University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


  • Witness and Legacy - Teacher Resource Book :
  • Glossary


    Allies During World War 11, the group of nations including the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, as well as the Free French, that joined in the war against Germany and other Axis countries.

    Anti-Semitism Opposition to and hatred of Jews.

    Appeasement Policy adopted by major Western political powers towards Adolf Hitler's ambitions in the Munich Agreement of 1938. Leaders, famously including Britain's Neville Chamberlain, agreed to allow Hitler portions of land in Eastern Europe in order to avoid war.

    Aryan In Nazi racial theory, a person of pure German "blood." The term "non-Aryan" was used to designate Jews, part Jews and others of supposedly inferior racial stock.

    Aryanization often refers to the Nazi policy of taking away businesses and property owned by Jews, and turning it over to "pure" Germans.

    Assimilation The process of becoming incorporated into mainstream society. Strict observance of Jewish laws and customs pertaining to dress, food, and religious holidays tends to keep Jewish people separate and distinct from the culture of the country within which they are living. Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86), a German Jew, was one of the key people working for the assimilation of the Jews in the German cultural community.

    Auschwitz 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 1: The main camp. Auschwitz II (Also known as Birkenau): The extermination center. Auschwitz III (Monowitz): The I.G. Farben labor camp, also known as Buna. In addition, there were numerous subsidiary camps.

    Axis Germany, Italy, and Japan, signatories to a pact signed in Berlin on September 27, 1940, to divide the world into their spheres of respective political interest. They were later joined by Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.

    Babi Yar A ravine in Kiev, where tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews were systematically massacred.

    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. Erected in 1943. Thousands of Jews, political prisoners, and POWs were killed there. Liberated by British troops in April 1945, although many of the remaining prisoners died of typhus after liberation.

    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.

    Collaboration Cooperation between citizens of a country and its occupiers.

    Concentration Camp Prisons used without regard to accepted norms of arrest and detention. Initially (1933-36), they were used primarily for political prisoners. Later (1936-42), concentration camps were expanded and nonpolitical prisonersJews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and Poleswere 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 antisocial elements were sent as well. Nazi doctors and scientists used many prisoners at Dachau as guinea pigs for experiments. During the war, construction began on a gas chamber, but it never became operational. Dachau was liberated by American troops in April 1945.

    Death Camp Nazi extermination centers where Jews and nonJews were brought to be put to death as part of Hitler's Final Solution.

    Death Marches Forced marches of prisoners over long distances and under intolerable conditions was another way victims of the Third Reich were killed. The prisoners, guarded heavily, were treated brutally and many died from mistreatment or were shot. Prisoners were transferred from one ghetto or concentration camp to another ghetto or concentration camp or to a death camp.

    Displacement The process, either official or unofficial, of people being involuntarily moved from their homes because of war, government policies, or other societal actions, requiring groups of people to find new places to live. Displacement is a recurring theme in the history of the Jewish people.

    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.

    Einsatzgruppen The 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 Soviet commiissars, the handicapped, institutionalized psychiatric patients, and Gypsies. 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.

    Dwight D. Eisenhower As Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, General Eisenhower commanded all Allied forces in Europe beginning in 1942.

    Euthanasia Nazi euphemism for the deliberate killings of institutionalized physically, mentally, and emotionally handicapped people. The euthanasia program began in 1939, with German nonJews as the first victims. The program was later extended to Jews.

    Fascism A social and political ideology with the primary guiding principle that the state or nation is the highest priority, rather than personal or individual freedoms.

    Final Solution A Nazi euphemism for the plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

    Führer Leader. Adolf Hitler's title in Nazi Germany.

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

    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.

    Gypsies A collective term for Romani 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.

    Heinrich Himmler 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.

    Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) Nazi party leader, 1919-1945. German Chancellor, 1933-1945. Called Führer, or supreme leader, by the Nazis.

    Holocaust Derived from the Greek holokauston that meant a sacrifice totally burned by fire. Today, the term refers to the systematic planned extermination of about six million European Jews by the Nazis between 19331945. Millions of non-Jews also perished during the Holocaust.

    Jehovah's Witnesses A religious denomination founded in the United States in the 1800s, later spread to Europe and elsewhere. For reasons of doctrine, Witnesses decline to salute the flag, bear arms, or participate in politics or government. Although a peaceful and small minority, they were considered "enemies of the state" by the Nazis and were relentlessly persecuted.

    Judenrat (Jewish Council) Council of Jewish "elders" established on Nazi orders in an occupied area.

    Kippah The skullcap worn by Jewish men. A Kippah is worn to symbolize that man exists only from his Kippah down; God exists above the Kippah.

    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.

    Majdanek Nazi camp and killing center opened for men and women near Lublin in eastern Poland in late 194 1. 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. The Red Army liberated Majdanek in July 1944, and a memorial was opened there in November of that year.

    Munich Agreement of 1938 Agreement between major Western political leaders and Adolph Hitler, which allowed Hitler land in Eastern Europe in an effort to avoid all-out war. The policy established towards Hitler in this Agreement is termed appeasement.

    Nazi Party (officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party or NASDAP) 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. The Nazi Party membership and political power grew dramatically in the 1930s, partly based on political propaganda, mass rallies and demonstrations.

    Nuremberg Trials Trial of twentytwo major Nazi figures in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1945 and 1946 before the International Military Tribunal. Those tried included Nazi commanders, German industrialists who were complicit in the Holocaust effort, and medical doctors who performed experiments upon Jewish prisoners in concentration camps.

    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, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

    Pogrom An organized and often officially encouraged massacre of or attack on Jews. The word is derived from two Russian words that mean thunder.

    Prejudice A judgment or opinion formed before the facts are known. In most cases, these opinions are founded on suspicion, intolerance, and the irrational hatred of other races, religions, creeds, or nationalities.

    Propaganda False or partly false information used by a government or political party intended to sway the opinions of the population.

    Rabbi Leader of a Jewish congregation, similar to the role of a priest or minister.

    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. After that the Reichstag became a rubber stamp for Hitler's policies.

    Resettlement German euphemism for the deportation of prisoners to killing centers in Poland.

    Revisionists Those who deny that the Holocaust ever happened.

    Righteous Gentiles NonJewish people who, during the Holocaust, risked their lives to save Jewish people from Nazi persecution. Today, a field of trees planted in their honor at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Israel, commemorates their courage and compassion.

    Selection Process which occurred when new prisoners arrived at a concentration camp; prisoners were selected either for slave labor or immediate death in the gas chambers. Families were often split apart during this process.

    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 A small Jewish town or village in Eastern Europe.

    Sobibór Extermination camp located in the Lublin district of eastern Poland. Sobibor 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; also refers to the Jewish slave labor units in extermination camps that removed the bodies of those gassed for cremation or burial.

    Star of David A six-pointed star that is a symbol of Judaism. During the Holocaust, Jews throughout Europe were required to wear Stars of David on their sleeves or fronts and backs of their shirts and jackets.

    Stereotype Biased generalizations about a group based on hearsay, opinions, and distorted, preconceived ideas.

    Swastika An ancient symbol appropriated by the Nazis as their emblem.

    Synagogue Jewish house of worship, similar to a church.

    Theresiendstadt (Terezin) Nazi ghetto located in Czechoslovakia.  Created in late 1941 as a "model Jewish settlement" to declare the outside world, including International Red Cross investigators, as to the treatment of the Jews.  However, conditions in Terezin were difficult, and most Jews held there were later killed in death camps.

    Third Reich Meaning "third regime or empire," the Nazi designation of Germany and its regime from 1933-45.  Historically, the First Reich was the medieval Holy Roman Empire, which lasted until 1806.  The Second Reich included the German Empire from 1871-1918.

    Torah A scroll containing the five books of Moses.

    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.

    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 600,000 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 defence 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.

    Weimar Republic The German republic (1919-1933) established after the end of World War I, with its capital in the city of Weimar.

    Wehrmacht The combined armed forces of Germany from 1935-1945.

    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.

    A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
    Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
    College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997.

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