Nazi Germany glossary A-K

This Nazi Germany glossary contains words, terms and concepts relevant to the study of Nazism and Germany between 1918 and 1939. It has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors.

Abwehr (pronounced ‘arb-vair‘)
The Nazi information-gathering and military intelligence agency, formed in 1921 and later absorbed into the Wehrmacht. The Abwehr was important to the Nazi war effort – but many of its officers were involved in plots and conspiracies against Hitler.

Aktion T4
The Nazi codename for their euthanasia program, authorised by Hitler in September 1939 and started soon after. The main targets of Aktion T4 were the physically and mentally disabled.

(German, ‘linking’) In the context of the 1930s, the proposed unification of Germany and Austria. This had been specifically prohibited by the Versailles treaty, however, the rising Nazi movement within Austria allowed Hitler to proceed with unification in 1938.

Any ideas or actions which promote hatred of Jewish people, on the basis of their race. Anti-Semitism was the cornerstone of Nazi racial policy, which considered Jews to be both untermensch and at the centre of a vast global conspiracy to undermine national governments.

The act of giving hostile leaders or governments what they want in order to limit tension and/or prevent conflict. Often used with regard to international acceptance of the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

In Nazi racial policy, a northern European and Scandinavian ethnic group, comprised mostly of people with fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes.

Aryan certificate
A government-approved document certifying one’s bloodline and pure Aryan heritage. An Aryan certificate was required before starting certain types of employment. There were different types and levels of Aryan certificate, for example, NSDAP members were required to show evidence of their family tree back to at least 1800.

Aryan paragraph
A paragraph or clause inserted into employment contracts which excluded non-Aryans – particularly Jews – from accepting jobs. These clauses were used around Europe in the 1800s but they increased markedly under the Nazis.

The concept of economic self-sufficiency, where a nation is able to locate, harvest or produce whatever material it needs, without relying on foreign imports. Autarky was a long-term objective of the Nazis, though it was never achieved.

Describes a government that makes decisions without consultation or equivocation, and can wield considerable power without being answerable to others.

A public freeway. A network of autobahns was constructed by the Nazis in the mid-1930s as a public work scheme to reduce unemployment.

(German, ‘block leader’) A low-level Nazi Party official, responsible for supervision, reporting, propaganda distribution and ‘political education’ of 20-60 houses.

(German, ‘blood order’) A Nazi Party medal awarded to those who had been participants in the party’s failed Munich putsch of 1923.

Blut und Boden
(German, ‘blood and soil’) A slogan which emphasised German ethnicity and ties to the land. It was used by the Nazis to appeal to conservative Germans, particularly farmers.

A campaign of refusing to trade with particular people or businesses, either to press a political point or to cause economic suffering.

Brownshirts (see SA)

Bund Deutscher Madel (or BDM)
(German, ‘League of German Maidens’) A Nazi-run youth group for girls aged 14-18, focusing on ‘feminine’ qualities and skill, health, beauty, domestic skills and Nazi ideology.

The head of government in Germany during the Weimar and early Nazi period (1919-34). Broadly equivalent to a prime minister in other systems, the chancellor was appointed – and dismissed – by the Reich president.

Any government which is formed by an alignment or agreement between two or more political parties, often so they hold a majority in the legislature.

communism (also Marxism)
A political ideology that seeks to create a society without classes or gross economic inequalities. Communism was prominent in Europe before, during and after World War I. There was a communist government in Russia from 1917 and several attempted communist revolutions across Europe.

concentration camp
A facility where large numbers of people are concentrated and detained, either as punishment or to withdraw them from the civilian population. The Nazis constructed the first concentration camps at Dachau and Oranienburg in 1933, primarily to house political prisoners.

Any law, order or instruction handed down by a leader or a government in an arbitrary fashion.

Deutsche Arbeitsfront or DAF
(German, ‘German Labour Front’) A Nazi-run workers’ association, created by the government in 1933 to replace trade unions. Led by Robert Ley, the DAF became the Nazis’ main agency for managing and deploying labour.

(German, ‘of German blood’) The term for a fully Aryan German citizen, as defined by the Nuremberg Laws.

Dolchstosslegende (see stab-in-the-back)

emergency powers
Describes extraordinary and expansive powers, such as the authority to rule by decree or to suspend legal and civil rights, granted to national leaders to deal with a crisis or national threat.

Enabling Act
A law passed by the Reichstag in March 1933, giving Hitler extensive emergency powers for five years. This act effectively established the Nazi dictatorship, removing constitutional limits on Hitler’s authority.

(German, ‘substitute’) An alternative resource or commodity, used in place of imported goods. Hitler encouraged the production and sale of ersatz goods to reduce imports and achieve autarky.

A late 19th century and early 20th century movement, popular with many scientists and writers. Eugenicists advocated the use of sterilisation, euthanasia and other forms of genetic cleansing, in order to ease economic burdens and produce social benefits.

The practice of killing disabled or mentally deficient patients, either to end their personal suffering or to ease the social and economic burden on their families and the state.

A political ideology which emerged in Italy during World War I, fascism was based on authoritarian leadership, state power, militarism, a partly-managed economy and hostility toward both capitalism and socialism.

(German, ‘leader’) A title employed by Adolf Hitler, who became both fuhrer of the NSDAP (1921) and then fuhrer of Germany (1934).

(German, ‘leader principle’) A component of Nazi ideology, it held that all decision-making power belonged to Hitler and was utilised by him for the benefit of the party, the state and the German people.

A historiographical perspective of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. In contrast to intentionalists, functionalist historians argue that Hitler and the Nazis had no long-term plan; their decision-making was spontaneous, haphazard and made to fit particular circumstances – rather than being part of a ‘master plan’.

(German, ‘shire leader’) The highest-ranking NSDAP member in the newly-reorganised German states. The Gauleiters ruled in a similar fashion to civilian governors, though with fewer restraints on their power.

(Abbreviated German, Geheime Staatspolizei) The Nazi state secret police, formed by Hermann Goering in 1933 and later passed to Heinrich Himmler and the SS. The Gestapo were mainly responsible for investigating and dealing with opposition to the regime, which it did using considerable extra-legal powers.

(German, ‘forced co-ordination) The term used to describe the process of re-forming Germany into a ‘Nazi society’: imposing Nazi ideology and values, removing opposition and achieving Nazi social objectives.

Great Depression
A long period of economic crisis between 1929 and World War II, marked by over-production, falling prices, stockmarket collapses, company and bank closures and high unemployment. The Great Depression had particularly severe effects on Germany, where almost one-third of workers were unemployed by 1932.

gypsies (see Romany)

The name of the German army after 1935.

Hitler Jugend
(German, ‘Hitler Youth’) Nazi-run organisation for boys aged between 14 and 18. It was organised by adult NSDAP members, who taught survival skills, paramilitary training as well as Nazi ideology and values.

Hitler Youth (see Hitler Jugend)

A historiographical perspective of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, which argues that Hitler and the Nazi Party acted with a ‘master plan’. All decisions were made with pre-conceived outcomes in mind.

Iron Cross
A German award for military bravery.

Jehovah’s Witnesses
A Christian denomination persecuted by the Nazis during the 1930s because of their refusal to swear allegiance to the regime or undertake military service. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses were detained in concentration camps.

(In German, Juden) An ethnoreligious group emanating from the Middle East and scattered across the world. By 1939 there were around 8.5 million Jews in Europe, 210,000 of them in Germany.

The religion of Jewish people. Judaism is a monotheistic (one God) faith and shares its origins with both Christianity and Islam.

Juden (see Jews)

(German, ‘Young Maidens’ League’) A Nazi-run youth group for girls aged 10-14, a precursor to the Bund Deutsche Madel.

(German, ‘young people’). A Nazi-run youth group for boys aged 10-14. After graduating from the Jungvolk, boys were eligible to join the Hitler Youth.

The land-owning aristocracy of Prussia, heavily represented in German government and military command. President Paul von Hindenburg was a member of the Junker elite.

Kinder, Kuche, Kirche
(German, ‘children, kitchen, church’) A common German expression from around 1900, describing the three areas that women should only concern themselves with, according to traditionalists. It was not invented by the Nazis but was nevertheless used to support their values and policies relating to women.

Kraft durche Freude
(German, ‘Strength through joy’) A recreational and leisure scheme run by the DAF for German workers, offering access to facilities and subsidised holidays.

The name of the German navy under the Nazi regime; a part of the Wehrmacht.

(German, ‘night of broken glass’) The Nazi-led persecution of Jews across Germany in November 1938, involving violence, property damage and detention of individuals.

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