Auschwitz - Birkenau: A complex consisting of concentration, extermination, and labor camps in Upper Silesia. It was established in 1940 as a concentration camp and included a killing center in 1942. Auschwitz I (Also known as Birkenau) was the initial camp. Auschwitz II was the main camp. Auschwitz III (Monowitz), also known as Buna, housed the workers for I.G. Farben.
Babi Yar: A ravine in Kiev, where tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews were systematically massacred in September 1941.
Beer Hall Putsch: On November 8, 1923, Hitler, with the help of SA troops and German World War I hero General Erich Ludendorff, launched a failed coup attempt in Bavaria at a meeting of Bavarian officials in a beer hall.
Belzec: Nazi extermination camp in eastern Poland. Erected in 1942. Approximately 550,000 Jews were murdered there in 1942 and 1943. The Nazis dismantled the camp in the fall of 1943.
Bergen-Belsen: Nazi concentration camp in northwestern Germany near Hanover. Erected in 1943. Thousands of Jews, political prisoners, and POWs were killed there. Even after liberation by British troops in April 1945, many of the remaining prisoners died of typhus after liberation.
Brecha: The organized and illegal mass movement of Jews throughout Europe following World War II.
British White Paper of 1939: British policy of restricting immigration of Jews to Palestine.
Buchenwald: Concentration camp in central Germany, near Weimar. website
Chelmno: Nazi extermination camp in western Poland. Established in 1941. The first of the Nazi extermination camps. Approximately 150,000 Jews were murdered there between late 1941 and 1944, although not continuously. In comparison to the other extermination camps, Chelmno was technologically primitive, employing carbon monoxide gas vans as the main method of killing. The Nazis dismantled the camp in late 1944 and early 1945.
Concentration camp (Konzentrationslager, KZ): Concentration camps were prisons used without regard to accepted norms of arrest and detention. They were an essential part of Nazi systematic oppression. Initially (1933-36), they were used primarily for political prisoners. Later (1936-42), concentration camps were expanded and non-political prisoners--Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and Poles--were also incarcerated. In the last period of the Nazi regime (1942-45), prisoners of concentration camps were forced to work in the armament industry, as more and more Germans were fighting in the war. Living conditions varied considerably from camp to camp and over time. The worst conditions took place from 1936-42, especially after the war broke out. Death, disease, starvation, crowded and unsanitary conditions, and torture were a daily part of concentration camps.
Dachau: Nazi concentration camp in southern Germany. Erected in 1933, this was the first Nazi concentration camp. Used mainly to incarcerate German political prisoners until late 1938, whereupon large numbers of Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and other supposed enemies of the state and anti-social elements were sent as well. Nazi doctors and scientists used many prisoners at Dachau as guinea pigs for experiments. Dachau was liberated by American troops in April 1945. website
DP: Displaced Person. The upheavals of war left millions of soldiers and civilians far from home. Millions of DPs had been eastern European slave laborers for the Nazis. The tens of thousands of Jewish survivors of Nazi camps either could not or did not want to return to their former homes in Germany or eastern Europe, and many lived in special DP camps while awaiting migration to America or Palestine.
Displaced Persons Act of 1948: Law passed by U.S. Congress limiting the number of Jewish displaced persons who could emigrate to the United States. The law contained antisemitic elements, eventually eliminated in 1950.
Drancy: The camp at Drancy was a transit camp not far outside of Paris. In 1939 the camp was used to hold refugees from the fascist regime in Spain. In 1940 these refugees were given over to the Nazis. In 1941 the French police, under the authority of the Nazi regime, conducted raids throughout France that imprisoned French Jews. Many victims of these raids were taken to Drancy.
Eichmann, Adolf (1906 - 1962): SS Lieutenant Colonel and head of the Gestapo department dealing with Jewish affairs.
Einsatzgruppen: Mobile units of the Security Police and SS Security Service that followed the German armies to Poland in 1939 and to the Soviet Union in June, 1941. Their charge was to kill all Jews as well as communist functionaries, the handicapped, institutionalized psychiatric patients, Gypsies, and others considered undesirable by the nazi state. They were supported by units of the uniformed German Order Police and often used auxiliaries (Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian volunteers). The victims were executed by mass shootings and buried in unmarked mass graves; later, the bodies were dug up and burned to cover evidence of what had occurred.
Flossenburg: Bavarian camp established in 1938/39 mainly for political, particularly foreign, prisoners.
Frank, Hans: 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.
German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei): As the precursor to the Nazi Party, Hitler joined the right-wing Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP) in 1919. The party espoused national pride, militarism, a commitment to the Volk, and a racially "pure" Germany.
Gestapo: Acronym for Geheime Staatspolizei, meaning Secret State Police. Prior to the outbreak of war, the Gestapo used brutal methods to investigate and suppress resistance to Nazi rule within Germany. After 1939, the Gestapo expanded its operations into Nazi-occupied Europe.
Ghettos: The Nazis revived the medieval term ghetto to describe their device of concentration and control, the compulsory "Jewish Quarter." Ghettos were usually established in the poor sections of a city, where most of the Jews from the city and surrounding areas were subsequently forced to reside. Often surrounded by barbed wire or walls, the ghettos were sealed. Established mostly in eastern Europe (e.g., Lodz, Warsaw, Vilna, Riga, or Minsk), the ghettos were characterized by overcrowding, malnutrition, and heavy labor. All were eventually dissolved, and the Jews murdered.
Goebbels, Paul Joseph (1897-1945): Reich Propaganda Director of the NSDAP and Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.
Goering, Hermann (1893-1945): Leading Nazi promoted to Reichsmarshal in 1940.
Gypsies: A collective term for Roma and Sinti. A nomadic people believed to have come originally from northwest India. They became divided into five main groups still extant today. By the sixteenth century, they had spread to every country of Europe. Alternately welcomed and persecuted since the fifteenth century, they were considered enemies of the state by the Nazis and persecuted relentlessly. Approximately 500,000 Gypsies are believed to have perished in the gas chambers.
Hess, Rudolf (1894-1987): was the mentally unstable number three man in Hitler's Germany. He is best known for a surprise flight to Scotland in 1941. He was sentenced to life in prison at Nuremberg. He died in jail in 1987.
Heydrich, Reinhard (1894-1987): was the mentally unstable number three man in Hitler's Germany. He is best known for a surprise flight to Scotland in 1941. He was sentenced to life in prison at Nuremberg. He died in jail in 1987.
Himmler, Heinrich (1900-1945): As head of the SS and the secret police, Himmler had control over the vast network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Gestapo. Himmler committed suicide in 1945, after his arrest.
Hindenburg, Paul von : General Field Marshal who became a German national hero during World War I and was Reich president from 1925 to 1934.
Hitler Jugend: was a Nazi youth auxiliary group established in 1926. It expanded during the Third Reich. Membership was compulsory after 1939.
Holocaust: Derived from the Greek holokauston which meant a sacrifice totally burned by fire. Today, the term refers to the systematic planned extermination of about six million European Jews and millions of others by the Nazis between 1933-1945.
International Military Tribunal: The United States, Great Britain, France, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics charted this court to prosecute Nazi war criminals.
Jehovah's Witnesses: Religious sect that originated in the United States and had about 2, 000 members in Germany in 1933. Their religious beliefs did not allow them to swear allegiance to any worldly power making them enemies of the Nazi state. They wore a purple triangle in the camps.
Judenrat: Council of Jewish "elders" established on Nazi orders in an occupied area, usually in the ghettos.
Kapo: Derived from the Italian word for head, it was a concentration camp inmate appointed by the SS to be in charge of a work gang or block.
Kristallnacht: Also known as The Night of the Broken Glass. On this night, November 9, 1938, almost 200 synagogues were destroyed, over 8,000 Jewish shops were sacked and looted, and tens of thousands of Jews were removed to concentration camps. This pogrom received its name because of the great value of glass that was smashed during this anti-Jewish riot. Riots took place throughout Germany and Austria on that night. paper on this site
League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel): Female counterpart of the Hitler Youth formed in 1927 but not formerly integrated by Hitler until 1932.
Lebensraum: Meaning "living space," it was a basic principle of Nazi foreign policy. Hitler believed that eastern Europe had to be conquered to create a vast German empire for more physical space, a greater population, and new territory to supply food and raw materials.
Majdanek: Nazi camp and killing center opened for men and women near Lublin in eastern Poland in late 1941. At first a labor camp for Poles and a POW camp for Russians, it was classified as a concentration camp in April 1943. Like Auschwitz, it was also a major killing center. Majdonek was liberated by the Red Army in July 1944, and a memorial was opened there in November of that year.
Mein Kampf: Meaning "My Struggle," it was the ideological base for the Nazi Party's racist beliefs and murderous practices. Published in 1925, this work detailed Hitler's radical ideas of German nationalism, anti-Semitism, anti-Bolshevism, and Social Darwinism which advocated survival of the fittest.
Mengele, Joseph (1911-1979): Senior SS physician at Auschwitz-Birkenau from 1943-44. One of the physicians who carried out the "selections" of prisoners upon arrival at camp. He also carried out cruel experiments on prisoners.
Muselman: German term meaning "Muslim," widely used by concentration camp prisoners to refer to inmates who were on the verge of death from starvation, exhaustion, and despair. A person who had reached the Muselman stage had little, if any, chance for survival and usually died within weeks. The origin of the term is unclear.
The Nazi (National Socialist German Workers') Party: The Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP was founded in Germany on January 5, 1919. It was characterized by a centralist and authoritarian structure. Its platform was based on militaristic, racial, antisemitic and nationalistic policies. Nazi Party membership and political power grew dramatically in the 1930s, partly based on political propaganda, mass rallies and demonstrations.
Neuengamme: Concentration camp located just southeast of Hamburg, opened in 1940. website
Nuremberg Trials: Trials of twenty-two major Nazi figures in Nuremberg, Germany in 1945 before the International Military Tribunal, followed by 11 other trials before a more limited tribunal..
Nuremberg Laws: The Nuremberg Laws were announced by Hitler at the Nuremberg Party conference in September 1935, defining "Jew" and systematizing and regulating discrimination and persecution. The "Reich Citizenship Law" deprived all Jews of their civil rights, and the "Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor" made marriages and extra-marital sexual relationships between Jews and Germans punishable by imprisonment.
Operation Reinhard (or Aktion Reinhard): The code name for the plan to destroy the millions of Jews in the General Government, within the framework of the Final Solution. It began in October, 1941, with the deportation of Jews from ghettos to extermination camps. The three extermination camps established under Operation Reinhard were Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka.
Partisans: Irregular forces that use guerrilla tactics when operating in enemy-occupied territory. During the Holocaust, partisans operated secretly in their efforts to assist Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis, were most often Soviets.
Plaszow: Concentration camp near Cracow, Poland, opened in 1942.
Pogrom: An organized and often officially encouraged massacre of or attack on Jews. The word is derived from two Russian words that mean "thunder."
Porrajmos: A Romani (gypsy) term referring to the Holocaust. It means "the devouring." paper on this site
Ravensbrück: Concentration camp for women, near Berlin, opened in 1939. website
Reichstag: The German Parliament. On February 27, 1933, a staged fire burned the Reichstag building. A month later, on March 23, 1933, the Reichstag approved the Enabling Act which gave Hitler unlimited dictatorial power.
SA (Sturmabteilung or Storm Troopers): Also known as "Brown Shirts," they were the Nazi party's main instrument for undermining democracy and facilitating Adolf Hitler's rise to power. The SA was the predominant terrorizing arm of the Nazi party from 1923 until "The Night of the Long Knives" in 1934. They continued to exist throughout the Third Reich, but were of lesser political significance after 1934.
Sachsenhausen: Concentration camp outside of Berlin opened in 1936. website (unofficial)
SD (Sicherheitsdienst or Security Service): The SS security and intelligence service established in 1931 under Reinhard Heydrich.
Shoah: The Hebrew word meaning "catastrophe," denoting the catastrophic destruction of European Jewry during World War II. The term is used in Israel, and the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) has designated an official day, called Yom ha-Shoah, as a day of commemorating the Shoah or Holocaust.
Shtetl: Yiddish word for a small Jewish town or village in eastern Europe.
Sobibór: Extermination camp located in the Lublin district of eastern Poland. Sobibór opened in May 1942 and closed the day after a rebellion by its Jewish prisoners on October 14, 1943. At least 250,000 Jews were killed there.
Sonderkommando (Special Squad): SS or Einsatzgruppe detachment. The term also refers to the Jewish slave labor units in extermination camps that removed the bodies of those gassed for cremation or burial.
SS (Schutzstaffel or Protection Squad): Guard detachments originally formed in 1925 as Hitler's personal guard. From 1929, under Himmler, the SS developed into the most powerful affiliated organization of the Nazi party. In mid-1934, they established control of the police and security systems, forming the basis of the Nazi police state and the major instrument of racial terror in the concentration camps and occupied Europe.
Stutthof: Concentration camp founded in 1939 in what is now northern Poland.
Sudetenland: Formerly Austrian German-speaking territories in Bohemia which were incorporated into Czechoslovakia after World War I.
Swastika (Hakenkreuz): An ancient symbol appropriated by the Nazis as their emblem.
Tallis: Jewish prayer shawl with fringes on four sides. These fringes represent the four corners of the world and symbolize God's omnipresence.
Theresienstadt: Nazi "ghetto" located in Czechoslovakia. Created in late 1941 as a "model Jewish settlement" to deceive the outside world, including International Red Cross investigators, as to the treatment of the Jews. However, conditions in Terezín were difficult, and most Jews held there were later killed in death camps. Theresienstadt is the German name for the town; Terezín is the Czech name.
Treblinka: Extermination camp on the Bug River in the General Government. Opened in July 1942, it was the largest of the three Operation Reinhard killing centers. Between 700,000 and 900,000 persons were killed there. A revolt by the inmates on August 2, 1943, destroyed most of the camp, and it was closed in November 1943.
Vught: Concentration and transit camp in the Netherlands opened in January 1943.
Waffen-SS: Militarized units of the SS.
Wannsee Conference: Held on the Wannsee lake near Berlin on January 20, 1942by SS official, Reinhard Heydrich, it was the where the systematic execution of the Final Solution was planned. website
Warsaw ghetto: Established in November 1940, it was surrounded by wall and contained nearly 500,000 Jews. About 45,000 Jews died there in 1941 alone, as a result of overcrowding, hard labor, lack of sanitation, insufficient food, starvation, and disease. During 1942, most of the ghetto residents were deported to Treblinka, leaving about 60,000 Jews in the ghetto. A revolt took place in April 1943 when the Germans, commanded by General Jürgen Stroop, attempted to raze the ghetto and deport the remaining inhabitants to Treblinka. The defense forces, commanded by Mordecai Anielewicz, included all Jewish political parties. The bitter fighting lasted twenty-eight days and ended with the destruction of the ghetto.
Wehrmacht: The combined armed forces of Germany from 1935-1945.
Weimar Republic: The German republic, an experiment in democracy (1919-1933), was established after the end of World War I. The constitution was drafted in the town of Weimar, hence the name.
Westerbork: Transit camp in the Netherlands. Anne Frank was held there prior to being deported to Auschwitz.
Zionism: Political and cultural movement calling for the return of the Jewish people to their Biblical home.
Zyklon B: (Hydrogen cyanide) Pesticide used in some of the gas chambers at the death camps, most notable Auschwitz. Carbon monoxide from diesel motors was used at other camps.