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.
A social welfare agency established by SS leader Himmler, to provide financial support to unmarried Aryan mothers.
(German, ‘living space’) The theory, held by Hitler and other Nazis, that the German-speaking Aryan people of Europe needed more territory to survive and prosper. This land was to be seized from eastern European countries occupied by ‘lesser races’.
(German, ‘life unworthy of life’) A term used to describe the existence of those with mental or physical disabilities. It was later used as a justification for euthanasia.
The German air force, formed in 1935 and under the command of Hermann Goering.
Marxism (see communism)
In Nazi ideology, the ‘master race’ refers to racially pure Aryans, particularly fair skinned, fair haired Nordic people. They considered this race to be physically stronger and more culturally advanced than other European racial groups.
(German, ‘My Struggle’) Hitler’s autobiography and political manifesto, which was written in prison and published in 1924. One of the few detailed expressions of Nazi ideology, it contains Hitler’s views on politics, society and race.
(German, ‘mongrel’) A person defined as mixed-race by the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. A mischlinge had one or two German grandparents but did not identify as a member of the Jewish religion.
A political value which holds that the interests, welfare and prosperity of one’s country comes before all else. Nationalists traditionally argue for greater national strength, unity and autonomy, free from international restrictions or obstacles.
National Socialism (also Nazism)
The ideas and values of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). As an ideology it was poorly defined, vaguely outlined in the NSDAP’s 25 Points (1920) and Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1924).
(Abbreviated German, Nationalsozialistische) Describes any member, element or attribute of the NSDAP. The term ‘Nazi’ was coined by the German press and used widely from the mid-1930s, but was despised by most within the party.
Nazism (see National Socialism)
Night of the Long Knives
A Nazi Party internal purge of June-July 1934, which saw dozens of individuals arrested, murdered or forced to commit suicide. The purge eliminated SA commander Ernst Rohm and led to the disempowering of the SA.
The informal name for two racial laws introduced by Hitler in September 1935. The Nuremberg Laws effectively withdrew the citizenship of German Jews and laid the foundation for the removal of their other rights.
A group or organisation with some of the attributes of a military force, such as ranks, uniforms and training.
The most junior division of the Nazi youth movement, for boys aged 6-10.
The elected head of state in a republic. In Germany, the president appointed the chancellor and his ministers.
Words, documents, images or actions intended to persuade, often in an emotive or misleading way.
German term for a military or paramilitary coup; an attempt to overthrow and replace a government.
Reichsarbeitdienst (or RAD)
(German, ‘National Labour Service’) Nazi government department responsible for organising public works programs, such as the construction of autobahns.
(German, ‘national church’) A proposed state church in line with Nazi ideology, mooted by the pro-Nazi Protestant faction Deutsche Kristen.
The German national assembly, formed in 1919. The Reichstag was formed by elections using proportional voting, so had a large number of very small parties – while no single party ever held an absolute majority. This made passing laws difficult and led to nine different elections during the Weimar period (1919-33).
(German, ‘nation defence’) The German armed forces from 1919 to 1935. An influential factor on politics during this period, despite being limited in size by the Versailles treaty. The Reichswehr consisted of the Reichsheer (army) and Reichsmarine (navy).
Payments intended to cover or compensate for property damage and loss of life incurred in wartime.
Romany (or Roma, sometimes ‘Gypsies‘)
Racial group that resided mostly in eastern Europe; some Romany lived as nomads or itinerants in Germany.
SA (see Sturmabteilung)
Schutzstaffel (or SS)
A Nazi paramilitary force, formed in 1925 as a small bodyguard unit then later expanded under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler. Under Himmler’s rule the SS adopted strict racial and character-based entry requirements, and intensive military discipline.
Sicherheitsdienst (or SD)
Intelligence-gathering and security division of the SS, responsible for locating enemies of the Nazi regime.
Social Democratic Party (or SPD)
The largest political party in Germany for much of the Weimar period, the SPD was a moderate socialist party that rejected communist revolution but aimed to improve conditions for German workers.
A political ideology or system of government that promises to protect and improve the rights and conditions of working classes.
(German, ‘special path’) A historiographical perspective of German history and the origins of Nazism. Sonderweg historians believe that German national development has followed a unique course, shaped by authoritarianism, nationalism and militarism. They believe the Nazis were the logical end result of this development, rather than being a historical ‘accident’.
SS (see Schutzstaffel)
The belief that German defeat in World War I was due to weak and treacherous politicians and/or a conspiracy.
Sturmabteilung (also SA, Brown-Shirts or Storm-Troopers)
The largest Nazi paramilitary branch, formed in 1919 to protect early party meetings and wage street battles with political opponents. The SA grew rapidly in the early 1930s, to as many as 4.5 million men by 1934. The arrest and execution of its leaders in July 1934 led to the downsizing and disempowering of the SA.
swastika (also Hakenkrauz)
A rotated cross with bent arms, commonly used as a religious symbol or ‘good luck’ motif. It was adopted by Hitler and used as an emblem of the NSDAP. The black swastika on a red and white background employed the traditional colours of Imperial Germany.
A Jewish temple and place of worship.
(German, ‘third empire’ or ‘third kingdom’) The Nazi vision for a revived German empire.
A socio-political system where there are few or no limits on the power of the government. Because of this it can regulate or control most aspects of society, including education, the press and the legal system.
The Nazi Party’s ideological manifesto proclaimed in February 1920. The Twenty-Five Points outlined the party’s political ideas, values and objectives, though some of these were either very broad or quite vague.
German for ‘superior men’. A phrase invented by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, it was adapted and used by the Nazis to describe members of the Aryan ‘master race’.
German for ‘inferior men’. A phrase from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, adapted and used by the Nazis to describe non-Aryans.
(German, ‘of the people’) A collective term for several German groups active in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The volkisch movement, which strongly influenced Nazi ideas, was based on traditional and conservative values.
(German, ‘people’s community’) A term used during World War I to bridge the gap between German classes, regions and interests, and thus improve national and social unity. It was later adopted by the Nazis and used heavily in rhetoric and propaganda.
The armed forces of Nazi Germany between 1935-45, consisting of the Heer, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe.
A city in Germany that lent its name to the German government of 1919-1933. The national government had relocated to Weimar in 1919, due to outbreaks of violence in Berlin; while there it passed a new constitution, creating a liberal democratic German republic.