Glossary of Terms, Places & Personalities
- AKTION (German)
- Operation involving the mass assembly, deportation, and murder of Jews by the Nazis
during the Holocaust.
- The nations fighting Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan during World War II; primarily the
United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union.
- ANIELEWICZ, MORDECAI (1919-1943)
- Major leader of the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto; killed May 8, 1943.
- ANSCHLUSS (German)
of Austria by Germany on March 13, 1938.
- "Aryan" was originally applied to people who spoke any Indo-European language. The
Nazis, however, primarily applied the term to people of Northern European racial background.
Their aim was to avoid what they considered the "bastardization of the German race" and to
preserve the purity of European blood. (See NUREMBERG
- Concentration and extermination camp in upper Silesia, Poland, 37 miles west of Krakow.
Established in 1940 as a concentration camp, it became an extermination camp in early 1942.
Eventually, it consisted of three sections: Auschwitz I, the main camp; Auschwitz II (Birkenau),
an extermination camp; Auschwitz III (Monowitz), the I.G. Farben labor camp, also known as
Buna. In addition, Auschwitz had numerous sub-camps.
- The Axis powers originally included Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan who signed a pact in
Berlin on September 27, 1940. They were later joined by Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovakia.
- BAECK, LEO (1873-1956)
- Rabbi, philosopher, and community leader in Berlin. In 1933, he became president of the
Reich Representation of German Jews, an organization responsible to the Nazi regime concerning
Jewish matters. Despite opportunities to emmigrate, Baeck refused to leave Germany. In 1943, he was deported to the ghetto of Terezin (Theresienstadt), where he became
a member of the Council of Elders and spiritual leader of the Jews imprisoned there. After the
liberation of the ghetto he
emigrated to England.
- One of the six extermination camps in Poland. Originally
established in 1940 as a camp for Jewish forced labor, the Germans began construction of an
extermination camp at Belzec on November 1, 1941, as part of Aktion Reinhard. By the time the camp ceased operations in January 1943, more than 600,000
persons had been murdered there.
- CHAMBERLAIN, NEVILLE
- British Prime Minister, 1937-1940. He concluded the Munich Agreement in 1938 with
Adolf Hitler, which he mistakenly believed would bring "peace in our
- An extermination camp established in late 1941 in the
Warthegau region of Western Poland, 47 miles west of Lodz. It was the first camp where mass
executions were carried out by means of gas. A total of 320,000 people were exterminated at
- CHURCHILL, WINSTON (1875-1965)
- British Prime Minister, 1940-1945. He succeeded Chamberlain on May 10, 1940, at the height of Hitler's conquest of Western Europe. Churchill was one of the very few
Western politicians who recognized the threat that Hitler posed to Europe. He strongly opposed
Chamberlain's appeasement policies.
- CONCENTRATION CAMPS
- Immediately upon their assumption of power on January 30, 1933, the Nazis established
concentration camps for the
imprisonment of all "enemies" of their regime: actual and
potential political opponents (e.g. communists, socialists, monarchists), Jehovah's Witnesses,
gypsies, homosexuals, and other "asocials." Beginning in 1938, Jews were targeted for internment
solely because they were Jews. Before then, only Jews who fit one of the earlier categories were
interned in camps. The first three concentration camps established were Dachau (near Munich),
Buchenwald (near Weimar) and Sachsenhausen (near
- EICHMANN, ADOLF (1906-1962)
- SS Lieutenant-colonel and head of the "Jewish Section" of the Gestapo. Eichmann
participated in the Wannsee Conference (January 20, 1942). He was instrumental in
implementing the "Final
Solution" by organizing the transportation of Jews to death camps from all over Europe. He
was arrested at the end of World War II in the American zone, but escaped, went underground,
and disappeared. On May 11, 1960, members of the Israeli Secret Service uncovered his
whereabouts and smuggled him from
Argentina to Israel. Eichmann was tried in Jerusalem
(April-December 1961), convicted, and sentenced to death. He was executed on May 31,
- Battalion-sized, mobile killing units of the Security Police and SS Security Service that followed the German armies into the Soviet
Union in June 1941. These units were supported by units of the uniformed German Order Police
and auxiliaries of volunteers (Estonian, Latvian,
Lithuanian, and Ukrainian). Their victims, primarily Jews, were executed by shooting and were
buried in mass graves from which they were later exhumed and burned. At least a million Jews
were killed in this manner. There were four Einsatzgruppen (A,B,C,D) which were subdivided into company-sized Einsatzkommandos.
- The original meaning of this term was an easy and painless death for the terminally ill.
However, the Nazi euthanasia program took on quite a different meaning: the taking of eugenic
measures to improve the quality of the German "race." This program culminated in enforced
"mercy" deaths for the incurably insane, permanently disabled, deformed and "superfluous."
Three major classifications were developed: 1) euthanasia for incurables; 2) direct extermination
by "special treatment"; and 3) experiments in mass sterilization.
- EVIAN CONFERENCE (July 6, 1938)
- 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. However, not much was accomplished, since most
western countries were reluctant to accept Jewish refugees.
- EXTERMINATION CAMPS
- Nazi camps for the mass killing of Jews and others (e.g. Gypsies, Russian
prisoners-of-war, ill prisoners). Known as "death camps," these included: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. All were located in occupied Poland.
- FINAL SOLUTION
- The cover name for the plan to destroy the Jews of Europe - the "Final Solution of the
Jewish Question." Beginning in December 1941, Jews were rounded up and sent to extermination camps in the East. The program was deceptively disguised as
"resettlement in the East."
- FRANK, HANS (1900-1946)
- Governor-General of occupied Poland from 1939 to 1945. A member of the Nazi Party
from its earliest days and Hitler's personal lawyer, he announced, "Poland will be treated like a
colony; the Poles will become slaves of the Greater German Reich." By 1942, more than 85% of
the Jews in Poland had been transported to extermination camps. Frank
was tried at Nuremberg, convicted, and executed in 1946.
- FRICK, WILHELM (1877-1946
dedicated Nazi bureaucrat who was appointed Minister of the Interior in 1933 where he was
responsible for enacting Nazi racial laws. In 1946, he was tried at Nuremberg, convicted, and
- The deliberate and systematic destruction of a religious, racial, national, or cultural
- GERSTEIN, KURT (1905-1945)
- Head of
the Waffen SS Institute of Hygiene in Berlin. While maintaining ties with the resistance,
Gerstein purchased the gas needed in Auschwitz, officially for fumigation
purposes, but actually used for the killing of Jews. He passed on information about the killings to
representatives and Vatican papal nuncios. Overwhelmed with remorse he hanged himself in a
French jail after the war. He is the author of a widely quoted description of a gassing procedure
in Belzec, protagonist of Rolf Hochhuth's The Deputy, and the
subject of Saul Friedlander's biography, The Ambiguity of Good.
- The Nazis revived the medieval ghetto in creating their compulsory "Jewish Quarter"
(Wohnbezirk). The ghetto was a section of a city where all Jews from the surrounding
areas were forced to reside. Surrounded by barbed wire or walls, the ghettos were often sealed so
that people were prevented from leaving or entering. Established mostly in Eastern Europe (e.g.
Lodz, Warsaw, Vilna, Riga, Minsk), the ghettos were characterized by
overcrowding, starvation and forced labor. All were eventually destroyed as the Jews were
deported to death camps.
- GÖRING, HERMANN
- An early member of the Nazi party, G"ring participated in Hitler's "Beer Hall Putsch" in
Munich in 1923 (see HITLER, ADOLF). After its failure, he went to Sweden, where he lived (for
a time in a mental institution) until 1927. In 1928, he was elected to the Reichstag and
became its president in 1932. When Hitler came into power in 1933, he made G"ring Air
Minister of Germany and Prime Minister of
Prussia. He was responsible for the rearmament program and especially for the creation of the
German Air Force. In 1939, Hitler designated him his successor. During World War II, he was
virtual dictator of the German economy and was responsible for the total air war waged by
Germany. Convicted at Nuremberg in 1946, G"ring committed suicide by taking poison just two
hours before his scheduled execution.
- GREATER GERMAN REICH
- Designation of an expanded Germany that was intended to include all German speaking
peoples. It was one of Hitler's most important aims. After the conquest of most of Western
Europe during World War II, it became a reality for a short time.
- GRYNSZPAN, HERSCHEL (1921-1943)
- A Polish Jewish youth who had emigrated to Paris. He
agonized over the fate of his parents who, in the course of a pre-war roundup of Polish Jews
living in Germany, were deported to the Polish frontier. On November 7, 1938, he went to the
German Embassy where he shot and mortally wounded Third Secretary Ernst vom Rath. The
Nazis used this incident as an excuse for the KRISTALLNACHT (Night of the Broken Glass) pogrom.
- A nomadic people, believed to have come originally from northwest India, from where they
immigrated to Persia by the fourteenth century. Gypsies first appeared in Western Europe in the
15th century. By the 16th century, they had spread
throughout Europe, where they were persecuted almost as
relentlessly as the Jews. The gypsies occupied a special place in Nazi racist theories. It is believed
that approximately 500,000 perished during the Holocaust.
- HESS, RUDOLF (1894-1987)
- Deputy and
close associate of Hitler from the earliest days of the Nazi movement. On
May 10, 1941, he flew alone from Augsburg and parachuted, landing in Scotland where he was
promptly arrested. The purpose of his flight has never become clear. He probably wanted to
persuade the British to make peace with Hitler as soon as he attacked the Soviet Union. Hitler
promptly declared him insane. Hess was tried at Nuremberg, found guilty, and sentenced to life
imprisonment. He was the only prisoner in Spandau Prison until he apparently committed suicide
- HEYDRICH, REINHARD (1904-1942)
- Former naval officer who joined the SS in 1932, after his dismissal from the Navy. He headed the SS Security Service (SD), a Nazi party intelligence agency. In 1933-1934, he
became head of the political police (Gestapo) and later of the criminal police (Kripo). He
combined Gestapo and Kripo into the Security Police (SIPO). In 1939, Heydrich
combined the SD and SIPO into the Reich Security Main Office. He organized
the Einsatzgruppen which systematically murdered Jews in
occupied Russia during 1941-1942. In 1941, he was asked by G"ring to implement a "Final
Solution to the Jewish Question." During the same year he was appointed protector of Bohemia
and Moravia. In January 1942, he presided over the WannseeConference, an meeting to coordinate the "Final Solution." On May
29, 1942, he was assassinated by Czech partisans who parachuted in from England. (For
consequences of this assassination, see LIDICE).
- HITLER, ADOLF (1889-1945)
- Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Reich Chancellor). Although born in
Austria, he settled in Germany in 1913. At the outbreak of World War I, Hitler enlisted in the
Bavarian Army, became a corporal and received the Iron Cross First Class for bravery. Returning
to Munich after the war, he joined the newly formed German Workers Party which was soon
reorganized, under his leadership, as the National Socialist German Workers Party
(NSDAP). In November 1923, he unsuccessfully attempted to forcibly bring Germany
nationalist control. When his coup, known as the "Beer-Hall Putsch," failed, Hitler was arrested
and sentenced to 5 years in prison. It was during this time that he wrote Mein Kampf. Serving only 9 months of his sentence, Hitler quickly
reentered German politics and soon outpolled his political rivals in national elections. In January
1933, Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor of a coalition cabinet. Hitler, who took office on
January 30, 1933, immediately set up a dictatorship. In 1934, the chancellorship and presidency
were united in the person of the Führer. Soon, all other parties were outlawed and
opposition was brutally suppressed. By 1938, Hitler implemented his dream of a "Greater
Germany," first annexing Austria; then, (with the acquiescence of the western democracies), the
Sudetenland (Czech province with ethnic German concentration); and, finally, Czechoslovakia
itself. On September 1, 1939, Hitler's armies invaded Poland. By this time the western
democracies realized that no agreement with Hitler could be honored and World War II had
Although initially victorious on all fronts, Hitler's armies began suffering setbacks shortly after the
United States joined the war in December 1941. Although the war was obviously lost by early
1945, Hitler insisted that Germany fight to the death. On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed
suicide rather than be captured alive.
- The destruction of some 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their followers in Europe between
the years 1933-1945. Other
individuals and groups were persecuted and suffered grievously during this period, but only the
Jews were marked for complete and utter annihilation. The term "Holocaust" - literally meaning
"a completely burned sacrifice" - tends to suggest a sacrificial connotation to what occurred. The
word Shoah, originally a Biblical term meaning widespread disaster, is the modern
- 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 often took the form of a yellow star of David.
- JUDENRAT (PLURAL: JUDENRÄTE)
- Council of Jewish representatives in communities and ghettos set up by the Nazis to carry
out their instructions.
- "Cleansed of Jews," denoting areas where all Jews had been either murdered or
- Prisoner in charge of a group of inmates in Nazi concentration camps.
- KRISTALLNACHT (German)
- Night of the Broken Glass: pogrom unleashed by the Nazis on November 9-10, 1938.
Throughout Germany and Austria, synagogues and other Jewish institutions were burned, Jewish
stores were destroyed, and their contents looted. At the same time, approximately 35,000 Jewish
men were sent to concentration camps. The "excuse" for this action was the assassination of
Ernst vom Rath in Paris by a Jewish teenager whose parents had been rounded up by the Nazis.
- Czech mining village (pop. 700). In reprisal for the
assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazis "liquidated" the village in 1942. They shot the
men, deported the women and children to concentration camps, razed the village to the ground,
and struck its name from the maps. After World War II, a new village was built near the site of
the old Lidice, which is now a national park and memorial. (see HEYDRICH,
- City in western Poland (renamed Litzmannstadt by the Nazis), where the first major ghetto
was created in April 1940. By September 1941, the population of the ghetto was 144,000 in an
area of 1.6 square miles (statistically, 5.8 people per room). In October 1941, 20,000 Jews from
Germany, Austria and the
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia were sent to the Lodz Ghetto. Those deported from Lodz
during 1942 and June-July 1944 were sent to the Chelmno extermination
August-September 1944, the ghetto was liquidated and the
remaining 60,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz.
- A camp for men, opened in August 1938, near Linz in northern Austria, Mauthausen was
classified by the SS as a camp of utmost severity. Conditions there 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
- 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, but not before 250,000 men, women, and children had lost their lives there.
- MEIN KAMPF (German)
autobiographical book (My Struggle) by Hitler was written while he was imprisoned in the Landsberg fortress after the
"Beer-Hall Putsch" in 1923. In this book, Hitler propounds his ideas, beliefs, and plans for the
future of Germany. Everything, including his foreign policy, is permeated by his "racial ideology."
The Germans, belonging to the "superior" Aryan race, have a right to "living space"
(Lebensraum) in the East, which is inhabited by the "inferior" Slavs. Throughout, he
accuses Jews of being the source of all evil, equating them with Bolshevism and, at the same
time, with international capitalism. Unfortunately, those people who read the book (except for
his admirers) did not take it seriously but considered it the ravings of a maniac. (see HITLER,
- MENGELE, JOSEF (1911-1978?)
- SS physician at Auschwitz, notorious for pseudo-medical
experiments, especially on twins and Gypsies. He "selected" new arrivals by simply pointing to
the right or the left, thus separating those considered able to work from those who were not.
Those too weak or too old to work were sent
straight to the gas chambers, after all their possessions, including their clothes, were taken for
resale in Germany. After the war, he spent some time in a British internment hospital but
disappeared, went underground, escaped to Argentina, and later to Paraguay, where he became a
citizen in 1959. He was hunted by Interpol, Israeli agents, and Simon Wiesenthal. In 1986, his body was found in Embu, Brazil.
- MUSSELMANN (German)
- Concentration camp slang word for a
prisoner who had given up fighting for life.
- 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
- NUREMBERG LAWS
- Two anti-Jewish statutes 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 pertinent, related rights. 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 antisemitic discrimination if they had a
- 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
- A major piece of antisemitic propaganda, compiled at the turn of the century by members of
the Russian Secret Police.
Essentially adapted from a nineteenth century French polemical satire directed against Emperor
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,
encouraging antisemitism in France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Long
repudiated as an absurd and hateful lie, the book currently has been reprinted and is widely
distributed by Neo-Nazis and others who are committed to the destruction of the State of
- RATH, ERNST VOM (1909-1938)
secretary at the German Embassy in Paris who was assassinated on November 7, 1938 by
Herschel Grynszpan (see GRYNSZPAN, HERSCHEL).
- RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS
- Term applied to those non-Jews who, at the risk of their own lives, saved Jews from their
- SA (abbreviation: Stürmabteilung)
- The storm troops of the early Nazi party; organized in 1921.
- Euphemism for the process of choosing victims for the gas chambers in the Nazi camps by
separating them from those
considered fit to work (see MENGELE,
- Extermination camp in the Lublin district in Eastern Poland (see BELZEC; EXTERMINATION
CAMP). Sobibor opened in May 1942 and closed one day after a rebellion of the Jewish
prisoners on October 14, 1943. At least 250,000 Jews were killed there.
- Abbreviation usually written with two lightning symbols for Schutzstaffel (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 fought on the battlefield, the organization is best known for carrying out the destruction of European
- ST. LOUIS
- The steamship St. Louis was a refugee ship that left Hamburg in the spring of 1939, bound
for Cuba. When the ship arrived, only 22 of the 1128 refugees were allowed to disembark.
Initially no country, including the United States, was willing to accept the others. The ship finally
returned to Europe where most of the refugees were finally granted entry into England, Holland,
France and Belgium.
- Name of a boat carrying 769 Jewish refugees which left Romania late in 1941. It was
refused entry to Palestine or Turkey, and was tugged out to the Black Sea where it sank in
February 1942, with the loss of all on board except one.
- DER STÜRMER (The
- An antisemitic German weekly, founded and edited by Julius Streicher, which was
published in Nuremberg between 1923 and 1945.
- TEREZIN (Czech), THERESIENSTADT (German)
- Established in early 1942 outside Prague as a "model" ghetto, Terezin was not a sealed
section of town, but rather an
eighteenth-century Austrian garrison. It became a Jewish town, governed and guarded by the SS. When the deportations from central Europe to the extermination
camps began in the spring of 1942, certain groups were initially excluded: invalids; partners in a
mixed marriage, and their children; and prominent Jews with special connections. These were
sent to the ghetto in Terezin. They were joined by old and young Jews from the Protectorate,
and, later, by small numbers of prominent Jews from Denmark and Holland. Its large barracks
served as dormitories for communal living; they also contained offices, workshops, infirmaries,
and communal kitchens. The Nazis used Terezin to deceive public opinion. They tolerated a
lively cultural life of theatre, music, lectures, and art. Thus, it could be shown to officials of the
International Red Cross. Terezin, however, was only a station on the road to the extermination
camps; about 88,000 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. (see BAECK, LEO).
- Extermination camp in northeast Poland (see Extermination Camp ). Established in May 1942 along with the Warsaw- Bialystok railway line, 870,000 people were murdered there. The camp operated until the fall of 1943 when the Nazis destroyed the entire camp in an attempt to conceal all traces of their crimes.
- UMSCHLAGPLATZ (German)
- Collection point. It was a square in the Warsaw Ghetto where Jews
were rounded up for deportation to
- WANNSEE CONFERENCE (January 20,
- Lake near Berlin where the Wannsee Conference was held to discuss and coordinate the "Final Solution." It was attended by many high-ranking Nazis, including
Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann.
- WALLENBERG, RAOUL (1912-19??)
- Swedish diplomat who, in 1944, went to Hungary on a mission to save as many Jews as
possible by handing out Swedish papers, passports and visas. He is credited with saving the lives
of at least 30,000 people. After the liberation of Budapest, he was mysteriously taken into
custody by the Russians and his fate remains unknown.
- WARSAW GHETTO
- Established in November 1940, the ghetto, surrounded by a wall,
confined nearly 500,000 Jews. Almost 45,000 Jews died there in 1941 alone, due to
overcrowding, forced labor, lack of sanitation, starvation, and disease. From April 19 to May 16,
1943, a revolt took place in the ghetto when the Germans, commanded by General Jürgen
Stroop, attempted to raze the ghetto and deport the remaining inhabitants to Treblinka . The
uprising, led by Mordecai Anielewicz, was the first instance in occupied Europe of an uprising by
an urban population. (See ANIELEWICZ, MORDECAI).
- WIESENTHAL, SIMON (1908- )
- Famed Holocaust survivor who has dedicated his life since the war to gathering
evidence for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.
Sources: Copyright: 1995, The
Simon Wiesenthal Center
9760 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90035