Glossary of Holocaust Terms to Know

Important Historical Words and Phrases About the Holocaust From A to Z

A Holocaust survivor showing his tattooed number.
(Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

A tragic and important part of world history, it is important to understand what the Holocaust entailed, how it came to be and who were the major actors.

When studying the Holocaust, one can come across numerous terms in many different languages as the Holocaust affected people from all sorts of backgrounds, be it German, Jewish, Roma and so on. This glossary lists slogans, code names, names of important people, dates, slang words and more to help you understand these terms in alphabetical order.

"A" Words

Aktion is a 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.

Aktion Reinhard was the code name for the annihilation of European Jewry. It was named after Reinhard Heydrich.

Aktion T-4 was the code name for the Nazi's Euthanasia Program. The name was taken from the Reich Chancellery building's address, Tiergarten Strasse 4.

Aliya means "immigration" in Hebrew. It refers to the Jewish immigration into Palestine and, later, Israel through official channels.

Aliya Bet means "illegal immigration" in Hebrew. This was the Jewish immigration into Palestine and Israel without official immigration certificates nor with British approval. During the Third Reich, Zionist movements set up organizations to plan and implement these flights from Europe, such as Exodus 1947.

Anschluss means "linkage" in German.

In the context of World War II, the word refers to the German annexation of Austria on March 13, 1938.

Anti-semitism is a prejudice against Jews.

Appell means "roll call" in 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.

It was also often accompanied by beatings and punishments.

Appellplatz translates to "place for roll call" in German. It was the location within the camps where the Appell was carried out.

Arbeit Macht Frei is a phrase in German that means "work makes one free." A sign with this phrase on it was placed by Rudolf Höss over the gates of Auschwitz.

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

Auschwitz was the largest and most infamous of the Nazi's concentration camps. Located near Oswiecim, Poland, Auschwitz was divided into 3 main camps, at which an estimated 1.1 million people were murdered.

"B" Words

Babi Yar is the event in which the Germans killed all the Jews in Kiev on September 29 and 30, 1941. This was done in retaliation for the bombing of German administration buildings in occupied Kiev between September 24 and 28, 1941. During these tragic days, 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 is a German phrase that translates to "blood and soil." This was a phrase used by Hitler to mean that all people of German blood have the right and duty to live on German soil.

Bormann, Martin (June 17, 1900 - ?) was Adolf Hitler's personal secretary. Since he controlled access to Hitler, he was considered one of the most powerful men in the Third Reich. He liked to work behind the scenes and to stay out of the public spotlight, earning him the nicknames "the Brown Eminence" and "the man in the shadows." Hitler viewed him as an absolute devotee, but Bormann had high ambitions and kept his rivals from having access to Hitler. While he was in the bunker during Hitler's last days, he 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 is a slang word for Jews' hiding places within the ghettos.

"C" Words

Comite de Defense des Juifs is French for "Jewish Defense Committee." It was an underground movement in Belgium established in 1942.

"D" Words

Death March refers to the 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 means "a stab in the back" in German. A popular myth at the time 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.

"E" Words

Endlösung means "Final Solution" in German. This was the name of the Nazi's program to kill every Jew in Europe.

Ermächtigungsgesetz means "The Enabling Law" in German. The Enabling Law was passed March 24, 1933, and 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 is the social Darwinist principle of strengthening the qualities of a race by controlling inherited characteristics. The term was coined by Francis Galton in 1883. Eugenics experiments were done during the Nazi regime on people who were deemed "life unworthy of life."

Euthanasia Program was a Nazi created program in 193 that was 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.

"G" Words

Genocide is the deliberate and systematic killing an entire people.

Gentile is a term referring to someone who is not Jewish.

Gleichschaltung means "coordination" in German and refers to the act of reorganizing all social, political and cultural organizations to be controlled and run according to Nazi ideology and policy.

"H" Words

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

Häftlingspersonalbogen refers to prisoner registration forms at the camps.

Hess, Rudolf (April 26, 1894 - August 17, 1987) was deputy to the Führer and successor-designate after Hermann Göring.

He played an important role in using geopolitics to gain land. He was also involved in the Anschluss of Austria and the administration of the Sudetenland. A devoted worshipper of Hitler, Hess flew to Scotland on May 10, 1940 (without the Führer's approval) to a plea for Hitler's favor in an effort to make a peace agreement with Britain. Britain and Germany denounced him as crazy and sentenced to life imprisonment. The sole prisoner at Spandau after 1966, he was found in his cell, hung with an electric cord at age 93 in 1987.

Himmler, Heinrich (October 7, 1900 - May 21, 1945) was head of the SS, the Gestapo, and the German police. Under his direction, the SS grew into a massive so-called "racially pure" Nazi elite. He was in charge of the concentration camps and 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 12 minutes later.

"J" Words

Jude means "Jew" in German, and this word often appeared on the Yellow Stars that Jews were forced to wear.

Judenfrei means "free of Jews" in German. It was a popular phrase under the Nazi regime.

Judengelb means "Jewish yellow" in German. It was a term for the yellow Star of David badge that Jews were ordered to wear.

Judenrat, or Judenräte in plural, means "Jewish council" in German. This term referred to a group of Jews who enacted the German laws in the ghettos.

Juden raus! means "Jews out!" in German. A dreaded phrase, it was shouted by the Nazis throughout the ghettos when they were trying to force Jews from their hiding places.

Die Juden sind unser Unglück! translates to "The Jews Are Our Misfortune" in German. This phrase was often found in the Nazi-propaganda newspaper, Der Stuermer.

Judenrein means "cleansed of Jews" in German.

"K" Words

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

Kommando were labor squads made up of camp prisoners.

Kristallnacht, or "Night of Broken Glass", occurred on November 9 and 10, 1938. The Nazis initiated a pogrom against Jews in retaliation for the assassination of Ernst vom Rath.

"L" Words

Lagersystem was the system of camps that supported the death camps.

Lebensraum means "living space" in 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 means "life unworthy of life" in German. This 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 was a ghetto established in Lodz, Poland 

on February 8, 1940. 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.

"M" Words

Machtergreifung means "seizure of power" in German. The term was used when referring to the Nazi's seizure of power in 1933.

Mein Kampf is the two-volume book written by Adolf Hitler. The first volume was 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?) was a Nazi doctor at Auschwitz who was notorious for his medical experiments on twins and dwarves.

Muselmann was 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.

"O" Words

Operation Barbarossa was the 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.

Operation Harvest Festival was the 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. It was the last Aktion of Aktion Reinhard.

Ordnungsdienst means "order service" in German and refers to the ghetto police, which was made up of Jewish ghetto residents.

"To organize" was camp slang for prisoners acquiring materials illicitly from the Nazis.

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

"P" Words

Porajmos means "the Devouring" in Romani. It was a term used by the Roma (Gypsies) for the Holocaust. Roma was among the victims of the Holocaust.

"S" Words

Sonderbehandlung, or SB for short, means "special treatment" in German. It was a code word used for the methodical killing of Jews.

"T" Words

Thanatology is the science of producing death. This was the description given during the Nuremberg trials to the medical experiments performed during the Holocaust.

"V" Words

Vernichtungslager means "extermination camp" or "death camp" in German.

"W" Words

White Paper was issued by Great Britain on May 17, 1939, to limit the immigration to Palestine to 15,000 persons a year. After 5 years, no Jewish immigration was permitted unless with Arab consent.

"Z" Words

Zentralstelle für Jüdische Auswanderung means "Central Office for Jewish Emigration" in German. It was set up in Vienna on August 26, 1938 under Adolf Eichmann.

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