Holocaust glossary

This Holocaust glossary contains terms pertaining to Jews and Judaism, anti-Semitism, Nazi racial policy and the Final Solution. It has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest a term for inclusion in this glossary, please contact Alpha History.

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A term for the three largest monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) which all trace their origins back to Abraham.

Action T4 (or Aktion T4)
The Nazi euthanasia program, involving the medically-induced killing of those with deformities, genetic disorders or medically incurable conditions.

Ahasuerus (see ‘Wandering Jew‘)

The German term for union with Austria, or the absorption of Austria into a greater German state. This was achieved by the Nazi government in 1938, despite being prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles.

Anti-Semitism describes hostile or derogatory ideas or actions against Jewish people on the basis of their race and/or religion. The term was first used by Wilhelm Marr, a German writer, in 1879.

arbeitlager (see labour camp)

arbeit macht frei (English: ‘work makes freedom’)
A common slogan employed by the Nazis in labour camps and death camps, where it was prominently displayed to provide false hope to Jews and other inmates

In Nazi racial theory, Aryans were an ethnic group consisting of northern European or Nordic peoples with blonde or fair hair and blue eyes.

Aryan paragraph
A paragraph inserted into employment contracts that prevented non-Aryans from filling the position. They were used in Germany during the 1800s but were particularly widespread during Nazi rule from 1933.

Ashkenazi Jews
The Ashkenazi are an ethnic Jewish group who settled in western Europe during the Middle Ages. By the 1930s, Ashkenazi Jews made up more than nine-tenths of the world’s Jewish population.

German for ‘lightning war’, a military strategy of rapid advance using aircraft, artillery, tanks and men. It describes the rapid Nazi advance across Poland and western Europe in 1939-40.

blood libel
The ‘blood libel’ is a baseless conspiracy that claims Jewish elders routinely kidnapped, sacrificed and drank the blood of Christian children. It was prevalent in the Middle Ages but persisted in some European regions in the early 20th century.

Bolshevism describes the ideology of Russian communists who seized power in that country in 1917. Many Anti-Semites, including the Nazis, attributed Bolshevism to the Jews, though links between the two are incidental.

French term used to describe the land, property or business-owning middle-class.

To avoid buying certain goods or shopping at particular businesses, usually as a political protest.

Brownshirts (see SA)

A political ideology that seeks to protect the interests of working classes; a theoretical society where there are no classes or structures of government.

concentration camp
A prison-like facility constructed to detain large numbers of marginalised people, such as criminals, political prisoners, enemy aliens or forced labourers.

A plot or scheme with an ultimate objective, such as the seizure of power, murder or assassination.

conspiracy theory
A conspiracy theory is a belief in a complex or grandiose plan, such as a plot to take over the world. It is supported by little or no evidence and often draws on old prejudices or stereotypes.

Darwinism (see Social Darwinism)

death camp
A death camp was facility constructed or utilised during the Holocaust for exterminating people in large numbers and disposing of their remains, usually through cremation.

Deutsche Blutiger (English: ‘Of German blood’)
The term for a full-blooded Aryan, as defined by the Nuremberg Laws.

Diaspora (or Jewish diaspora)
A term, meaning ‘scattering’, which usually refers the expulsion of Jews from their homeland in the Middle East and their subsequent dispersal around the world, particularly throughout Europe.

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(German, ‘special operation groups’) Mobile killing squads formed within the SS and tasked with the extermination of Jews. The Einsatzgruppen generally operated behind advancing Wehrmacht troops, targeting civilian populations.

Eugenics is a pseudo-science that claims to improve human society by manipulating genetic composition, such as selective breeding, racial hygiene and the removal of ‘defective’ individuals. It was a significant element of Nazi social and racial theory.

Euthanasia is the deliberate killing of persons who are sick, disabled or perceived to be genetically ‘damaged’. This policy was employed by the Nazis from 1939.

A mass migration from an area, often because of threats or imminent danger. Exodus is also the name of the second book of the Bible and the Torah, focusing on the Jewish expulsion from Egypt.

Final Solution (German: Die Endlosung)
The Nazi plan, finalised in 1942, to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe.

forced labour
The use of civilian workers without their consent, under duress and without fair payment.

führer (English: ‘leader’)
The title chosen by Adolf Hitler when he assumed all political power in 1934.

Generalgouvernement (English: ‘General Government’)
Berlin’s official term for Nazi-occupied Poland, which was run by a governor (Hans Frank) and the SS.

The Nazi secret police force, formed by Herman Goering in 1934; responsible for investigating and punishing criminal and subversive people and movements.

A confined area of a town or city where an impoverished or marginalised group is forced to live; during the Nazi occupation it referred to walled or fenced areas of cities occupied by Jews.

Holocaust denial
A position that claims the Holocaust did not occur or that it has been grossly exaggerated; Holocaust denial is often the realm of anti-Semites and based on conspiracy theories.

International Jew
A term used to describe Jews who are allegedly engaged in a global conspiracy.

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Jewish question
A Nazi term for the dilemma of what should be done about Germany’s Jewish population.

A minority population emanating from the Middle East and now scattered around the world. Jews are an ethno-religious group, meaning that they share both racial characteristics and religious beliefs.

The religion of Jewish people.

(German for Jews)

A council comprised of Jewish elders; during the Nazi occupation of Europe, the Judenrat acted as a liaison between Nazi officials and Jewish communities, dispensing orders and keeping records.

(German, ‘Jewish sow’) A racist caricature from the Middle Ages, showing one or more Jews performing sexual acts with and/or suckling the teats of a female pig. Intended to be highly offensive to Jews.

A concentration camp inmate who was given supervisory duties by the Nazis, usually in return for some form of preferential treatment. Kapos supervised work details, prisoner musters and roll calls, and some were known for their ruthlessness and brutality.

Jewish dietary laws, determining which foods are kosher (can be eaten) and which cannot.

A derogatory racist term for a Jew, probably originating in the US in the late 1800s.

Ritually correct or faultless; often refers to foods that Jews are permitted to eat.

(German, ‘night of broken glass’) A violent two-day pogrom against Jewish people, businesses and homes, carried out in Germany in early November 1938.

labour camp
(German, arbeitlager) A facility that houses Jews and others, chiefly for the purpose of slave labour.

(German for ‘living space’) Hitler’s belief, shared by other Nazis, that the German-speaking peoples of Europe needed more room; and that this was to be seized from eastern European countries.

act of freeing a person or group from detention; the opening of Nazi death and labour camps in 1945

theory of history and political ideology developed in the 1800s by Karl Marx
Marxian or Marxist: of or relating to Marx or the study of Marxism

a candelabra with multiple branches (seven or nine); a religious artefact and symbol of Judaism

religious, racial or ethnic group that forms a small percentage of the population

the ‘mixing’ of racial or ethnic traits through inter-marriage and sexual relations

(pronounced ‘meesh-linger’) German for ‘mongrel’, in Nazi Germany, a derogatory term for people of mixed ethnicity, with part-Jewish ancestry

National Socialism?
The ideology and values of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP or ‘Nazis’) which was based largely on fascism.

Nazism (see National Socialism)

‘Night and Fog’
Nazi euphemism used to describe the summary execution of political agitators or opponents in occupied Europe; they were said to have disappeared into the “Night and Fog of Germany”

Nuremberg Laws
Two laws announced by the Nazis at a rally in Nuremberg in 1935; the laws imposed several restrictions on Jews, such as marriage and sexual relationships with non-Jews

A pseudo-science that claims a person’s character, personality or intelligence can be ascertained by the size, shape and features of their skull

A racially-motivated riot or protest, where acts of violence are perpetrated against Jews.

Words, documents, images or actions intended to persuade, often in a misleading way.

Protocols of Zion (or The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion)
A book purporting to contain a documentary account of a meeting of powerful Jews, as they discuss strategies for engineering a Jewish takeover of the world. The Protocols of Zion is a forgery, created by government agents in Russia sometime around 1903.

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The German parliament.

The Nazi policy of forcibly relocating Jews and other minorities, to be settled in less desirable areas. In time it became a euphemism for relocating Jews to concentration or labour camps.

ritual murder
Another term for alleged Jewish killings of Christians, suggested by the blood libel.

RSHA (or Reichssicherheitshauptamt)
The Reich Main Security Office, the main Nazi agency responsible for police and security services. Led by Heinrich Himmler, the RSHA was tasked with identifying and dealing with ‘enemies of the Reich’, including Jews. It also oversaw einsatzgruppen operations in occupied territories.

SA (or Sturmabteilung, Brownshirts or Stormtroopers)
The first Nazi paramilitary group, formed 1919 to battle political opponents. Though its power decreased after 1934, the SA was involved in anti-Jewish campaigns, boycotts and propaganda.

A person or group that is blamed for problems they did not cause.

secret police
An organisation controlled by a party and/or government that engages in investigation, espionage and surveillance in order to identify and eliminate opposition

An archaic term used to describe the people of south Asia, the Middle East and northern Africa.

In the Holocaust, the process where camp inmates were sorted by SS doctors into two groups: those fit to work and those destined to be executed.

The Hebrew term for the Holocaust, meaning ‘calamity’.

Social Darwinism
The application of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ to society. Social Darwinists believe that stronger races or groups prosper, while weaker races or groups are either subjugated or die out.

Sonderkommando (German for ‘special brigades’)
Groups of Jewish concentration camp inmates tasked with moving corpses and disposing of them in crematoria. They performed this task either for extra rations or under duress.

special treatment (German: Sonderbehandlung)
A euphemism for the extermination of prisoners, used by SS officials.

SS (or Schutzstaffel)
The Nazi paramilitary force, led by Heinrich Himmler and restricted to Aryan soldiers of high standing and fitness. The SS was responsible for state security, some military operations and managing occupied territories during World War II.

Star of David
Two triangles, usually blue, overlapping to form a six-pointed star; a historical symbol of Judaism.

the removal of one’s ovaries, testicles or other organs to prevent reproduction

summary execution
The killing of an individual carried out at the order of a military officer, usually without a trial or hearing.

swastika (also Hakenkreuz)
A rotated cross with bent arms. Originally a religious symbol, the swastika was adapted by Hitler using the traditional colours of imperial Germany (red, black and white) and became the most visible emblem of Nazism.

Third Reich
The term used by Nazi leaders to describe the revival of German power under their rule; the third apex of German power, after the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806) and Imperial Germany (1871-1918)

Totenkopfverbane (German for ‘Death’s Head Units‘)
The division of the SS responsible for organising, managing and staffing concentration camps, including the death camps.

(German, ‘sub-men’ or ‘sub-human’) Persons of inferior race, unclean or uncivilised habits.

Wandering Jew (German, ‘Ahasuerus‘)
A medieval legend about a Jew who was forced to wander the Earth because he had taunted Jesus Christ prior to his execution. It supported anti-Semitic arguments about the Jews being a cursed people, doomed to live forever without a homeland.

Wannsee Conference
A meeting of high-ranking Nazi officials in Berlin in January 1942, at which orders were given to initiate the ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘Jewish question’.

war crimes
Acts of excessive and unnecessary violence during wartime, such as the killing of civilians and prisoners-of-war.

The regular German army under the Nazis. For the most part the Wehrmacht was focused on military goals and did not participate in sustained campaigns against Jews or civilians.

A small skullcap worn by Jewish males.

A Jewish language derived from Hebrew and Aramaic that evolved in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Zyklon-B (German for ‘Cyclone B’)
The brand name of a cyanide-based pesticide, used by the Nazis to murder more than one million Jews in the death camps.