (2004). "A socially and historically contextualised psychoanalytic perspective: Holocaust survival and suffering". In Prue, Chamberlayne; Joanna, Bornat; Apitzsch, Ursula (eds.). Biographical Methods and Professional Practice: An International Perspective. Policy Press. pp. 101–113. ISBN 9781861344939.
  • Cohen, Arthur A.; Mendes-Flohr, Paul (2010). 20th Century Jewish Religious Thought. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780827609716.
  • Feldman, Yael S. (2013). ""Not as Sheep Led to Slaughter"?: On Trauma, Selective Memory, and the Making of Historical Consciousness" (PDF). Jewish Social Studies. 19 (3): 139–169. ISSN 1527-2028.
  • Gordis, Daniel (2010). Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9780470643907.
  • Lawson, Tom (2010). Debates on the Holocaust. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780719074486.
  • Lipstadt, Deborah E. (2016). Holocaust: An American Understanding. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 9780813564777.
  • Middleton-Kaplan, Richard (2014). "The Myth of Jewish Passivity". In Henry, Patrick (ed.). Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. pp. 3–26. ISBN 9780813225890.
  • Ofer, Dalia (2000). "The Strength of Remembrance: Commemorating the Holocaust during the First Decade of Israel". Jewish Social Studies. 6 (2): 24–55. JSTOR 4467575.
  • Porat, Dan A. (1 October 2004). "From the Scandal to the Holocaust in Israeli Education". Journal of Contemporary History. 39 (4): 619–636. doi:10.1177/0022009404046757. ISSN 0022-0094. JSTOR 141413.
  • Rosenberg, Bernhard H. (1999). "They Went Like Sheep to the Slaughter and Other Myths". In Rosenberg, Bernhard H.; Rozwaski, Chaim Z. (eds.). Contemplating the Holocaust. Jason Aronson. pp. 17–21. ISBN 9780765761118.
  • Yablonka, Hanna (2003). Translated by Moshe, Tlamim. "The Development of Holocaust Consciousness in Israel: The Nuremberg, Kapos, Kastner, and Eichmann Trials". Israel Studies. 8 (3): 1–24. ISSN 1527-201X. JSTOR 0245616.

Web sources

Further reading

  • Finkel, Evgeny (2017). Ordinary Jews: Choice and Survival During the Holocaust. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691172576.
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