University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


  • Holocaust Terms

    Holocaust Terms

    Definitions from the Holocaust series, Blackbirch Press

    AktionThe German words for an "action" or plan of action. When used by the SS or Gestapo, it often meant the roundup or murder of Jews.

    Anti-Semite A person who hates Jews.

    Antisemitism Hatred of Jews.

    Aryanization A term used by the Nazis to mean the transfer of all assets and control of German-owned businesses to Germans who were considered Aryans.

    Aryans Originally, a term referring to ancient Indo-Europeans or any Indo-European language. The Nazis used the term to mean people of Northern European background, or members of.

    Concentration Camps Labor camps set up by the Nazis to house political prisoners or people they considered to be "undesirable." Prisoners were made to work like slaves and many died as a result of starvation, disease, or beatings. Also called work camps, work centers, and prison camps.

    Crematorium A building in the camps that contained the ovens, where the bodies of victims were burned. The term is sometimes used to refer to the ovens themselves.

    Deportation Shipment of victims to death or concentration camps, usually by train in unheated or cooled cattle cars.

    Einsatzgruppen "Special Action Groups" - mobile killing squads that followed the German Army through Eastern Europe for the purpose of killing Jews.

    Einsatzkommando Commando units that carried out killing operations, particularly of groups of Jews who were to be exterminated in gas vans or by firing squads.

    Extermination Camps Death camps built by the Nazis German-occupied Poland for the sole purpose of killing "enemies" of the Third Reich. The victims' bodies were usually burned in ovens (crematoria). The six extermination camps were Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Also called killing centers.

    Final Solution The Nazis' term for their plan to exterminate all the Jews of Europe. The term was first used at the Wannsee Conference near Berlin on January 20, 1942.

    Fuhrer A German word meaning "leader." It was used to refer to Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany from 1933 to 1945 and head of the Nazi Party.

    Genocide The deliberate killing of a racial, cultural, or political group.

    Gentile A non-Jewish person.

    Gestapo The Nazi secret police, who were responsible for rounding up, arresting, and deporting victims to ghettos or camps. The Gestapo were part of the SS.

    Ghetto In Hitler's Europe, the section of a city where Jews were forced to live apart from other groups, in conditions of extreme crowding and deprivation.

    Holocaust A term for the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. While Jews were the primary victims, with approximately 6 million.

    Jews People who belong to the religion of Judaism.

    Judenrat "Jewish Council," a group of Jews selected by the Germans to run the ghettos.

    Judenrein "Purified of Jews," a German expression for Hitler's plan to rid Germany of all Jews.

    Kristallnacht "Night of Broken Glass," or "Night of Crystal," more correctly termed the "November Pogroms. " November 9-10, 193 8, a night of Nazi-planned terror throughout Germany and Austria, when Jews were attacked and arrested and their property destroyed.

    Lebensraum A German term for "living space" to accommodate what the Nazis called the "master race: of Aryan people.

    Liberation The act of freeing the Nazis' victims from death and concentration camps at the end of the war.

    Liquidation The removal of residents from the ghettos, concentration camps or extermination camps.

    Nazi A member of the Nazi Party or something associated with the party, such as "Nazi government."

    Nazi Party Short for the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Founded in 1919. The party became a potent political force under Hitler's leadership.

    Nuremberg Laws "Reich Citizenship Laws," passed on September 15, 1935. These sweeping laws specified the qualifications for German citizenship and excluded from citizenship persons of Jewish ancestry.

    Nutlos Esser Literally, "useless eaters," a term used by the Nazis to refer to the mentally and physically handicapped.

    Palestine A region in the Middle East, part of which is now known as Israel. Palestine was controlled by the British government from 1922 to 1948.

    Partisans Groups of independent fighters who lived in the woods or other remote areas and harassed the German Army or the SS in an effort to disrupt their actions.

    Pogroms Organized, mass attacks on a group of people.

    Propaganda The deliberate spreading of ideas, information or rumors-often false-for the purpose of helping or injuring a cause, organization or person.

    Resettlement A term used by the Nazis to make Jews believe that they were being transported to work camps in Eastern Europe, when in fact they were being taken to camps.

    Reichstag The German Parliament.

    Resistance A general term for actions taken by individuals in various countries, both Jews and Gentiles, against the Nazis. Members of resistance groups worked "underground." In secrecy.

    Rhineland A region between Germany and France that was demilitarized after World War I as a buffer zone to prevent another German invasion.

    Selection The process of choosing which victims at the death camps would be spared to work and which ones would be killed immediately.

    SA From the German term Sturmabteilungen. "defense unit." The SS began as Hitler's personal bodyguard and developed into the most powerful and feared organization in the Third Reich. Also called brownshirts.

    SS From the German term Schutzstaffel, meaning "defense unit." The SS began as Hitler's personal bodyguard and developed into the most powerful and feared organization in the Third Reich. Also called black shirts.

    Sonderkommando A German word meaning "special detail." The term was used by the Nazis to refer to those prisoners in the death camps who were assigned to remove the bodies from the gas chambers and put them in the crematoria to be burned.

    Star of David The six-pointed star that is a symbol of Judaism.

    Swastika An ancient design that the Nazis adapted for their party symbol.

    Third Reich Reich means "empire." In German history, the First Reich lasted from 962 until 1806, the second from 1871 to 1918. In the early 1920s, Hitler began using the term "Third Reich" to describe his own empire, which lasted from 1933 until 1945.

    Treaty of Versailles The 1919 peace treaty that ended World War I. In it, the conditions of surrender for Germany and the Axis powers were outlined.

    Untermenschen A German word meaning "subhumans," used by the Nazis to refer to some groups they considered "undesirable" - Jews. Romani, male homosexuals, political opponents, and the physically and mentally disabled.