GLOSSARY OF KEY TERMS
Alienation: Feelings of separation from others or from meaningful activity; confusion about life and the future.
Allies: The four major opponents of Germany in World War II: France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States.
Anti-Semitism: Prejudice against Jews; dislike of Jews; discrimination or persecution of Jews.
Appel: Roll call in the camps.
Appelplatz: Roll call area in concentration, labor and death camps.
Armistice: Peace; calling a halt to armed hostilities.
Aryan: Has no biological validity as a racial term. Used by the Nazis to mean a superior,white, Nordic heroic type.
Auschwitz: Auschwitz I. The first of the three camps that made up the Auschwitz-Birkenau-Monowitz camp complex. Used as prisoner of war and concentration camp.
Beer-hall Putsch: The event that took place in Munich, Germany, in 1923 when Hitler led an attempt to seize the government (a putsch). The putsch failed and resulted in a jail sentence for him and a lesson that in order to gain power he would have to work within the system.
Belzec: Death camp located in Poland. Jews were murdered in gas chambers as carbon monoxide gas from an engine was pumped in. An estimated 500,000 Jews were killed there.
Bergen-Belsen: Concentration camp in Germany. After the death and labor camps in the East were taken apart, thousands of the emaciated prisoners were forced into Bergen-Belsen.
Bermuda Conference on Refugees: Anglo-American Conference held in Bermuda, April 1943, to decide what to do about those in flight from the Nazis, especially Jews. The conference produced no plan and revealed the indifference of Allied governments.
Birkenau: Auschwitz II, the death camp and site of the four gas chambers in which Jews and others were killed.
Brezhinka: The storehouse of clothing collected from the victims at Auschwitz. The mountain of clothing was sorted by prisoners for suitable things to send back to Germany. Also known as "Kanada" by some of the prisoners
Buchenwald: One of the first concentration camps in Germany. Located near Weimar, the cultural capital of 18th and 19 century Germany, it was built around the “Goethe Oak,” the tree beneath which the great German Enlightenment poet, Wolfgang Goethe, sat and wrote.
Bund: Jewish political organization in Poland which was represented in the Polish parliament.
Castration: Surgical removal of the testicles or genitals.
Chelmno: The first death camp, located in Poland, constructed in 1941 for the purpose of murdering Jews. The victims of Chelmno died in gas vans and where buried in mass graves. An estimated 100,000 Jews were murdered there.
Collective Responsibility: The act of holding a group responsible for the actions of any of its individual members.
Concentration Camp: Place in which prisoners of the state are kept. In Germany, concentration camps began as an instrument of intimidation for political opponents of the Nazis and because the prisons were full. Later, they became a standing weapon of terror. Ultimately, over 100 camps were set up where people were “concentrated,” that is kept in one place. While they were related to the labor and death camps, they were not the same. Most recent estimates suggest between one and two million people died in them, but they were not set up as death camps like Treblinka, Sobibor and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Auschwitz I was the concentration camp of the Auschwitz complex.
Crematorium: Ovens or furnaces where concentration and death camp prisoners’ bodies were burned.
Dachau: The first concentration camp opened by the Nazis in 1933 near Munich, Germany. It served as a camp to concentrate political opponents of the Third Reich, democratic supports of the Weimar Republic, Socialists, Communists and others who were mainly non-Jews.
Death Camps: These camps were Nazi centers of murder or extermination. Jews and non-Jews were brought to them to be put to death as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” The six death camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Maidanek, Chelmno and Belzec) were established solely for the murder of Europe’s Jews. Eventually, had the war continued, they would have been used to annihilate other groups the Nazis considered inferior, like the Poles. Most recent estimates regarding numbers of Gypsies killed in death camps are about 30,000. The total number of Gypsies killed by the Nazis is between 250,000 and 500,000.
Death Marches: The prisoners of Auschwitz and other camps in Poland were forced by the Germans to march to camps in Germany as the Russian armies approached from the east. The death camps were taken apart and the prisoners were forced into the roads in the bitter January cold of 1945. Most recent estimates suggest between 50% and 60% of the victims died.
Deportation: Term used for the forced removal of Jews in Nazi occupied lands under the pretense of “resettlement.” Most Jews were shipped to the death camps.
Displaced Persons: Term used to refer to those survivors of the Holocaust who had no homes after the war and were often placed in Displaced Persons Camps.
Displaced Persons Camps: Several camps established after the war for the purpose of housing Diplaced Persons. Also known as DP camps.
Dolchstosslegende: The myth of the “stab in the back” used by the Nazis and other opponents of the democratic Weimar Republic. These people claimed that Germany had lost World War I because the Jews and Communists had plotted against Germany from within.
Dysentery: An infectious disease which produces diarrhea which becomes uncontrollable and often leads to internal bleeding and ulcer and stomach complications. The people in the ghettos and camps were constantly battling the infection of dysentery.
Einsatzgruppen: SS mobile killing units, attached to German Army, whose primary purpose was to seek out and slaughter Jews in Eastern Poland and Russia.
Euthanasia: The policy of so-called “mercy-killing” which the Nazi government passed into law in 1933. Their plans were to kill the “feeble-minded,” old, physically handicapped or “useless” people in Germany. The “Euthanasia Program” became the foundation for the planning of the “Final Solution.” The plans for killing the Jews included practices similar to those used in the “Euthanasia Program.” The “Final Solution” also used many of the same staff.
Extermination: Term used to refer to the annihilation or total destruction of the Jews. Extermination calls up images of pests or non-human creatures to be killed by use of pesticides.
Extermination Camps: Six camps established in Poland for the purpose of killing Jews–Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Maidanek, Chelmno and Belzec.
Fascism: An extreme conservative political philosophy, usually ultra-nationalistic, violent, anti-Communist, anti-Semitic or racist. German fascism was National Socialism or Nazism.
Final Solution: The Nazi term for their program to annihilate the Jews of Europe. A euphemism or substitute term for mass murder or genocide. The term refers to the last in a line of “solutions” to the “problem” of what to do with the Jews.
Freikorps: Bands of armed fighters who roamed the streets of German in the 1920s as violent defenders of right-wing political ideas and parties. The Nazi SA was formed from one of these groups.
Fuehrer: German word for leader. Hitler was called the Fuehrer, meaning the supreme leader of his people. The term implies great prestige and power.
Gas Chamber: Buildings or parts of buildings which were sealed off and air tight so that large numbers of people could be murdered by poison gas which was released into the chamber. The primary method of murder used in the death camps.
Generalkomissar: Nazi SS commander of an occupied region.
Genocide: The systematic killing of a whole people or nation.
Gestapo: Abbreviation for Geheime Staatspolizei or Secret State Police. The Gestapo was a branch of the SS which dealt with political opponents with terror and arbitrary arrest. In 1939, the Gestapo took control of Jewish emigration, which meant it was in charge of expelling Jews from all German-controlled areas.
Ghetto: The section of a city in which Jews were required to live. Ghettos were established in cities with railroad connections. The ghettos were sometimes surrounded by guards, barbed wire or brick walls. If Jews were found outside the ghetto without special permission they were killed.
Paul Joseph Goebbels: Nazi in charge of propaganda. He was a master of mass media techniques. His speech on the night of November 9, 1938, touched off the Kristallnacht.
Hermann Goering: Deputy Chancellor to Hitler, also in charge of the air force and gave the order to Heydrich to begin the “Final Solution.”
Wolfgang Goethe: Most famous 18th century German Enlightenment poet and philosopher who represented tolerance, reason, international peace and the great ideas of the time. He was the model German for German Jews.
Gypsies: A group designated by the Nazis as “parasites” and criminals. The Criminal Police and the SS were instructed to arrest any persons who “looked like” Gypsies or were wanderers in a “Gypsie-like” manner. There were some racial theorists who thought Gypsies were somehow of the same “race" as Jews. Most of the Nazi official saw them as criminal rather than racial enemies. A series of laws like the Nuremberg Laws was drafted for Gypsies. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 Gypsies were murdered by the Nazis, many of estimated 30,000 killed in death camps were at Auschwitz.
Reinhard Heydrich: Head of the Main Office of the SS; he coordinated the many departments necessary to carry out the “Final Solution.” Heydrich was a brilliant organizer and vicious anti-Semite. He was Heinrich Himmler’s assistant.
Heinrich Himmler: Head of the SS. He was responsible only to Hitler and gave the orders for the annihilation of the Jews. He was a careful organizer of details and devoted to Hitler. Directly responsible for the “Final Solution.”
Hippocratic Oath: The oath taken by all doctors in which they swear to heal the sick and not harm any human beings.
Holocaust: The term which refers to the systematic murder of approximately six million Jews between 1933 and 1945. The word is a Greek translation of a word used in the Book of Genesis in the Bible which means “total burning” and refers to a sacrifice to God.
I. G. Farben: German industrial trust which was the largest chemical conglomerate, controlling company, in Europe. It included corporations like BASF, German Bayer, and numerous others. I. G. Farben used Jewish slave laborers from concentration and labor \ camps, financed medical experiments, and even constructed its own labor camp at Auschwitz (Auschwitz III, Monowitz) where the largest synthetic rubber factory was being built.
Jewish Question: The term refers to anti-Semitic question of “what to do with the Jews.” The policies followed under the Nazis included three answers: separation from the rest of German society, expulsion and, finally, annihilation – the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.”
Juden: German word for Jews.
Judenrat: Jewish Council: administrative organizations set up in each ghetto by the German occupation forces to organize and administer the ghettos.
Judenrein: German term meaning “pure” or “clean” of Jews. The goal of the Nazi “Final Solution” or the Holocaust.
Kapo: Abbreviation for Kameraden Polizei or “Comrade Police.” Kapos were prisoners, Jewish and non-Jewish, who were selected by German guards to oversee labor details in their barracks in the concentration and labor camps. They frequently became as violent or more violent than the Germans. Had they acted less violently, they would have been murdered, too.
Kristallnacht: “Night of the broken glass.” Using the shooting of a minor German official in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, by a young Jewish Student, the Nazis, organized and led by SA men all over Germany, carried out three nights of violence against Jews, Jewish homes, synagogues and businesses. The Nazis smashed, burned and looted. Over 26,000 Jews were arrested and taken into “Protective Custody” and sent to concentration camps for days or weeks; many were beaten in the streets; about 35 were killed. This was the last pogrom in Germany, and it took place on November 9-11, 1938. Among the results were the enormous claims filed by Germans against German insurance companies; openly hostile publicity from foreign reporters who observed the anti-Jewish riots; protests from foreign ministries – including the United States. President Roosevelt temporarily withdrew the American Ambassador to Germany. The Jews were charged a billion mark penalty to pay for the damages and the event was followed by a series of anti-Jewish laws.
Labor Camp: A camp whose prisoners were used for slave labor by German businesses, SS, the government or the military.
Landsberg: A labor camp in Germany which was liberated by the American forces in 1945. It became a Displaced Persons Camp.
Lebensraum: German word for “living space.” Hitler’s goal in the war was to gain Lebensraum for Germans in the East. This meant enslaving or killing the native populations of Poland and other Eastern European countries.
Left-wing (political): Political groups or individuals that were liberal in their outlook; advocating democracy, equal rights for all citizens, tolerance and peace between nations.
Gotthold Lessing: An 18th century German Enlightenment philosopher and writer who championed reason, tolerance, equal rights and peace. He wrote a famous play about a wise Jew called “Nathan the Wise” which became famous in Germany. He was a close friend of Moses Mendelssohn, the German Jewish philosopher.
Maidanek: Death and concentration camp in Poland where an estimated 200,000 Jews and 30,000 Polish non-Jews were killed in gas chambers.
Mauthausen: Concentration and labor camp located in Austria. Although not designated as a death camp, recent estimates suggest that between 50,000 and 100,000 Jews and non-Jews were killed there in the Nazi program of “extermination through labor.”
Moses Mendelssohn: An 18th century German Enlightenment philosopher and writer and close friend of the famous Gotthold Lessing. He became known as “the first German Jew” because he assumed the role of both German and Jew by writing in German, dressing like the Germans and discussing German issues. Yet, he maintained his Jewish identity as well. This attitude was known as assimilation and served as a model for German Jews who came after him.
Monowitz: The I.G. Farben labor camp at Auschwitz (Auschwitz III).
Nationalism: Devotion to one’s nation; excessive patriotism; the doctrine that national interests are more important than anything else.
National Socialism: The political and social philosophy of Hitler and of Germany from 1933-1945. National Socialism meant dictatorship and included the philosophy of racism as its rationale. German fascism was called National Socialism.
National Socialist Bond: Dutch Nazi Party.
Nazi: Abbreviation for National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP).
Nazi Party: The National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP). Founded in 1919 as the German Worker's Party (DAP). One of many anti-Semitic, anti-Republican poltical parties that were established at the time. Changed its name to the National Socialist Worker's Party in 1920.
Nazi-Soviet Pact: The agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany signed on August 30, 1939. The two countries agreed to divide Poland when Germany conquered it and also agreed to remain neutral should either be involved in war.
Nazism: Abbreviation for National Socialism, the political philosophy and system of government under Hitler in Germany from 1933-1945. In practice, it meant dictatorship or total control by Hitler
Nuremberg Laws: In 1935, Hitler made anti-Semitism part of Germany’s legal code. These laws defined Jews, excluded Jews from German society, and removed all their civil rights.
Nuremberg Trials: Trials conducted after World War II by an International Military Tribunal set up by the Allies. High ranking Nazi leaders were charged with War Crimes and “Crimes Against Humanity.” Twenty-one were charged; 19 were convicted; 12 received the death penalty.
Partisan: Native guerilla-type fighters who resisted the Nazi invasion after their countries were defeated.
Perpetrator: A participant in the killing of the Jews. This term includes all those who were involved even from far away: bureaucrats, lawyers, architects, chemists, businessmen, railroad officials, diplomats, etc.
Pogrom: An attack on Jews by mobs of non-Jews. These attacks were violent, including rape, murder and the looting and destruction of Jewish property. Jews suffered from \ pogroms for centuries. Whole communities were violently and viciously destroyed. Pogroms usually lasted for a short time—hours to days—and then were over. Jews would return and begin again. Pogroms were not systematic, organized or continuous; they were not what historian Raul Hilberg has called a “destruction process” which is carried out administratively and continues until it achieves its final goal: in this case, the annihilation of the Jews. The Holocaust was not the same as a pogrom.
Pope: The spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church; also the Bishop of Rome and the political authority of Vatican City.
Protocols of the Elders of Zion: An anti-Semitic book written near the end of the 19th century. It was a proven forgery which claimed that there was an international Jewish conspiracy to take over the world and destroy “pure” “Aryan” Christian civilization. The book was financed in the U.S. by Henry Ford. It was one of the best selling books in Europe in the 1920s.
Propaganda: The systematic spreading of particular ideas, doctrines or policies, usually through the mass media, to advance a particular cause or person.
Racism: A philosophy or program of discrimination, segregation, persecution based on the idea of one race being superior to others. Modern scientists consider the concept of “race” to be a false one. The Nazis considered the “Aryan Race,” Germanic and Christian, to be destined to rule the world because of its “blood superiority.” They considered Jews a race of inferior and undesirable sub-humans. They had similar views of Gypsies, Poles, Blacks and Slavs.
Ravensbruck: A concentration camp located in Germany. It held only women prisoners.
Red Army: The army of the Soviet Union.
Refugee: Someone who has lost or been driven from his/her home and is homeless.
Reich: German word for empire.
Reichsfuehrer SS: Commander-in-Chief of the SS; Heinrich Himmler’s title.
Reichstag: The German parliament of legislating body.
Reparations: Payments made by Germany to the Allies (Great Britain, France and the United States) after World War I.
Right-wing (political): Individuals or political parties that were nationalistic, conservative, usually anti-democratic. In Germany, these groups were often connected with anti-Semitic tendencies.
SA: Abbreviation for Sturm Abteilung, the Storm Section or Storm Troopers. The SA were the brown-shirted units organized to protect the early Nazi meetings and terrorize those who opposed Hitler. Their membership grew to 400,000 by 1930. They were known as the violent street fighters of the Nazi Party. Hitler had hundreds of the SA leadership murdered in June 1934 because they were hurting his prestige as Chancellor of Germany with their ineffective and crude violence. The SS was originally a part of the SA but was separated from it in 1936.
Scapegoat: A person or group who is the object of hatred and even violence in a situation where prejudiced people must place blame for their mistakes or actions on others.
Selection: The procedure to determine who would live and who would die at death and labor camps. The most famous of these was Auschwitz. The selections were usually carried out or directed by medical doctors who were considered professionally qualified to make the decisions.
SD: Abbreviation for the Security Police (Sicherheitsdienst), the branch of the SS that was the secret service with the job protecting national security. The SD was involved with running he death camps and was the branch of the SS that contained the Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing units. SS:
Sobibor: Death camp in Poland. An estimated 250,000 Jews died there in gas chambers. In 1943 Sobibor was blown up by prisoners who then escaped. Most were caught and killed.
Sonderkommando: Special units of prisoners given the duty of transporting bodies from the gas chambers to the crematoria and cleaning out the crematoria ovens. Each unit lasted a few months and was then killed.
Special Treatment (Sonderbehandlung): The term used in the concentration and death camps as a euphemism, a substitute word which hides the real meaning, for killing. “Special Treatment” meant gassing.
SS: Abbreviation for Schutzstaffel or protection squads. Originally a part of the SA, they were picked as the elite guard to watch over Hitler. Their numbers grew from 200 to 4 million by 1940. Headed by Heinrich Himmler, they became known as the most efficient organization in the Third Reich. Eventually, the enormous SS bureaucracy was like a state within the state. It controlled the concentration, labor and death camps. It included an armed section who fought as crack troops in the war, a secret service unit, the Gestapo or secret police; and it controlled almost every aspect of the “Final Solution.” SS men were trained to hate all “enemies of the Reich,” especially Jews. (See Appendix C)
Josef Stalin: Leader of the Soviet Union from 1924-1953. He signed the infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact with Hitler in August 1939 which made the invasion of Poland possible. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Stalin led his people to victory as one of the Allied powers in World War II.
Stereotype: A fixed image or idea of a person or group. Stereotypes place characteristics observed in a few members of a group onto the whole group.
Sudetenland: Western Czechoslovakia which was given to Germany in 1938 without consulting with the Czech government. England and France, with the help of Italy, negotiated the agreement with Hitler. Within months of this, Hitler had his army move into the rest of Czechoslovakia.
Swastika: An ancient symbol often used in Eastern religions as a symbol of life. In 1920, it was taken by the Nazi Party as its symbol. A twisted cross, it came to represent all the evils of Nazism.
Theresienstadt: Concentration camp established in Czechoslovakia as a “model camp” to be shown to outside visitors from neutral countries like Switzerland or Sweden or members of the Red Cross. Almost all the Jews who were sent there, including thousands of children, were sent to Auschwitz and killed.
Third Reich: The Third Empire; Hitler’s name for his Germany and its administration from 1933-1945. The term comes from the First Empire of the Roman emperors, the Second of German Chancellor Bismarck in the 19th century, and the Third, Hitler’s. Hitler thus saw himself as in the tradition of the Roman conquerors of Europe.
Treaty of Versailles: One of the treaties signed to end World War I. The Versailles Treaty stripped Germany of much land, forced the government to pay reparations to the Allies and accused Germany of responsibility for World War I.
Treblinka: Death camp in Poland. In its one year of existence an estimated 850,000 Jews were murdered there in gas chambers. In 1943, the camp was blown up in an uprising by the remaining 600 prisoners. All but 40 were killed.
Tuberculosis: An infectious disease which usually attacks the lungs.
Typhus: An infectious disease which causes rash, high fever, delirium and joint pain. The disease is carried by lice or fleas and reached epidemic proportions in the ghettos and camps.
Uebermenschen: Nazi term for “supermen” which to them was a racial idea. They hoped to create a race of biologically “pure” supermen.
Underground: The secret groups fighting the Nazi occupation. The term includes the resistance movements in each country under Nazi rule during World War II.
Vatican: The central authority for the Catholic Church; the authority and government of the pope. “Vatican” also refers to the residence of the pope in Vatican City.
Volk: German word for “people” or nation. The term has a strongly nationalistic and even racial implication.
Volksgemeinschaft: German word meaning “national community.” It implies a family- like unity and some genetic bond between its members that is almost mystical.
War Refugee Board: Agency established by President Roosevelt in 1944 after much urging by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau and members of the Treasury Department. It was established to negotiate the relief or rescue of war refugees, especially Jews.
Wehrmacht: The German Army (as distinguished from the SS).
Weimar Republic: The German government from 1919-1934. Its constitution was drafted in the city of Weimar, the poet Wolfgang Goethe’s home and the 18th century cultural capital of Germany. The Republic’s political center was in Berlin. A democratic republic like the United States, it was burdened with the aftermath of World War I, terrible inflation, violent enemies within like the Nazi Party, and an army that was not committed to defending a democracy. When Hitler combined the offices of Chancellor and President, in August 1934, the Weimar Republic came to an end.
World Jewish Congress: Agency founded to coordinate different Jewish organizations. During the war, it worked to help the Jews of Europe from its offices in Switzerland.
Yom Kippur: The Jewish Day of Atonement; the holiest day of the year for Jews on which they traditionally fast for 24 hours.
Zegota: Polish group connected to the underground resistance movement against the Nazis. Led by Colonel Henryk Wolinski and Adolf Berman, this group devoted itself to the rescue of Jews in Warsaw and Kracow. They managed to save 4,000-6,000 Jews.
Zyklon B: The cyanide gas made of prussic acid which was used to kill Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. (The other death camps used carbon monoxide gas.) The gas was produced by a company called DEGESCH that was partly owned by I.G. Farben.