‘Sacrifice by Fire’: The first translation of ‘Holocaust’ into Cambodia's Khmer language

A woman holds a copy of Sovicheth Meta’s Khmer translation of Hédi Fried’s book “Questions I Am Asked About the Holocaust” in Phnom Penh on July 19, 2019. Photo by Matt Surrusco.

This article by Matt Surrusco is from VOD News, an independent news site in Cambodia, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement. The article mentions the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. At least 1.7 million people were killed when it was in power.

A Cambodian translator has coined a new Khmer term for the word “Holocaust” for use in new Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) publications, including her Khmer-language translation of a memoir by a Holocaust survivor that was released in Phnom Penh on 19 July 2019.

Sovicheth Meta is a 21-year-old translator and researcher at DC-Cam, which catalogues historical materials from the genocidal Khmer Rouge period from 1975 to 1979. She said she translated “Holocaust,” which refers to the mass murder and genocide of more than 6 million Jews by the German Nazi regime in the 1940s, as the Khmer “bochea phleung,” which means to “sacrifice by fire.”

According to Meta:

The [term for] Holocaust used in the book as well as on the cover of the book is the first-ever that has been translated into Khmer. And this is also the first time this specific book about the Holocaust has been translated into Khmer.

The book is the 2017 memoir “Questions I Am Asked About the Holocaust” by Hédi Fried, a survivor of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps who settled in Sweden after World War II.

Meta translated Fried’s book of 44 questions and responses to Khmer from Alice E. Olsson’s English translation of the original Swedish text. Some of the questions include “How could an entire people get behind Hitler?”; “What was it like to live in the camps?”; and “Did you dream at night?”.

While there have been other Khmer translations of books about the Holocaust, including DC-Cam’s Khmer version of “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, “right now, there is no word for Holocaust in the Khmer dictionary,” Meta told VOD.

In other Khmer-language books, translators have typically written the word in Khmer script based on the English sound; or literally described the term as the killing of Jews by the Nazi regime during World War II, Meta said.

Her term is not a newly created Khmer word, but a new Khmer translation based on the Greek origins of the word, she said.

Jean-Michel Filippi, a professor of Khmer linguistics at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said that to his knowledge, apart from the Khmer word for “genocide,” Meta’s phrase was the first and only Khmer translation of “Holocaust,” although he found it inadequate.

Filippi said the expression “renders well the original meaning of Holocaust” — “an offering completely burnt on an altar” — but he questioned the translator’s reliance on the word’s Greek etymology.

The modern meaning of “Holocaust” equates to the “Shoah” — Hebrew for “catastrophe” — referring to the Nazi genocide of Jewish people and has been so popularized that “almost no one would track back this meaning to the original ‘fire offering,’” Filippi said.

In other words, the usual meaning of the word doesn’t rely on its etymology and ‘Holocaust’ became a kind of a proper noun.

He suggested using either “Holocaust” or “Shoah” in Khmer “without any attempt to translate it further” beyond providing an explanation or definition.

For Chhang Youk, DC-Cam’s executive director, the new term was accurate and reflected “the relationship of the Holocaust and genocide in Cambodia.”

Youk told VOD he hoped the Khmer version of Fried’s book would help eliminate prejudice among people “so that we can prevent such crimes from happening again and again.”

“Words matter and require a proper understanding when you use them,” he added.

DC-Cam’s soon-to-be-published research book, “Comparative Genocide and Mass Atrocities in World History,” will use the new term, “bochea phleung,” with an explanation of its meaning in a chapter on the Holocaust, said So Farina, DC-Cam’s principal deputy director.

The Education Ministry has accepted the book’s text and plans to use selections in secondary school textbooks, beginning later this year or next year, Farina said.

Three hundred free copies of the book, Meta’s first translated work after about a year working and volunteering at DC-Cam, were offered to a few dozen university students and others on 19 July 2019.

The translator said she hopes every Cambodian, especially youth, will be able to read the book and learn about Europe and Cambodia’s similar histories with an aim toward preventing future genocides:

When there are no more survivors to talk about what happened, we still need to learn and teach and talk about it on their behalf.


  • Juliet Fischer

    ‘Sacrifice by fire’ is the definition/translation of holocaust in the West. The word is Greek.

  • samir sardana

    Y did the UFO cult land in the land of the Khmer Niggers ?


    Could it be that the Khmer Niggers are a special divine race ?

    The Khmer Niggers invented the ZERO !


    Or that Hun Sen’s son had a suprenatural birth – like Jesus


    Or that Hun Sen a 4th pass 1 eyed and 1 testicle Khmer Nigger is a divine incarnate



    Is the world missing out on a Divine race ?


  • samir sardana

    Events in the History of a nation – which scar a nation and its people – are similar to the history of other nations – with people, of the same DNA

    Take the trauma of the Khmer – w.r.t Vietnam – on Khmer Krom.1 Million Khmer living like dogs in Yuon Vietnam – AND with millions of Yuon, exported to Khmer land – as farmers, fishermen and traders is the combo doom

    Hoon Sen has not raised the issue of the millions of Yuon, in Khmer land – as they vote for him ! And Hoon Sen has not raised Khmer Krom with the Viet govtt, ever – not the land seized by the Yuon – but the rights of the Khmer in Yuon Land !

    Y ? Hoon Sen is a Viet spy and stooge.The Viet intel have dirt on Hoon Sen – w.r.t his work with Pol Pot and his collaboration with Viet Intel – when he was with the Khmer Rouge – and his extra-marital affairs,rapes,murders and mistresses.dindooohindoo

    But even before Krom, the Viets have been using low cost options, to rape Khmer – like the Viet sex bomb, who seduced the Khmer limpet King Chey Chetta – and took over his land, and then killed the limpdick


    Indians were raped and pillaged by several races – and Indians ceded their land AND THEIR WOMEN – to save their lives.It was WW 2 which created India – like Khmer land. Before that there was no Indian nation – just a Brit colony.

    Many Indian Kings were killed by their wives and lost their gold and kingdoms.

    Like Khmer land – there is no Indian race and the ruling elite are all invaders who stayed in India for 500-1000 years.The true Indians are dark/black skinned and called Dasyus.

    Khmer land is controlled by Chinese.Yuon,Thai and PRC – in terms of economic and commercial power.The Khmer re employed as menials and scavengers.

    The Chey Chetta story is like the story of an Indian Coward king called RAMAGUPTA

    What did this rat Rama Gupta do ? The limpet banis went to war,with the Sakas – and they trapped him,and captured the limpet.Then what did the bania do ? The Sakas asked for the bania’s wife,as security – and the bania,sent his wife,to the Sakas (just like Lord Rama ,told Sita,to whore herself).

    Then the historians make us believe,that the brother of the bania,went dressed as the wife of Ramagupta, went to the Sakas,and rescued the whore wife of Ramagupta, and killed the Saka king !? (just like the story of Chammiya Padmini).It is possible that the Mughals asked for sex with Chammiya Padmini – based on the past hindu track record, w.r.t Ramagupta.

    And then what could be the next step ?

    Then the brother of the limpet Ramagupta,killed Ramagupta and married the wife of Ramagupta ! It is said that the whore wife,of Ramagupta, was earlier,meant to marry the other brother !


    Which nation will be destroyed 1st – India or the Khmer land ?

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices!

Submitted addresses will be confirmed by email, and used only to keep you up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details.

Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site