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Tennessee Holocaust Commission The Holocaust: A Glossary

AKTION (German)

Operation involving the mass assembly, deportation, and murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

AKTION REINHARD

The code name for the destruction of European Jews, it was named for Heydrich Reinhard, Nazi official who had been tasked with implementing the "Final Solution" and who was assassinated by Czech partisans in May 1942.

 

ALLIES

The nations fighting against Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan during World War II; primarily the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union.

ANTI-SEMITISM

Hatred of Jews

 

ANSCHLUSS (German)

Annexation of Austria by Germany on March 13, 1938.

 

ARYAN RACE

"Aryan" as the Nazis applied the term was to mean people of Northern European racial background. Their aim was to avoid what they considered the polluting of the German race" and to preserve the purity of European blood.

AXIS

The Axis powers originally included Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan who signed a pact in Berlin on September 27, 1940. They were later joined by Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovakia.

CONCENTRATION CAMPS

Immediately upon their assumption of power on January 30, 1933, the Nazis established concentration camps for the imprisonment of all "enemies" of their regime: actual and potential political opponents (e.g. communists, socialists, and monarchists), Jehovah's Witnesses, gypsies, homosexuals, and other "asocials." Beginning in 1938, Jews were targeted for internment solely because they were Jews. Before then, only Jews who fit one of the earlier categories were interned in camps. The first three concentration camps established were Dachau (near Munich), Buchenwald (near Weimar) and Sachsenhausen (near Berlin).

EINSATZGRUPPEN (German)

Mobile killing units of the Security Police and SS Security Service that followed the German armies into the Soviet Union in June 1941. These units were supported by units of the uniformed German Order Police and auxiliaries of volunteers (Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian). Their victims, primarily Jews, were executed by shooting and were buried in mass graves from which they were later exhumed and burned. At least a million Jews were killed in this manner. There were four Einsatzgruppen (A,B,C,D) which were subdivided into company-sized Einsatzkommandos.

 

EXTERMINATION CAMPS

Nazi camps for the mass killing of Jews and others (e.g. Gypsies, Russian prisoners-of-war, ill prisoners). Known as "death camps," these included: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. All were located in occupied Poland.

EUTHANASIA

The original meaning of this term was an easy and painless death for the terminally ill. However, the Nazi euthanasia program took on quite a different meaning: the taking of eugenic measures to improve the quality of the German "race." This program culminated in enforced "mercy" deaths for the incurably insane, permanently disabled, deformed and "superfluous." Three major classifications were developed: 1) euthanasia for incurables; 2) direct extermination by "special treatment"; and 3) experiments in mass sterilization.

FINAL SOLUTION

The "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" was the code name for the plan to destroy the Jews of Europe. Beginning in December 1941, Jews were rounded up and sent to extermination camps in the East. The program was deceptively disguised as "resettlement in the East."

GENOCIDE

The deliberate and systematic destruction of a religious, racial, national, or cultural group.

GHETTO

The Nazis revived the medieval ghetto in creating their compulsory "Jewish Quarter" (Wohnbezirk). The ghetto was a section of a city where all Jews from the surrounding areas were forced to reside. Surrounded by barbed wire or walls, the ghettos were often sealed so that people were prevented from leaving or entering. Established mostly in Eastern Europe (e.g. Lodz, Warsaw, Vilna, Riga, Minsk), the ghettos were characterized by overcrowding, starvation and forced labor. All were eventually destroyed as the Jews were deported to death camps.

 

HOLOCAUST

Holocaust: The systematic destruction of six million Jews as perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and1945.

During this time period millions of other innocent individuals and groups were persecuted because of Nazi racial and social ideology. These individuals and groups are sometimes referred to as other victims and include; Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah Witnesses, Homosexuals, the Handicapped and Poles. The Nazis also persecuted anyone who defied them politically, such as Communists and Socialists, and anyone they saw as a threat to their authority and power.

The term "Holocaust" - literally meaning "a completely burned sacrifice" - tends to suggest a sacrificial connotation to what occurred. The word Shoah, originally a Biblical term meaning widespread disaster, is the Modern Hebrew equivalent.

JUDENRAT (PLURAL: JUDENRÄTE)

Council of Jewish representatives in communities and ghettos set up by the Nazis to carry out their instructions.

JUDENREIN

"Cleansed of Jews," denoting areas where all Jews had been either murdered or deported.

 

KAPO

Prisoner in charge of a group of inmates in Nazi concentration camps.

MADAGASCAR PLAN

A Nazi policy seriously considered during the late 1930s and 1940s which would have sent Jews to Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa. At that time Madagascar was a French colony. Ultimately, it was considered impractical and the plan was abandoned.

 

MEIN KAMPF (German)

(My Struggle) by Hitler was written while he was imprisoned in the Landsberg fortress. In this book, Hitler propounds his ideas, beliefs, and plans for the future of Germany. Everything, including his foreign policy, is permeated by his "racial ideology." The Germans, belonging to the "superior" Aryan race, have a right to "living space" (Lebensraum) in the East, which is inhabited by the "inferior" Slavs. Throughout, he accuses Jews of being the source of all evil, equating them with Bolshevism and, at the same time, with international capitalism. Unfortunately, those people who read the book (except for his admirers) did not take it seriously but considered it the ravings of a maniac.

NIGHT AND FOG DECREE

Secret order issued by Hitler on December 7, 1941, to seize "persons endangering German security" who were to vanish without a trace into night and fog.

 

NUREMBERG LAWS

Two anti-Jewish statutes enacted September 1935 during the Nazi party's national convention in Nuremberg. The first, the Reich Citizenship Law, deprived German Jews of their citizenship and all pertinent, related rights. The second, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor, outlawed marriages of Jews and non-Jews, forbade Jews from employing German females of childbearing age, and prohibited Jews from displaying the German flag. Many additional regulations were attached to the two main statutes, which provided the basis for removing Jews from all spheres of German political, social, and economic life. The Nuremberg Laws carefully established definitions of Jewishness based on bloodlines. Thus, many Germans of mixed ancestry, called "Mischlinge," faced anti-Semitic discrimination if they had a Jewish grandparent.

MUSSELMANN (German)

Concentration camp slang word for a prisoner who had given up fighting for life.

PARTISANS

Irregular troops engaged in guerrilla warfare, often behind enemy lines. During World War II, this term was applied to resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied countries.

POGROM

From the Russian word for "devastation"; an unprovoked attack or series of attacks upon a Jewish community

PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION

A major piece of anti-Semitic propaganda, compiled at the turn of the century by members of the Russian Secret Police. Essentially adapted from a nineteenth century French polemical satire directed against Emperor Napoleon III, substituting Jewish leaders, the Protocols maintained that Jews were plotting world dominion by setting Christian against Christian, corrupting Christian morals and attempting to destroy the economic and political viability of the West. It gained great popularity after World War I and was translated into many languages, encouraging anti-Semitism in France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Long repudiated as an absurd and hateful lie, the book currently has been reprinted and is widely distributed by Neo-Nazis and others who are committed to the destruction of the State of Israel.

 

RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS

Term applied to those non-Jews who, at the risk of their own lives, saved Jews from their Nazi persecutors.

ROSH HASHANAH (Heb., “beginning of the year”)

Jewish New Year celebration in the fall of the year, the month of Tishri.

SA (abbreviation of Stürmabteilung)

The storm troops of the early Nazi party; organized in 1921.

 

SELECTION

Euphemism for the process of choosing victims for the gas chambers in the Nazi camps by separating them from those considered fit to work.

SHTETL

A small Jewish village, mostly in Eastern Europe prior to World War II.

 

SONDERKOMMANDO

The Sonderkommandos were groups of Jewish male prisoners picked to dispose of corpses from the gas chambers or crematoria. The Sonderkommando had better physical conditions than other inmates; they had decent food, slept on straw mattresses and could wear normal clothing. Despite the better conditions in which the Sonderkommando lived at the camps, most were eventually gassed after three to six months. The Nazis did not want any evidence of their horrific acts to remain, and therefore decided to kill those prisoners who witnessed their actions.

SS

Abbreviation usually written with two lightning symbols for Schutzstaffel (Defense Protective Units), originally organized as Hitler's personal bodyguard, the SS was transformed into a giant organization by Heinrich Himmler. Although various SS units fought on the battlefield, the organization is best known for carrying out the destruction of European Jewry.

STAR OF DAVID

The six-pointed star emblem commonly associated with Judaism. During the Holocaust, Jews throughout Europe were required to wear Stars of David on their sleeves or fronts and backs of their shirts and jackets.

SWASTIKA

An ancient symbol used in India, Persia, Greece, and elsewhere as a religious emblem to ward off evil spirits. Using it as the official symbol of the Nazis, Hitler corrupted the meaning of the holy insignia to denote Aryan racial superiority.

UMSCHLAGPLATZ (German)

It was a square in the Warsaw Ghetto where Jews were rounded up for deportation to Treblinka.

 

YIDDISH

Is a blend of Hebrew and several European languages, primarily German. Yiddish was the vernacular of East European and Russian Jews.

YIZKOR (“Remembrance”)

It is the name of the Memorial Service on Yom Kippur, and a prayer in that service in which Jews specify those whom they are remembering.

 

YOM KIPPUR (Heb., “Day of Atonement”)

Annual day of fasting and atonement, occurring in the fall on Tishri 10 (just after Rosh Hashanah); the most solemn and important occasion of the Jewish religious year.

ZIONISM

The goal of Zionism is the political and spiritual renewal of the Jewish people in its ancestral homeland.