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Selected Holocaust Glossary: Terms, Places and Personalities

AKTION (German)

Operation involving the mass assembly, deportation, and murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

ALLIES

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)

Annexation of Austria by Germany on March 13, 1938.

ARYAN RACE

"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.

AUSCHWITZ

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; and Auschwitz III (Monowitz), the I. G. Farben labor camp, also known as Buna. In addition, Auschwitz had numerous sub-camps.

AXIS

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.

BELZEC

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 (1869-1940)

British Prime Minister, 1937-1940. He concluded the Munich Agreement in 1938 with Adolf Hitler, which he mistakenly believed would bring "peace in our time."

CHELMNO

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 Chelmno.

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 opponents, 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 Berlin),

EICHMANN, ADOLF (1906-1962)

SS Lieutenant-Colonel and head of the "Jewish Section" of the Gestapo, Eichmann participated in the Wannsee Conference. 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 of Germany, 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, convicted, and sentenced to death. He was executed on May 31, 1962.

EINSATZGRUPPEN (German)

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. 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.

EUTHANASIA

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".

EVIAN CONFERENCE

Conference convened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 6, 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. Knows 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 1939-1945. 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.

GENOCIDE

The deliberate and systematic destruction of a religious, racial, national, or cultural group.

GHETTO

The Nazis revived the medieval ghetto in creating their compulsory "Jewish Quarter." 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.

GORING, HERMAN (1893-1946)

An early member of the Nazi Party, Goring participated in Hitler's "Beer Hall Putsch" in Munich in 1923. After its failure, he went to Sweden where he lived until 1927. In 1928 he was elected to the Reichstag and became its president in 1932. When Hitler came to power in 1933, he made Goring 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, Goring was virtual dictator of the German economy and was responsible for the total air war waged by Germany. Convicted at Nuremberg in 1946, Goring 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 von Rath. The Nazis used this incident as an excuse for the Kristallnacht pogrom.

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GYPSIES

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 racial theories. It is believed that approximately 500,000 perished during the Holocaust.

HEYDRICH, REINHARD (1904-1942)

Former naval officer, he 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 the criminal police (Kirpo). He combined the two into the Security Police (SIPO). In 1939, Heydrich created the Reich Security Main Office. He organized the Einsatzgruppen which systematically murdered Jews in occupied Russia during 1941-1942. In 1941, Goring asked him to implement a "final solution to the Jewish question" and in January 1942, he presided over the Wannsee Conference. On May 29, 1942, he was assassinated by Czech partisans who had parachuted in from England. For the consequences of his assassination, see Lidice.

HITLER, ADOLF (1889-1945)

Furher und Reichskanzler (Leader and Reich Chancellor) of Germany. Although born in Austria, he settled in Germany in 1913. At the outbreak of World War I, he 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 Germany Workers Party (NSDAP). In November 1923, he unsuccessfully attempted to forcibly bring Germany under nationalist control. When his coup, known as the "Beer-Hall Putsch," failed, Hitler was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. It was during this time that he wrote Mein Kampf. Serving only nine months of his sentence, Hitler quickly reentered German politics and soon out polled 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 Fuhrer. 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 the Sudentenland, and finally Czechoslovakia itself. On September 1, 1939, Hitler's armies invaded Poland. The western democracies realized that no agreement with Hitler could be honored and World War II had begun. Although initially victorious on all fronts, Hitler's armies began suffering setbacks shortly after the United States joined the war in December 1941. On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide.

HOLOCAUST

The destruction of some six million Jews by the Nazis and their followers in Europe between 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 complete burned sacrifice," tends to suggest a sacrificial connotation to what occurred. The word "Shoah," originally a Biblical term meaning widespread disaster, is the modern Hebrew equivalent.

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES

The Jehovah's Witnesses are a religious sect that originated in the United States and 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

The Judenrat was a council of Jewish representatives in communities and ghettos set up by the Nazis to carry out Nazi instructions.

JUDENREIN

"Cleansed of Jews" (Judenrein) denoted areas where all Jews had been either murdered or deported.

KAPO

The prisoners in charge of groups of inmates in Nazi concentration camps.

KRISTALLNACHT

"Night of the Broken Glass" pogrom unleashed by the Nazis on November 9-12, 1938. Throughout Germany and Austria, synagogues and other Jewish institutions were burned, Jewish stores were destroyed, and the 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 von Rath in Paris by a Jewish teenager whose parents had been rounded by the Nazis.

LIDICE

Lidice was a Czech mining village with a population of approximately 700. In reprisal for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazis "liquidated" the entire 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.

LODZ

A city in western Poland, it was the first major ghetto 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 camp. In August-September 1944, the ghetto was liquidated and the remaining 60,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

MAUTHAUSEN

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 1945.

MAJDANEK

A camp in eastern Poland and at first a labor camp for Poles and a POW camp for Russians, it became a mass murder camp, a gassing center, for Jews. Majdanek was liberated by the Russian Army in July 1944, but not before 250,000 men, women, and children had lost their lives.

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MEIN KAMPF

This 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 and 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.

MENGELE, JOSEF (1911-1978?)

SS physician at Auschwitz, he was 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 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.

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 statutes were enacted in 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 definition of Jewishness based on bloodlines. Thus, many Germans of mixed ancestry, called "mischlinge," faced anti-Semitic discrimination if they had a Jewish grandparent.

PARTISANS

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, it was 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 domination 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 anti-Semitism in France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Long repudiated as an absurd and hateful lie, the book currently has been reprinted and widely distributed by Neo-Nazis and others who are committed to the destruction of the State of Israel.

RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS

This term applies to those non-Jews who, at the risk of their own lives, saved Jews from their Nazi persecutors.

SELECTION

In the Nazi death camps, selection was a euphemism for the process of choosing victims for the gas chambers, separating them from those considered fit to work.

SOBIBOR

An extermination camp in the Lublin district of Eastern Poland, it was opened in May 1942 and closed one day after a rebellion of Jewish prisoners on October 14, 1943. At least 250,00 Jews were killed there.

SS

Defensive Protective Units, SS was an abbreviation, usually written with two lightning symbols, for Schutzstaffel. Orginally organized as Hitler's personal bodyguard, the SS was transformed into a giant organization by Heinrich Himler. Although various SS units fought on the battlefield, the organization is best known for carrying out the destruction of European Jewry.

ST. LOUIS

The steamship St. Louis was a refugee ship that left Hamburg, Germany, 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 granted entry into England, Holland, France, and Belgium.

STRUMA

The Struma was a ship carrying 769 Jewish refugees which left Romania late in 1941. It was refused entry into Palestine and 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 STURMER

The Attacker, an antisemitic German weekly, was 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" 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 deportation from central Europe to the extermination camps began in the spring of 1942, certain groups were initially excluded: invalids; partners in mixed marriages and their children; and prominent Jews with special connections. They 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.

TREBLINKA

An extermination camp in northeast Poland, it was established in May 1942, along with the Warsaw-Bialystok railway line. Approximately 870,000 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.

WANNSEE CONFERENCE

Near Berlin, 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.

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 attempted to raze the ghetto and deport the remaining inhabitants to Treblinka. The uprising, lead by Mordecai Anielewicz, was the first instance in occupied Europe of an uprising by an urban population.

WIESENTHAL, SIMON (1908- )

A famed Holocaust survivor, he has dedicated his life since the war to gathering evidence for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.

Developed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center

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