Glossary of Commonly Used Terms

Aktion (pl. Aktionen)
German word meaning “campaign” or “mission.” Used by Nazi officials to refer to activities aimed at annihilating the Jewish population of Europe.

Aktion Reinhard
The code name for the operation to annihilate the Jews of the Generalgouvernment, an area of eastern Poland occupied by Nazi Germany. To facilitate the operation, three death camps (or killing centers) were constructed: Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. The Aktion began in March 1942 and ended in November 1943; at least 2 million Jews were murdered during this time.

Perceived or actual separation from others or from meaningful activity.

Allies, Allied Powers
Refers to France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States; the four major opponents of the Axis Powers: Germany, Italy and Japan.

German word meaning “annexation,” referring to the annexation of Austria by Germany on March 13, 1938.

Acts or sentiments of hostility or prejudice towards the Jewish people. Although the term “anti-Semitism” was coined in Germany during the second half of the 19th century, the hatred of Jews had existed since Antiquity. Under the Nazis, anti-Semitism was transformed from a political or religious concept into a racial one.

Roll call in the concentration, labor and death camps.

Roll call area in the concentration, labor and death camps.

“Arbeit macht frei”
German for “work will make you free.” These words were placed on the gates of numerous concentration camps as a tactic of psychological deception.

Calling a halt to armed hostilities.

A linguistic term coined during the 19th century referring to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. The term came to be associated with those who spoke those languages and was construed by German pseudo-scientists to refer to a “master race.” This concept became a cornerstone of Nazi ideology.

The expropriation of Jewish businesses and property by German authorities and their transfer to “Aryan” ownership or control.

To absorb or become alike. For example, both the German and the Dutch Jews became assimilated into the non-Jewish culture around them.

A cruel or brutal act.

An extermination camp (or killing center) near the village of Oswiecim, in Upper Silesia, Poland. It was established on April 27, 1940 and became an extermination camp in early 1942. The camp complex consisted of three areas: Auschwitz I, the main camp; Auschwitz II (Birkenau), the extermination camp; Auschwitz III (Monowitz or Buna), the IG Farben labor camp; in addition to least 45 satellite camps. It is estimated that 1.1 people died at Auschwitz:  1 million Jews; 70,000-75,000 thousand Poles; 21,000 Gypsies; 15,000 Soviet POW’s and 10,000-15,000 others. The camp was liberated by the advancing Red Army on January 27, 1945.

Axis Powers
Refers to Germany, Italy and Japan – the opponents of the Allied Powers: France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States.

Babi Yar
A ravine near Kiev, Ukraine, where around 33,800 Jews were murdered on September 29 and 30, 1941. By the end of 1941, more than 100,000 people (Jews, Roma, Ukrainian Nationalists and Soviet POW’s) had been murdered there.

Beer Hall Putsch
Hitler’s attempt to overthrow the German government in Munich on November 9, 1923. His bid for power miserably failed, resulting in a brief prison sentence during which he wrote Mein Kampf.

One of three extermination camps (or killing centers) in eastern Poland, northwest of Lvov. It began operating on March 17, 1942 and was closed at the end of June 1943. Between 430,000 and 500,000 Jews are estimated to have been murdered at Belzec, there were very few survivors from this camp.

A concentration camp near Hannover, Germany, was opened on August 2, 1943. Conditions there were perhaps the worst in the entire concentration camp system. It was liberated by the British on April 15, 1945 and served as a Displaced Persons camp for five years after the war was over.

Blood Libel
An anti-Semitic myth falsely accusing Jews of murdering Christians and using their blood for ritualistic purposes, for example, using blood in making matsot at Passover.

To refuse to do business or associate with a specific group. The Nazis sponsored boycotts of Jewish businesses and attempted to prevent Germans from buying from or selling to Jewish merchants.

A concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, it was opened on July 15, 1937. Until 1943, its prisoners largely consisted of German criminals before an influx of Jews began to arrive, primarily from the east. Many prisoners were provided to local German companies as slave labor. The camp was liberated by the Americans on April 11, 1945.

A death camp in central Poland near the village of Chelmno nad Nerem . It was opened on December 8, 1941 and holds the distinction of being the first killing center where Jews were murdered with poison gas on a large scale. An estimated 330,000 people were murdered at Chelmno before the camp was closed in August 1944.

To work jointly or cooperate. In the context of war, to collaborate usually means to work with the enemy.

The first concentration camp in Germany, it was established near Munich on March 20, 1933. It was the “model camp” and initially held political prisoners and other enemies of the Nazi regime before receiving Jewish prisoners after Kristallnacht. Approximately 507,000 people were murdered at Dachau before its liberation by the Americans on April 29, 1945.

Death Marches
Forced marches of prisoners over great distances. As the Soviets advanced westward throughout 1944, German authorities sent concentration camp inmates on forced marches towards Germany to both cover up their crimes and attempt to continue their mass murder operations. Between the summer of 1944 and the end of WWII, an estimated 250,000 people died as a result of the harsh conditions of the death marches.

To deport a person is to remove them from an area. During the Holocaust, Jews were forced from their homes under the guise of “resettlement” and deported to various ghettos and concentration camps.

Displaced Person (DP)
A person who was unable or unwilling to return to his or her native land after WWII (a stateless person). There were an estimated 6.34 million DP’s (many of them Jews) in the zones of Allied occupation after the war.

Displaced Person Camp (DP Camp)
Camps where displaced persons were kept after WWII. They operated in Allied occupation zones (West Germany, France, Italy and Belgium) from 1945 until 1957, several at the sites of former concentration camps. Of an estimated 2 million DP’s in the camps, around 200,000 were Jews.

To discriminate can mean to make a distinction, but it also means to act on the basis of prejudice.

German word meaning “special task force”. The four mobile units of the Security Police and SS Security Service (called A, B, C and D) that followed the German army into the Soviet Union after the invasion of June 1941 for "special missions in occupied territory". Their charge was to kill all Jews, as well as Soviet commissars and "mental defectives." They were supported by units of the uniformed German Order Police and also used local Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian volunteers for the killings. The victims were shot and buried in mass graves. At least 1.3 million Jews were killed in this manner.

A detachment of an Einstazgruppe.

Branch of science concerned with improving hereditary qualities. Under the Nazis, this meant removing those deemed “unfit” from the general population in order to maintain a “purer” society. (see Euthanasia and T-4)

To use a more pleasant sounding word to describe something unpleasant or frightening. The Nazis made extensive use of euphemisms, for example, calling deportation “resettlement” and murder “evacuation.”

The original meaning of this term is a quick and painless death for the terminally ill. However, euthanasia under the Nazis took on quite a different meaning: medical murder of those deemed mentally or physically unfit. This order was later applied to Jews.

Final Solution
(German, Endlösung) A euphemism for the Germans’ plan to murder the Jewish population of Europe.

Gas Chambers
A construction unit made up of an antechamber, gas chamber, and crematorium. Victims, told that they were to take a shower, undressed in the antechamber and then moved into a large room with shower heads in the ceiling. The door to the "shower room" was hermetically sealed and poisonous Zyklon B gas was released from the shower heads, asphyxiating them. When all the victims were dead, the corpses were taken to a crematorium and burned. This method of disposal hid the evidence of the crime and was efficient and cheap.

German for “general government,” the German civilian government of German occupied Poland with its headquarters in Krakow.

The deliberate murder of an ethnic, religious, racial, or national group. The term was first coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who lost 72 of the 74 members of his family in the Holocaust, in 1944 to describe the Nazis' systematic annihilation of the Jews of Europe.  A portmaneau of the Greek genos (family, tribe, race) and Latin caedere (to kill, cut down), Lemkin's specifc definiton was "the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group."

German Workers’ Party
(German, Deutsche Arbeiter Partei) The forerunner of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

(German, Geheime Staatspolizei) The Nazi Secret State Police. Established in Prussia in 1933, its power spread throughout Germany after 1936 when it was incorporated into the SS. Its purpose was to maintain security and arrest actual and perceived enemies of the Nazis. In German-occupied territories they held the role of “political police” and were instrumental in carrying out the Holocaust.

The Nazis revived the medieval Italian term "ghetto," designating an area in which only Jews lived, to describe their own compulsory Jewish quarters. Non-Jews were evicted from these sections, and Jews living in the surrounding areas were forced to live there. Established mostly in Eastern Europe (in Lodz, Warsaw, Vilna, Riga and Minsk, for example), the ghettos quickly became overcrowded. Food was scarce and sanitation poor; disease and starvation killed hundreds daily. These ghettos served as collection centers and facilitated subsequent deportations to the death camps.

Greater Germany
Territory comprising Germany, Austria, the Sudetenland, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Alsace-Lorraine, Danzig, Memel, West Prussia, Upper Silesia and the Warthegau.

German word for “prisoner.” A concentration camp inmate.

Hitler Youth
(German, Hitler Jugend or HJ). Nazi youth organization for boys under the age of 18. The young men were indoctrinated to National Socialist ideology and anti-Semitic thought while undergoing physical training essentially preparing them for military service. After March 25, 1939 membership in the HJ was compulsory for all boys over the age of 10.

A word used to describe the Nazis’ destruction of European Jewry. The word stems from the Ancient Greek word holokauston, meaning “a [usually animal] sacrifice completely consumed by fire” and is used in the Septuagint in 1 Samuel 7:9 in a passage that translates to “a whole burnt offering to the LORD.”

I.G. Farben
A German conglomerate of eight chemical companies, including BASF, Bayer, and Hoechst, that made extensive use of slave labor. In close partnership with Hitler, I. G. Farben established factories near concentration camps to take advantage of the large pools of forced laborers. Its Buna works near Auschwitz manufactured synthetic rubber from coal or gasoline. I. G. Farben was an important contributor to Hitler's rearming of Germany and the war effort.

IKL (Inspektor der Konzentrationslager)
German, “Inspector of concentration camps.”

Jewish Police
(German, Jüdische Ordnungsdienst) Jewish police in the ghettos and other Jewish communities under Nazi control. Were attached to the Judenrat.

(German, Jewish council) Jewish councils set up by the Germans in towns and cities throughout occupied Europe; they essentially functioned as the government of the Jewish communities under Nazi control. The Germans used the Judenräte as a link to the Jewish community and a means to implement the Holocaust by ordering them to furnish forced laborers, make deportation quotas and comply with Nazi policy, though the level of compliance varied.

(Italian, head). The leader of a block or barrack in a concentration camp.

(German, transport of children) Successful transports of 9,354 Jewish children from Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic to England before September 1, 1939.

KL or KZ (Konzentrationslager)
German abbreviation for “concentration camp”

(German, work detail) Slave labor detail.

(German, Kriminalpolizei) The Criminal Police. They occasionally supported the Gestapo in operations against Jews.

(German, night of broken glass) Pogroms carried out in Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland on November 9 and 10, 1938. Thousands of synagogues were desecrated and Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized and looted. Many Jews were beaten and killed, and around 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

A German family firm that manufactured armaments for the Nazis; they made extensive use of slave labor in its factories and operated a facility at Auschwitz.

(German, camp) Reference to concentration camp.

(German, living space) Refers to the Nazi belief that the German people had a right to retake former German-controlled areas of Europe and Slavic-controlled territories in order to satisfy the needs of the “Aryan” race.

Takeover of the concentration camps by American, British, French or Soviet forces. A soldier who was present at or just after liberation is known as a liberator.

(German, armed air wing) The German air force during World War II.

Death camp (or killing center) located outside of Lublin, Poland. It was opened on July 21, 1941 as a camp for Soviet POWs and became a concentration camp for Jews in April 1943. The camp had seven gas chambers as well as gas vans and gallows for execution. It was the first camp to be liberated when the Red Army reached it on July 23, 1944.

A labor and concentration camp established near Linz, Austria in 1938, it had the highest inmate death rate in the entire camp system.  The camp was infamous also for its quarry where many inmates were worked to death or pushed over its edge. It was the last of the western European camps to be liberated by the Americans on May 5, 1945.

Mein Kampf
(German, my struggle) Hitler’s autobiography written in 1924 while he was in prison for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch the previous year. In this book he laid out his entire plan for the future of Germany and Europe. In it he also blamed the Jews for Germany’s suffering and loss in WWI and mentions the mass murder of Jews.

(German, hybrid, half-breed) Term applied primarily to children of Jewish-Christian intermarriage. In 1935 there were approximately 350,000 Mischlinge. Though spared at first, they would ultimately suffer the same fate as the rest of Europe’s Jews.

Nacht und Nebel
"Night and Fog," the code name given to the decree of December 12, 1941, by the German High Command of the Armed Forces which directed that persons in occupied territories guilty of activities against Germany 's armed forces were to be deported to Germany for trial by special courts and held in concentration camps.

National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP)
(German, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei) Colloquially known as the Nazi party, led by Adolf Hitler. In 1919, Hitler was sent as a spy by the army to monitor the party’s (at the time known as the German Workers’ Party) activities but became its chairman of propaganda and its leader not long afterward. By 1932 it was the largest German political party and ultimately became the harbinger of the Holocaust after Hitler took power on January 30, 1933.

Night of the Long Knives
Hitler’s order to purge the leadership of the SA and other actual or perceived opponents within the Nazi party on June 30, 1934.

Abbreviation for National Socialist.

Nuremberg Laws
A series of anti-Jewish laws first passed on September 15, 1935. These laws defined who was a Jew, stripped Jews of German citizenship and forbade intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.

Nuremberg Trials
Generally refers to the trial of 22 major Nazi war criminals held from November 20, 1945 until October 1946 at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany.

Underground fighters against Nazi occupation forces, primarily operating in forests. There also was a Jewish partisan movement in Belarus, Lithuania and Poland.

(Russian, devastation) Violent riots against Jews, especially in eastern Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries. While usually spontaneous attacks, they were nonetheless perpetrated out of anti-Semitic fervor. False rumors, such as blood libels, were often circulated to create trouble. The authorities typically turned a blind eye.

Race Defilement
(German, Rassenschande) A relationship between a Jew and an Aryan; it was forbidden by the Nuremberg Laws and punishable by death.

German word for “empire.”

Reich Main Security Office
(German, Reichsicherheitshauptamt) The German national central security department formed in 1939 by combining the existing Security Police (the Gestapo and Kripo) and the SD. It was the central office of the Supreme Command of the SS and the National Ministry of the Interior.

Righteous Gentiles
Non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

SA (Sturmabteilung)
(German: (lit.) attack department, storm troopers) Known as the “brown shirts,” a Nazi paramilitary organization established ca. 1920 and led by Ernst Röhm. They were well-known for their brutality against Communists and other political opponents of Hitler during the 1920’s and early 1930’s while attaining a membership of 4.5 million. After Hitler came to power the SA leadership was purged in the Night of the Long Knives and the organization was thereafter relegated to a minor status.

SD (Sicherheitsdienst)
The German Security Service, which included the Gestapo, it served as the intelligence gathering arm of the SS.

(German, Sicherheitspolizei) The Security Police consisting of the Gestapo and the Kripo, it was absorbed in to the Reich Main Security Office in 1939.

Death camp (or killing center) near Wlodawa in eastern Poland. It was built beginning in March 1942 and operated until an inmate revolt forced its closing on October 14, 1943. After the revolt the Nazis destroyed the camp; around 250,000 Jews were murdered by gassing at Sobibor.

“Special Treatment”
(German, Sonderbehandlung) German euphemism denoting the murder of Jewish men, women and children. Einsatzgruppen reports stated that Jews had received “special treatment” meaning that they had been killed and the cause of death of Jews who were gassed at Auschwitz was also listed as “SB.”

Star of David
(Hebrew, Magen David) Also known as the Shield of David. A longtime symbol of Judaism, the Nazis used it on badges to identify Jews.

SS (Schutzstaffel)
(German, protective squad) Nazi paramilitary organization founded in 1925 as its security force. It grew into a enormous organization consisting of the Gestapo, Kripo, Waffen-SS and Totenverbände and all police was placed under SS control in 1936. Concentration camp guards were members of the SS and it was instrumental in carrying out the Holocaust.

(German, Staatspolizei) The State Police.

Tiergartenstrasse 4, the acronym for the headquarters of Germany’s euthanasia program.

Third Reich
(German, Drittes Reich) Name Hitler gave to his empire. The first Reich was the Holy Roman Empire and the second Reich united Germany under Bismarck. Hitler believed that the third Reich would last 1,000 years.

(German, Death’s Head Brigades) Division of the SS responsible for guarding concentration camps.

Death camp (or killing center) located near the Polish town of Malkinia. A penal camp was established here in 1941 before the death camp which operated from July 22, 1942 until August 1943. Approximately 870,000 Jews were murdered at Treblinka before an insurrection on August 2, 1943.

(German, people) This word was used as a racial term throughout the Nazi period to denote those belonging to the German nation.

(German, ethnic Germans) Ethnic Germans living outside Germany proper, especially in eastern Europe.

Militarized units of the SS. The Waffen-SS participated in many German military operations and also assisted the Einsatzgruppen, ran the Majdanek death camp and some members were concentration camp guards.

Wannsee Conference
A meeting held at a villa in Wannsee, Germany (near Berlin) on January 20, 1942 to discuss the “final solution to the Jewish question.” It was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich and attended by a total of 18 civilian and military leaders. The conference established the administrative apparatus for carrying out the Holocaust.

The German army during World War II

Weimar Republic
Term used to refer to Germany’s government following World War I. (It’s constitutional convention was in Weimar, Germany, hence the name.)

(Yiddish) The anniversary of the death of a loved one. A candle is lit in memory of the departed and the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, is recited.

Zyklon B
The commercial name for hydrogen cyanide tablets used first in the T-4 program and then at Auschwitz and other death camps. The poison was produced by Degesch, an I.G. Farben subsidy. Zyklon B was delivered in pellet form, when the pellets were exposed to air, they dissolved into gas and asphyxiated those nearby in minutes.


Doerr, Karen. Nazi-Deutsch/Nazi German: An English Lexicon to the Language of the Third Reich. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Edited by Israel Gutman. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1990.
Epstein, Eric Joseph and Rosen, Phillip. Dictionary of the Holocaust. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Edited for the Holocaust Memorial Center by Joshua Arsenault.


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