Holocaust Glossary

A Holocaust survivor showing his tattooed number.
93-year-old Auschwitz survivor Mr. Leon Greenman, prison number 98288, displays his number tattoo on December 9, 2004 at the Jewish Museum in London, England. (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

When studying the Holocaust, one comes across numerous terms in many different languages. This Holocaust glossary is here to help you understand these terms.

Aktion
Term used for any non-military campaign to further Nazi ideals of race, but most often referred to the assembly and deportation of Jews to concentration or death camps.


"Operation Harvest Festival" (German) - Code name for the liquidation and mass killings of the remaining Jews in the Lublin area that occurred on November 3, 1943.

An estimated 42,000 people were shot while loud music was played to drown out the shootings. Last Aktion of Aktion Reinhard.

Aktion Reinhard
Code name for the annihilation of European Jewry. Named after Reinhard Heydrich.

Aktion T-4
Code name for the Nazi's Euthanasia Program. Name taken from the Reich Chancellery building's address (Tiergarten Strasse 4).

Aliya
"immigration" (Hebrew) - Jewish immigration into Palestine (later, Israel) through official channels.

Aliya Bet
"illegal immigration" (Hebrew) - Jewish immigration into Palestine (later, Israel) without the official immigration certificate nor with British approval - most often by ship. During the Third Reich, Zionist movements set up organizations to plan and implement these flights from Europe, such as Exodus 1947.

Anschluss
"linkage" (German) - German annexation of Austria on March 13, 1938.

Anti-Semitism
Prejudice against Jews.

Appell
"roll call" (German) - Within the camps, inmates were forced to stand at attention for hours at least twice a day while they were counted.

This was always carried out no matter what the weather and often lasted for hours. Often accompanied by beatings and punishments.

Appellplatz
"place for roll call" (German) - Location within the camps where the Appell was carried out.

Arbeit Macht Frei
"work makes one free" - A sign placed by Rudolf Höss over the gates of Auschwitz I.

Asocial
One of several categories of people targeted by the Nazi regime. People in this category included homosexuals, prostitutes, Gypsies (Roma), and thieves.

Auschwitz
The largest and most infamous of the Nazi's concentration camps. Located near Oswiecim, Poland, Auschwitz was divided into three main camps, at which an estimated 1.1 million people were murdered.

Babi Yar
In retaliation for the bombing of German administration buildings in occupied Kiev between September 24 and 28, 1941, the Germans killed all the Jews in Kiev on September 29 and 30, 1941. Kiev Jews, Gypsies (Roma), and Soviet prisoners of war were taken to the Babi Yar ravine and shot. An estimated 100,000 people were killed at this location.

Blut und Boden
"blood and soil" (German) - Phrase used by Hitler to mean that all people of German blood have the right and duty to live on German soil (i.e. in the "German Fatherland").

Bormann, Martin
(June 17, 1900 - ?) Adolf Hitler's personal secretary. One of the most powerful men in the Third Reich since he controlled access to Hitler. He liked to work behind the scenes and to stay out of the public spotlight.

Known as "the Brown Eminence" and "the man in the shadows." Helped the Führer with his personal finances.

Hitler viewed him as an absolute devotee, but he had high ambitions and kept his rivals from having access to Hitler.

Was in the bunker during Hitler's last days but left the bunker on May 1, 1945. His future fate has become one of the unsolved mysteries of this century. Hermann Göring was his sworn enemy.

bunker
Ghetto slang word for Jews' hiding places within the ghettos.

Comite de Defense des Juifs
"Jewish Defense Committee" - An underground movement in Belgium established in 1942.

Death March
Long, forced marches of concentration camp prisoners from one camp to another closer to Germany as the Red Army approached from the east in the last few months of World War II.

Dolchstoss
"stab in the back" (German) - Myth which claimed that the German military had not been defeated in World War I, but that the Germans had been "stabbed in the back" by Jews, socialists, and liberals who forced them to surrender.

Endlösung
"Final Solution" (German) - The Nazi's program to kill every Jew in Europe.

Ermächtigungsgesetz
"The Enabling Law" (German) - The Enabling Law, passed March 24, 1933, allowed Hitler and his government to create new laws that did not have to agree with the German constitution. In essence, this law gave Hitler dictatorial powers.

Eugenics
The social Darwinist principle of strengthening the qualities of a race by controlling inherited characteristics. Term coined by Francis Galton in 1883.

Euthanasia Program
In 1939, the Nazis created a program to secretly but systematically kill mentally and physically disabled people, including Germans, who were housed in institutions. The code name for this program was Aktion T-4. It is estimated that over 200,000 people were killed in the Nazi Euthanasia Program.

Genocide
Deliberately and systematically killing an entire people.

Gentile
A term referring to someone who is not Jewish.

Gleichschaltung
"coordination" (German) - Reorganizing all social, political, and cultural organizations to be controlled and run according to Nazi ideology and policy.

Ha'avara
Transfer agreement between Jewish leaders from Palestine and the Nazis.

Häftlingspersonalbogen
Prisoner registration forms at the camps.

Hess, Rudolf
(April 26, 1894 - August 17, 1987) - Deputy to the Führer, Reich Minister Without Portfolio, and successor-designate after Hermann Göring. Important role using geopolitics to gain land. Involved in the Anschluss of Austria and the administration of the Sudentenland. Worshipped and devoted to Hitler. In a plea for Hitler's favor, Hess flew to Scotland on May 10, 1940 (without the Führer's approval) in an effort to make a peace agreement with Britain.

Britain and Germany denounced him as crazy. Sentenced to life imprisonment. Sole prisoner at Spandau after 1966. In 1987, found in his cell, hanged with an electric cord at age 93.

Himmler, Heinrich
(October 7, 1900 - May 21, 1945) The Reichsführer-SS. Head of the SS, the Gestapo, and the German police.

Under his direction, the SS grew into a massive "racially pure" Nazi elite. He was in charge of the concentration camps. Believed that the liquidation of the unhealthy and bad genes from society would help better and purify the Aryan race. In April 1945, he tried to negotiate a peace with the Allies, bypassing Hitler.

For this, Hitler expelled him from the Nazi Party and from all offices he held. On May 21, 1945, he attempted to escape but was stopped and held by the British. After his identity was discovered, he swallowed a hidden cyanide pill that was noticed by an examining doctor. He died twelve minutes later.

Jude
"Jew" (German) - Often appeared on the Yellow Stars that Jews were forced to wear.

Judenfrei
"free of Jews" (German)

Judengelb
"Jewish yellow" (German) - Term for the yellow Star of David badge that Jews were ordered to wear.

Judenrat
(plural Judenräte) "Jewish council" (German) - Usually referring to a group of Jews who enacted the German laws in the ghettos.

Juden raus!
"Jews out!" (German) - A dreaded phrase shouted by the Nazis throughout the ghettos when they were trying to force Jews from their hiding places.

Die Juden sind unser Unglück!
"The Jews Are Our Misfortune" (German) - A phrase often found in the Nazi-propaganda newspaper Der Stuermer.

Judenrein
"cleansed of Jews" (German)

Kapo
A position of leadership for a prisoner in one of the Nazi concentration camps, which meant collaborating with the Nazis to help run the camp.

Kommando
Labor squads made up of camp prisoners.

Kristallnacht
"Night of Broken Glass" - On November 9-10, 1938 the Nazis initiated a pogrom against Jews in retaliation for the assassination of Ernst vom Rath.

Lagersystem
The system of camps that supported the death camps.

Lebensraum
"living space" (German) - The Nazis believed that there should be areas attributed to only one "race" and that the Aryans needed more "living space." This became one of the Nazi's chief objectives and shaped their foreign policy; the Nazis believed they could gain more space by conquering and colonizing the East.

Lebensunwertes Lebens
"Life unworthy of life" (German) - Term derived from the work "The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life" ("Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens") by Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche, published in 1920. This work was referring to the mentally and physically handicapped and regarded the killing of these segments of society as a "healing treatment." This term and this work became a base for the right of the state to kill unwanted segments of the population.

Lodz Ghetto
On February 8, 1940 a ghetto was established in Lodz, Poland. The 230,000 Jews of Lodz were ordered into the ghetto. On May 1, 1940, the ghetto was sealed. Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, who had been appointed the Elder of the Jews, attempted to save the ghetto by making it a cheap and valuable industrial center to the Nazis. Deportations began in January 1942 and the ghetto was liquidated by August 1944.

Machtergreifung
"seizure of power" - Term used when referring to the Nazi's seizure of power in 1933.

Mein Kampf
The two-volume book written by Adolf Hitler. The first volume written during his time in Landsberg Prison and published in July 1925. The book became a staple of Nazi culture during the Third Reich.

Mengele, Josef
March 16, 1911 - February 7, 1979?) A Nazi doctor at Auschwitz, notorious for his medical experiments on twins and dwarves.

Muselmann
A slang term used in the Nazi concentration camps for a prisoner who had lost the will to live and was thus just one step from being dead.

Operation Barbarossa
Code name for the surprise German attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, which broke the Soviet-Nazi Non-Aggression Pact and plunged the Soviet Union into World War II.

Ordnungsdienst
"order service" (German) - The ghetto police, which was made up of Jewish ghetto residents.

to organize
Camp slang for prisoners acquiring materials illicitly from the Nazis.

Ostara
A series of anti-Semitic pamphlets published by Lanz von Liebenfels between 1907 and 1910. Hitler bought these regularly and in 1909, Hitler sought out Lanz and asked for back copies.

Oswiecim
Oswiecim, Poland was the town where the Nazi death camp Auschwitz was built.

Porajmos
"the Devouring" (Romani) - Term used by the Roma (Gypsies) for the Holocaust. Roma were among the victims of the Holocaust.

Sonderbehandlung
(SB) - "special treatment" - Code word used for the methodical killing of Jews.

Thanatology
The science of producing death; description given during the Nuremberg trials to the medical experiments performed during the Holocaust.

Vernichtungslager
"extermination camp" or "death camp" (German)

White Paper
Issued by Great Britain on May 17, 1939, it limited the immigration to Palestine to 15,000 persons a year. After five years, no Jewish immigration was permitted unless with Arab consent.

Zentralstelle für Jüdische Auswanderung
"Central Office for Jewish Emigration" - Set up in Vienna on August 26, 1938 under Adolf Eichmann.

Zyklon B
The poison gas used to kill millions of people in the gas chambers.