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AKTION (German): The mass deportation, and murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.


ANTISEMITISM: prejudice against or hatred of Jews 

ANSCHLUSS (German): Annexation of Austria by Germany on March 13, 1938.

“ARYAN RACE”: The core of Nazi ideology was the notion of racial struggle. Nazis believed all people were divided into different “races” and that these “races” were engaged in a struggle for survival. They considered the German “Aryan” race to be superior and that it would only survive if it remained “pure” – did not mix with other “races”, had more “Aryan” children, and conquered more “living space”.

AUSCHWITZ: The largest Nazi camp complex, located 37 miles west of Krakow, Poland. Auschwitz consisted of three main camps and over 40 satellite camps. The three main camps were: Auschwitz I – the concentration camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau – the killing center, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz – the forced labor camp. Approximately 1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz, 9 out of 10 of them were Jewish.  

BELZEC: One of six killing centers in Poland, and the first killing center implemented as a result of Operation Reinhard. Originally established in 1940 as a camp for Jewish forced labor, the Germans turned it into a killing center in November 1941. By the time the camp ceased operations in January 1943, approximately 434,500 Jews and an undetermined number of other victims had been murdered there. 

CHELMNO: The first killing center established under the Nazi regime as part of the “Final Solution.” It began operations in late 1941, 30 miles northwest of Lodz, Poland. Though it closed in March of 1943, it was reopened in the summer of 1944 to murder the residents of the Lodz ghetto. The Nazis murdered at least 172,000 people at Chelmno. 

CONCENTRATION CAMPS: The generic term applied by the Nazis to all of the camps (death camps, slave labor camps, internment camps, transit camps, punishment camps)

DEATH CAMPS: Nazi camps for the mass killing of Jews and others (e.g. Gypsies, Russian prisoners-of-war, ill prisoners). These included: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. All were located in occupied Poland.

EINSATZGRUPPEN (German): Mobile killing units of the Security Police and SS Security Service that followed the German armies into the Soviet Union in June 1941. Their victims, primarily Jews, were executed by shooting and were buried in mass graves from which they were later exhumed and burned.

EUTHANASIA: A term meaning “an easy and painless death for the terminally ill.” The Nazis appropriated the term and applied it to the taking of measures to improve the quality of the German “race.” Forcing “mercy” deaths for the physically and mentally handicapped.

EVIAN CONFERENCE: Conference convened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938 to discuss the problem of refugees. Thirty-two countries met at Evian-les-Bains, France. At the end of the conference very few countries agreed to offer any sanctuary to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.

FINAL SOLUTION: The Nazi term for the plan to destroy the Jews of Europe. Beginning in December 1941, Jews were rounded up and sent to death camps. The program was deceptively disguised as “resettlement in the East.”

GENOCIDE: Planned mass murder of human beings for racial, religious, political, or ideological reasons.

GHETTO: The Nazi term for a section of a city where all Jews from surrounding areas were forced to reside. Established mostly in Eastern Europe (e.g. Lodz, Warsaw, Vilna, Riga, Minsk), and characterized by overcrowding, starvation and forced labor. All ghettos were eventually destroyed when the Jews were deported to death camps.

HOLOCAUST: The term “Holocaust” literally means “a completely burned sacrifice.” It was first used by Newsweek magazine to describe the Nazi book burnings in Germany. Later it was applied to the destruction of six million Jews by the Nazis and their followers in Europe between the years 1941-1945. Yiddish speaking Jews used the term “Churbon” (meaning “a great destruction.”) The word Shoah, originally a Biblical term meaning widespread disaster, is the modern Hebrew equivalent.

JEHOVAH´S WITNESSES: A religious sect, originating in the United States, organized by Charles Taze Russell. The Witnesses base their beliefs on the Bible and have no official ministers. Recognizing only the kingdom of God, the Witnesses refuse to salute the flag, to bear arms in war, and to participate in the affairs of government. This doctrine brought them into conflict with National Socialism. They were considered enemies of the state and were relentlessly persecuted.

JEWISH BADGE: A distinctive sign which Jews were compelled to wear in Nazi Germany and in Nazi-occupied countries. It took the form of a yellow Star of David or an armband with a Star of David on it .

JUDENRAT: Council of Jewish representatives in communities and ghettos set up by the Nazis to carry out their instructions.

JUDENREIN: A Nazi term meaning “cleansed of Jews,” denoting areas where all Jews had been either murdered or deported.

KAPO: Prisoner in charge of a group of inmates in Nazi concentration camps.

KRISTALLNACHT (German): Night of Broken Glass: program unleashed by Nazis on November 9-10, 1938 throughout Germany and Austria, where synagogues and other Jewish institutions were burned, Jewish stores were destroyed and looted.

LODZ: Poland’s second largest city where the first major ghetto was created in April 1940.

MAUTHAUSEN: Nazi punishment camp for men, opened in 1938, near Linz in northern Austria. Conditions were brutal even by concentration camp standards. Nearly 125,000 prisoners of various nationalities were either worked or tortured to death at the camp before liberating American troops arrived in May 1945.

MAJDANEK: Mass murder camp in eastern Poland. At first a labor camp for Poles and a POW camp for Russians, it was turned into a gassing center for Jews. Majdanek was liberated by the Red Army in July 1944.

MUSSELMANN (German): Nazi camp slang word for a prisoner on the brink of death.

NIGHT AND FOG DECREE: Secret order issued by Hitler on December 7, 1941, to seize “persons endangering German security” who were to vanish without a trace into night and fog.

NUREMBERG LAWS: Two anti-Jewish statues enacted September 1935 during the Nazi party’s national convention in Nuremberg. The first, the Reich Citizenship Law, deprived German Jews of their citizenship and all rights pertinent thereto. The second, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor, outlawed marriages of Jews and non-Jews, forbade Jews from employing German females of childbearing age, and prohibited Jews from displaying the German flag. Many additional regulations were attached to the two main statutes, which provided the basis for removing Jews from all spheres of German political, social, and economic life. The Nuremberg Laws carefully established definitions of Jewishness based on bloodlines. Thus, many Germans of mixed ancestry, called “Mischlinge,” faced anti-Semitic discrimination if they had a Jewish grandparent.

PARTISANS: Traditionally means “irregular troops engaged in guerrilla warfare, often behind enemy lines.” During World War II, this term was applied to resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied countries.

PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION: A major piece of anti-Semitic propaganda, written in Paris, 1894, by members of the Russian Secret Police. Essentially it was an adaptation of a nineteenth century French polemic, by the French lawyer Maurice Joly, and directed against Napoleon III. Substituting Jewish leaders, the Protocols maintained that Jews were plotting world dominion by setting Christian against Christian, corrupting Christian morals and attempting to destroy the economic and political viability of the West. It gained great popularity after World War I and was translated into many languages. It encouraged anti-Semitism in France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. It has long been repudiated as an absurd and hateful lie. The book currently has been reprinted and is widely distributed by Neo-Nazis.

SA (abbreviation: Stürmabteilung): the storm troops of the early Nazi party; organized in 1921.

SELECTION: Euphemism for the process of choosing victims for the gas chambers in the Nazi camps by separating them from those considered fit to work.

SOBIBOR: Death camp in the Lublin district in Eastern Poland. Sobibor opened in May 1942 and closed one day after a rebellion of the Jewish prisoners on October 14, 1943.

SS: Abbreviation usually written with two lightning symbols for Schutzstaffeln (Defense Protective Units). Originally organized as Hitler’s personal bodyguard, the SS was transformed into a giant organization by Heinrich Himmler. Although various SS units were assigned to the battlefield, the organization is best known for carrying out the destruction of European Jewry.

SS ST. LOUIS: The steamship St. Louis was a refugee ship that left Hamburg in the spring of 1939, bound for Cuba. Cuba refused entry to most of its Jewish passengers. No country, including the United States, was willing to accept them. The ship finally returned to Europe where most of the refugees were finally granted entry into England, Holland, France and Belgium. Many of its passengers died in Nazi concentration camps after occupation of Holland, France and Belgium.

DER STURMER (The Assailant): An anti-Semitic German weekly, founded and edited by Julius Streicher, and published in Nuremberg between 1923 and 1945.

TEREZIN (Czech) / THERESIENSTADT (German): Established in early 1942 outside Prague as a “model” Jewish ghetto, governed and guarded by the SS. The Nazis used Terezin to deceive public opinion. They tolerated a lively cultural life of theater, music, lectures, and art in order to have it shown to officials of the International Red Cross. About 88,000 Jewish inmates of Terezin were deported to their deaths in the East. In April 1945, only 17,000 Jews remained in Terezin, where they were joined by 14,000 Jewish concentration camp prisoners, evacuated from camps threatened by the Allied armies. On May 8, 1945, Terezin was liberated by the Red Army.

UMSCHLAGPLATZ (German): The place in the ghetto where Jews were rounded up for deportation.

WANNSEE CONFERENCE: A meeting held at a lake near Berlin on January 20, 1942 to discuss and coordinate the “Final Solution.”