The Holocaust glossary outlines the key terms, names and places that describe and give definition to the catastrophe of the Holocaust, which saw the loss of between seven to eleven million Jewish lives. This glossary has been developed for the JoM by the online organisation World Upside Down, which dedicates itself to chronicling the lives and memories of those who suffered during the Holocaust.
Anti-Semitism is a combination of prejudice against Jews and open hostility towards them. It is often rooted in hatred of the Jews’ ethnic background as well as their culture and religion. In its extreme form, it attributes to Jews an exceptional position among all civilizations and defames them by categorising them as an inferior group with no right of integration into the societies in which they are living.
The Aryan race is a concept historically influential in European and American culture in the period of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. It derives from the idea that the original speakers of the Indo-European language and their descendants up to the present day constitute a distinctive race or sub-race of the larger Caucasian race. Under the Nazis the term was used to mean master race, implying superiority.
Auschwitz is the German name for Oświęcim, a Polish town near Krakow where a network of concentration camps was established. It was renamed by the Germans after they invaded Poland in September 1939. Birkenau, the German translation of Brzezinka (birch tree), refers to a small Polish village nearby that was mostly destroyed by the Germans to make way for the camp. The network consisted of Auschwitz I (the main camp or Stammlager), Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the extermination camp or Vernichtungslager), Auschwitz III - Monowitz (also known as Buna-Monowitz, a labour camp or Arbeitslager) and forty-five satellite camps. The labour camp used the prisoners as slave labour and was run by the German industrial firm IG Farben. With gas chambers and crematoria operating at full capacity as many as twenty-four thousand people were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau daily.
From April 12, 1933 all books considered to be un-German, or “undesirable”, were burned by Nazi members of the student associations in conjunction with members of the Hitler Youth throughout Germany. In ninety-three separate actions, books were burned in seventy towns, culminating in a major event on May 10, 1933 in Berlin. Authors whose works ended up in flames included Karl Marx, Heinrich Mann, Bertold Brecht, Franz Kafka, Erich Kästner, Stefan Zweig, Sigmund Freud, Erich Maria Remarque, Kurt Tucholsky and Carl von Ossietzky.
Buchenwald is one of the first and largest concentration camps on German soil. It was established in July 1937 near Weimar in central Germany. Camp prisoners from all over Europe and Russia (Jews, non-Jewish Poles and Slovenes, religious and political prisoners, Roma and Sinti, Jehovah's Witnesses, criminals, homosexuals, and prisoners of war) worked there primarily as forced labour in local armament factories. The camp was liberated by the US army on April 11, 1945.
A concentration camp is an outdoors prison with barracks for the imprisonment of political dissidents, Jews, Roma and Sinti, prisoners of war, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals and all other “undesirables”. Conditions were mostly so terrible that inmates frequently died of malnutrition and disease. Three of the first concentration camps established soon after the Nazis got into power were at Dachau (near Munich), Oranienburg (near Berlin), and Buchenwald (near Weimar).
The Dachau concentration camp was the was the first regular concentration camp established by the Nazis. It was opened in March 1933, less than two months after the Nazis got into power, and was located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the northeastern part of the town of Dachau, about fifteen kilometers northwest of Munich in Bavaria.
A death camp or extermination camp was a concentration camp built with the specific purpose of carrying out mass murder. It was equipped with gas chambers disguised as shower rooms. There were six major death camps and they were located throughout Poland: in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
As chief desk murderer of millions of Jews, Eichmann in his role as Chief of Subsection IV B-4 of the Reich Security Office of the SS (Obersturmbannführer) was responsible for organising the whole genocide programme. In August 1944 he reported to Himmler that about four million Jews had already been killed. In May 1960 the Israeli Secret Service found him in Argentina and smuggled him to Israel where he was tried and found guilty of crimes against the Jewish people and humanity. He was executed in May 1962.
Einsatzgruppen, literally task forces, were special SS mobile killing squads or death squads that operated in the rear guard of the German military where they followed the regular units into the invaded areas of Eastern Europe. They killed every Jewish man, woman and child they could find, usually by forcing the victims to dig their own mass graves and then individually shooting them on the edge of the graves, either by machine gun or pistol shot in the back of the head.
The Nazi euthanasia programme (also known as the “T4-action”, named after the address in Tiergartenstraße 4 where it was conceived) involved the “mercy killing” (euthanasia) of those deemed to be mentally unwell or physically disabled. People were targeted who were labelled “unworthy of life” (German: lebensunwertes Leben), including but not limited to criminals, the degenerate, the idle, the weak, the feeble-minded, homosexuals and dissidents. The intention was to strengthen the racial purity of the Aryan race by eliminating elements from the chain of heredity who the Nazis considered detrimental to that goal. The programme ran from October 1939 to August 1941 but even after it was officially halted as a result of assorted protests the killings continued, albeit secretly. More than four hundred thousand people were sterilised against their will and about two hundred and seventy-five thousand people were killed as a result of the programme.
In July 1938 US President Franklin D Roosevelt convened a meeting of thirty-one nations to discuss the plight of Jewish refugees seeking to escape Nazi persecution. The fact that the conference did not pass a resolution condemning the German treatment of Jews was later used widely in Nazi propaganda and the failure to agree on who should receive Jewish migrants from Germany further emboldened Hitler in his assault on European Jewry.
Extermination camp: see Death camp
The Generalgouvernement (General Government) refers to a part of the territories of Poland under German military occupation during the second world war. In August 1941 the former Polish voideships (districts) of Eastern Galacia (with a majority of Ukranians) were added to the General Government by decree of Adolf Hitler. According to section III of the Fourth Hague Convention, accepted by Germany, all these acts were illegal in terms of international and civil law from their inception.
Genocide is the deliberate and systematic policy of destroying an entire racial, political or cultural group.
The Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei) was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. It was formed under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler in his position as chief of the German police.
The term ghetto was originally used in Venice to describe the area where Jews were forced to live. Ghettos were established by the Nazis in Eastern European cities to force Jews to live in a restricted area within the city. They operated as de facto concentration camps. Many ghettos were walled off or enclosed with barbed wire. In the case of a sealed ghetto, any Jew found leaving it was shot. The Warsaw ghetto, home to three hundred and eighty thousand people, was the largest ghetto in Nazi-occupied Europe; the Łódź ghetto was the second largest, holding about one hundred and sixty thousand people.
The situation in the ghettos was brutal. In Warsaw thirty percent of the population was forced to live in 2.4 percent of the city's area, a density of 9.2 people per room. Those living in the ghettos had to rely on food supplied by the Nazis: in Warsaw this was 250 calories per Jew, compared to 670 calories per Pole and 2,600 calories per German. With crowded living conditions, starvation diets, and little sanitation (in the Łódź ghetto ninety-five percent of apartments had no sanitation, piped water or sewers) hundreds of thousands of people died of disease and starvation.
Goebbels was the Nazi propaganda minister from 1933 to 1945. Despite holding a PhD in romantic drama he became one of Adolf Hitlers's closest associates and most devout followers. He was known for his zealous oratory and antisemitism. He was the chief architect of the Night of the Broken Glass. During the second world war, Goebbels increased his power and influence through shifting alliances with other Nazi leaders. By late 1943 the tide of the war was turning against the Axis powers but this only spurred Goebbels to intensify the propaganda by urging the Germans to accept the idea of total war and mobilisation. Goebbels remained with Hitler in Berlin to the end. On May 1, 1945 he and his wife Magda killed their six young children and then took their own lives.
Göring was a leading member of the Nazi Party, commander of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) and Hitler's designated successor. After the second world war Göring was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremburg Trials. He was sentenced to death by hanging but committed suicide by cyanide ingestion the night before he was due to be hanged.
Heydrich was a high German Nazi official: SS-Obergruppenfuhrer (General), head of the police, chief of the Reich Main Security Office, and deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. He chaired the 1942 Wannsee Convention which discussed plans for the deportation and extermination of all Jews in German-occupied territory. He was attacked by British-trained Czech agents on May 27, 1942 sent to assasinate him in Prague and died just over a week later from his injuries. The Nazis retaliated by exterminating the village of Lidice on June 10, 1942. All one hundred and ninety two men over sixteen years of age were murdered on the spot and the rest of the population was sent to concentration camps where many women and nearly all the children perished.
Himmler was the Reichsfuhrer (State Leader) of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and later the Minister of the Interior, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo. Himmler rose to become the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany. As overseer of the concentration camps, extermination camps, and Einsatzgruppen he coordinated the killing of some six million jews, between two hundred thousand and five hundred thousand Roma, many prisoners of war, and possibly another three to four million Poles, communists, and other groups whom the Nazis deemed unworthy to live or who were simply "in the way", including homosexuals, people with physical and mental disbilities, Jehovah's Witnesses and members of the Confessing Church. After arrest by the British at the end of the war, he committed suicide before he could be questioned.
The term Holocaust, literally “burnt whole”, arose in the late 1950s to describe the Nazi programme for the wholesale annihilation of European Jewry. Efforts to replace “Holocaust” with the Hebrew word sho’ah (calamity) or hurban (khurbn in Yiddish for destruction) have not met with success. By the end of the second world war it is estimated that some six million Jews had been killed, one third of the world's total Jewish population. It is debated whether or not the Holocaust statistics should also include the millions of people in other groups, including ethnic Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet civilians, Soviet prisoners of war, people with disabilities, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other political and religious opponents. With the extended definition the total number of Holocaust victims would be between eleven and seventeen million people.
A Judenrat is a Jewish Council set up by the Nazis to help them administer the Jewish communities in the occupied territories of Poland and later the Soviet Union. The councils were forced by the Nazis to provide Jews for use as slave labour and to assist in the deportation of Jews to extermination. Those council members who refused to cooperate were frequently shot on the spot or deported to extermination camps themselves.
Kristallnacht: see Night of the Broken Glass
The term Lebensraum (living space) refers to additional land territories that Hitler Germany hoped to acquire in the rest of Europe, especially in the east, in order to provide more room for settlement for members of the German Aryan race.
Majdanek, situated on the outskirts of Lublin in Poland was an extermination camp in operation from October 1941 until July 1944 when it was captured nearly intact by the advancing Soviet Red Army. Although conceived as a forced labour camp and not as an extermination camp, over seventy-nine thousand people were killed there (fifty-nine thousand of them Polish Jews). Among German Nazi concentration camps Majdanek was unusual in that it was located near a major city, not hidden away at a remote rural location. It is also notable as the best-preserved camp since it was close to the former Soviet border and there was too little time for the Nazis to destroy the evidence before the Red Army arrived.
A minyan is a term in Judaism which refers to a quorum of ten adult men as required for certain religious ceremonies.
A Mischling is a person with some, but not one hundred percent, Jewish ancestry. The Nazis defined a Mischling of the first degree as someone with two Jewish grandparents and a Mischling of the second degree as someone with one Jewish grandparent.
Night of the Broken Glass
The Night of the Broken Glass or simply 'Crystal Night' (Reichskristallnacht or Kristallnacht) refers to the violent pogroms carried out in the night of 9th November 1938 throughout Germany and Austria by the Gestapo, the SS and the Hitler Youth. Between twenty-five thousand and thirty thousand men were arrested and put into concentration camps, at least ninety-one were murdered, two hundred and sixty-seven synagogues were set alight, and seven thousand shops and businesses were looted and destroyed. The Nazis had the audacity to levy the Jewish communities with fines to cover the damages. They used the asassination in Paris of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Hershel Grynszpan as a pretext for the long planned attacks. Grynszpan was a German-born Polish Jew who wanted to avenge the deportation of his parents.
The full name of the NSDAP or Nazi party is the Nationalist Socialist Worker's Party. Originally formed in January 1920 as the German Worker’s Party (GWP), Adolf Hitler, at that time an education officer in the German army, joined shortly afterwards and made himself a name as an orator at the party’s first mass rally in February 1920. In April 1920 it was Hitler who advocated the party be renamed National Socialist German Worker’s Party since although he had always been hostile to socialist ideas, especially those that involved racial or sexual equality, he recognised that socialism was a popular political philosophy in Germany after the first world war.
The Nuremberg Laws (Nürnberger Gesetze) were enacted in 1935 at a Nazi party rally in Nuremberg (Bavaria). They defined people with three or four Jewish grandparents as being Jewish. Germans with four grandparents were defined as being of “German or kindred blood”. The laws marked the start of the official persecution and annihilation of German Jews initially and European Jewry in the later stages of the war. A “law” for the protection of “German blood and honour” forbade marriage and sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews.
After the Second World War two series of international trials were held in Nuremberg to prosecute a number of the chief Nazis responsible for the war crimes committed during the Fascist dictatorship. The trial was held by a military tribunal established in August 1945 by the Allies (USA, Britain, Russia, and France) and the major indictments were for waging a war of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Ostland was the name given to the German occupied territories of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the eastern parts of Poland, and the western parts of Belarus.
A pogrom is a form of riot directed againist a particular ethnic or religious group characterised by killings and destruction of homes and businesses. The term is usually applied to anti-Jewish violence, see for instance Night of the Broken Glass.
The expression Reichskommissariat Ostland was the German name for the Nazi civil administration of part of the Eastern territories of the Third Reich during the second world war (that is, the Reich Commissariat of Ostland).
The Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) was the Reich Main Security Office, incorporating the Gestapo (secret police), the SD (security police), the Kripo (Kriminalpolizei or criminal police), and other Nazi police agencies.
The Reichstag fire (Der Reichstagsbrand) was an arson attack on the Reichstag Building (Parliament) in Berlin on February 27, 1933. The event served as an excuse to round up political opponents and send them to concentration camps. The responsibility for the fire remains an ongoing topic of debate and research but much evidence exists to show that the Nazis themselves were responsible.
The term revisionism is often used to refer to Holocaust denial, that is the claim that the genocide of Jews during the second world war did not occur at all or that it did not happen in the manner or to the extent that is generally historically accepted. Key elements of these claims are the rejection of any of the following: that the German Nazi government had a policy of deliberately targeting Jews for extermination as a people; that more than five million Jews were systematically killed by the Nazis and their allies; and that genocide was carried out at extermination camps using tools of mass murder, such as gas chambers.
Manynon-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust are recognised and honoured at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. They are known as “righteous gentiles” or the “righteous among nations”.
SA or Sturmabteilungen
The Sturmabteilungen (literally storm detachments but usually translated as stormtroopers) were commonly referred to as the SA. The SA was a paramilitary organisation of the Nazi party, playing a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. SA men were often called "brownshirts" for the colour of their uniforms (similar to Benito Mussolini's blackshirts). The SA was the first Nazi paramilitary group to develop pseudo-military titles for bestowal upon its members, ranks that were adopted by several other Nazi party groups, chief amongst them the SS which effectively superseded the SA after a Nazi purge at the end of June 1934.
The Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin commenced operations in 1936. It replaced the Oranienburg concentration camp which had opened up shortly after the Nazis got into power and was used for political opponents from the Berlin region. Situated in a disused factory in the center of the town of Oranienburg, the original camp was visible to passersby and prisoners were marched through the town to perform forced labour on behalf of the local council. The prison was taken over by the SS in July 1934 when the SA was suppressed by the regime. It was closed and subsequently replaced in the area by Sachsenhausen concentration camp. At closure, the prison had held over three thousand inmates, of whom sixteen had died. The Sachsenhausen camp continued to be used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. The remaining buildings and grounds are now open to the public as a museum.
SD or Sicherheitsdienst
The Sicherheitsdient (SD) was a security service and the primary intelligence service of the SS and the Nazi party in Nazi Germany. It was the first Nazi party intelligence organisation to be established and was often considered a sister organisation of the Gestapo. Between 1933 and 1939 the SD was administered as an independent SS office and after that it was transferred to the authority of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, as one of its seven departments.
The term Semites was first used towards the end of the eighteenth century for people cited in the Bible as descended from Noah's son Shem. The term has since come to mean speakers of a Semitic language, such as Arabs and Jews. Semitic people were believed by the Nazis to be inferior to Aryans.
The Hebrew term for Holocaust is Shoah, meaning ‘calamity’. It came into being already in the 1940s. Shoah is preferred by many Jews for a number of reasons, including the theologically offensive nature of the word holocaust, as a Greek pagan custom.
The Sicherheitspolizei (security police), often abbreviated as SiPo, was a term used in Nazi Germany to describe the state political and criminal investigation security agencies. It was made up by the combined forces of the Gestapo (secret state police) and the Kripo (criminal police) between 1936 and 1939. As a formal agency, the SiPo was folded into the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office) in 1939 but the term continued to be used informally until the end of the Third Reich.
Sobibor in the Lublin region of Poland was an extermination camp where up to two hundred and fifty thousand people were killed by gassing. The victims were Jews, prisoners of war, and others; they came from Poland, Russia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, and the Netherlands. After a successful revolt on October 14, 1943 about half of the five hundred prisoners in Sobibor escaped; the camp was closed and planted with trees just days afterwards. A memorial and museum are at the site today.
Sonderkommandos (“special units”) were work units of German Nazi concentration camp prisoners who were forced to aid with the killing process during the Holocaust. They consisted almost entirely of Jews (not to be confused with the SS-Sonderkommandos which were adhoc units formed from various SS offices between 1938 through 1945) who had to deal with the corpses, extracting any gold teeth and transferring the corpses from the gas chambers to the crematoria.
SS or Schutzstaffel
The Schutzstaffel (protection squadron), commonly referred to as the SS, was an elite guard of the Nazi party. It grew from a small paramilitary unit and branch of the SA to a powerful force that served as the Fuhrer's "Praetorian guard”, the Nazi Party's "shield squadron", and a force that, fielding almost a million men (both on the front lines and as political police), managed to exert as much political influence in the Third Reich as Germany's regular armed forces. Built upon Nazi ideology, the SS under the command of Heinrich Himmler was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Nazis during the second world war, especially for carrying out the genocide programme.
The Theresienstadt concentration camp (often referred to as Terezín) was a Nazi German concentration camp and ghetto during the second world war. It was established by the Gestapo in the fortress and garrison city of Terezin (German name Theresienstadt), located in Usti nab Labem (on the Elbe River) in what is now the Czech Republic.
Nazi Germany and the Third Reich are both terms that refer to Germany under the government of Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP (Nazi party) from 1933 to 1945. The Third Reich (Drittes Reich) denotes the Nazi state as the historical successor to the medieval Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) and themodern German Empire (1871–1918). Nazi Germany had two official names: the Deutsches Reich (German Empire) from 1933 to 1943; and then the Großdeutsches Reich (Greater German Empire).
Treblinka was a death camp in Poland where from 1940 to 1943 some seven hundred and fifty thousand people (mostly Warsaw Jews) were murdered. An awareness in the later stages of the Warsaw Ghetto of certain death at Treblinka spurred the inhabitants to rebel against German troops in the 'Warsaw Ghetto Uprising'.
The Tripartite Pact, also called the Three-Power Pact or Axis Pact was a pact signed in Berlin (Germany) on September 27, 1940 which established the Axis Powers of the second world war. The pact was signed by representatives from Germany (Adolf Hitler), Itlay (foreign minister Galeazzo Ceano) and Japan (ambassador Saburo Kurusu).
The Wannsee Conference refers to a meeting called by the SS in January 1942 in the Berlin suburb of Groß-Wannsee to discuss the Jewish “problem”. At this meeting the “Final Solution” (Endlösung) was agreed upon, namely the total annihilation of the Jewish people in all Nazi-occupied territories.
The largest ghetto established by the Nazis was in Warsaw. It was erected in August 1940 and sealed off from the outside world on November 15. At its peak it was home to 360,000 Jews squeezed into an area of just 9 square kilometers. Thousands died from starvation and disease. By mid 1942 mass deportations to the gas chambers at Treblinka were underway. By January 1943 only 60,000 Jews were left in the ghetto. On January 18, 1943 the first instance of armed resistance occurred when the Germans started taking the remaining Jews away. The Jewish Fighting Organisation ŻOB (Żyodowska Organizacja Bojowa) used guns it had purchased from the Polish underground. The Jewish fighters had some success and the deportations stopped after four days while the ŻOB with the help of a resistance group ZZW from the Polish underground took control of the ghetto, building shelters and fighting posts to combat the Nazis. The uprising lasted from January to April 1943, a small number of Jewish fighters suffering from hunger and deprivation and with little or no outside support resisting the overwhelmingly better armed and equipped German forces. By the time the Germans brought in reinforcements to quell the uprising there were fewer than 100 people still alive.
The Wehrmacht (Defence Force) was the unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force). The Waffen-SS, the combat arm of the SS, became the de facto fourth branch of the Wehrmacht as it expanded from three regiments to thirty-eight divisions by 1945. Although the SS was autonomous and existed in parallel to the Wehrmacht, the Waffen-SS field units were placed under the operational control of the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, OKW) or the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKW).
Zyklon B was the brand name of the poison gas used by the Nazis in the gas chambers of the death camps to carry out Germany’s programme of genocide. It consisted of hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid or Blausäure, hence “B”), a stabiliser, a warning odorant and one of a number of adsorbents.
- The following glossary of terms relating to the Holocaust has been donated by the online organisation World Upside Down. For further references to the specific terms, names and places that are listed below, please visit the World Upside Down website at http://www.worldupsidedown.co.nz/overview/index.php?section=glossary