Allies: The nations, including the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, that joined together in the war against Germany and its partners. Germany’s partners originally included Italy and Japan; Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia later joined, as well. They were known as the Axis powers.
Antisemitism: Hatred of Jews. Jews have faced hatred since pre-Christian times. The term “antisemitism” was popularized in 1879 by the German journalist Wilhelm Marr.
Aryan: Originally referred to an ancient people who spoke a language known as Proto-Indo-European (the root of many of today’s European languages). The Nazis took the term and applied it to themselves as their descendants, falsely claiming their own “Aryan race” superior to all other racial groups. For the Nazis, the typical “Aryan” was blond, blue-eyed, and tall.
Ashkenazi: Refers to Jews who trace their origins back to Eastern and Central Europe. Ashkenazi Jews follow some customs that are different from the customs of Southern European, North African, and Middle-Eastern Jews. (See also, Sephardic.)
Assimilation: Adapting or adjusting one’s behaviors and attitudes to become like those of the surrounding culture, in place of his or her original cultural identity. In modern times, many Jews have tried to assimilate to fit in with the majority culture.
Auschwitz-Birkenau: The largest and deadliest of the Nazi killing centers, in which at least 1.1 million Jews were systematically murdered, the majority through gassing. Thousands of Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war were also gassed at the camp. Located in Oswiecim, Poland, Auschwitz included three main camps and numerous labor camps. (See Killing Centers for a list of all six Nazi death camps.)
Cold War: The period of military and political tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union following World War II. This period is known as the Cold War because it stopped short of armed conflict.
Collaboration: Cooperation with an enemy force occupying a country. There were Nazi collaborators in most occupied countries.
Concentration Camp: A facility in which political prisoners, prisoners of war, or other perceived enemies are confined. The Nazis built concentration camps to detain and punish people considered enemies, dangerous, or just different. The first Nazi concentration camp was Dachau, set up in 1933. There were thousands of camps by the end of the World War II. During the war years, the number of Jews in camps also grew dramatically. Concentration camps did not organize mass murder as did the six Nazi killing centers (see Killing Centers), but many prisoners were killed in them, or died of starvation or disease.
Dachau: The first Nazi concentration camp, established in 1933. Its first inmates were political prisoners, but later Jews constituted about one-third of the total. Although Dachau was not a death camp, many thousands of inmates died in the camp from disease, starvation, and torture.
Death Marches: Forced marches of concentration camp prisoners toward Germany. Death marches occurred toward the end of the war, as camps were evacuated ahead of the advancing Soviet and Allied troops. Many inmates died or were killed along the way.
Deportation: Removing someone from his or her home. During the Holocaust, this word began to mean forced transfer of Jews to ghettos and killing centers, usually in overcrowded, filthy train freight cars without windows, food, water, or toilets. Many people died during deportation.
Diaspora: From the Greek word for “dispersion,” it refers to the dispersion of a group of people outside their homeland. When capitalized, it generally means the scattering of the Jews around the world.
Discrimination: Differential treatment of a group of people based on race, class, ethnicity, religion, or other category.
Displaced Persons Camp: (Also known as a DP camp.) A camp set up after World War II for people from concentration camps and others whose homes were destroyed. Thousands of Jews remained in camps for a number of years after the war’s end until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, or until the United States and other Western countries opened their doors to greater numbers of immigrants.
Dreyfus Affair: Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French military. In 1894, he was falsely accused of treason on false charges and served five years in prison. The episode came to be known as the “Dreyfus Affair,” and it revealed widespread antisemitism in France. The Dreyfus Affair shook the confidence of many Jews that assimilation could counter antisemitism. Future Zionist leader Theodore Herzl was among those so moved by the case. (See Zionism)
Einsatzgruppen: (German) The mobile killing units of the Nazi SS assigned to kill all Jews behind the Soviet front lines after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The victims were murdered in mass shootings and buried in unmarked graves. More than one million Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen.
Emancipation: Setting people free from restrictive laws and oppression. During the Middle Ages, Jews in Europe were denied certain rights and were often segregated. With the dawn of the Enlightenment and its stress on the rights of the individual, Jews throughout Western and Central Europe in the late 18th and 19th centuries began to be emancipated and granted civil rights.
Fatherland: One’s native land. German Jews, many of whose families had lived there for generations, considered Germany their Fatherland.
“Final Solution of the Jewish Question”: The Nazi code name for their plan to kill all European Jews. The plan was coordinated in January 1942, at a Nazi conference near Berlin, which became known as the Wannsee (pronounced Von-zay) Conference.
Gas Chambers: Specially constructed rooms in the six Nazi Killing Centers (or death camps) designed to carry out the murder of European Jewry. The Nazis first experimented with gas vans, in which victims were poisoned by carbon monoxide from the vehicle’s exhaust. Later, gas chambers were built at the death camps. These generally used deadly Zyklon B gas.
Genocide: A word first used in print in 1944 to describe an official, governmental policy of killing an entire people.
Gestapo: (German) “Gestapo” is short for Geheime Staatspolizei, German for “secret state police.” Organized in 1933, the Gestapo was known for its brutal methods. After 1938, the Gestapo became the main instrument of Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies.
Ghetto: In modern American usage, “ghetto” refers to a part of the city in which a minority group lives, often because of social, legal, and economic pressure. The term probably has its origin in Venice, Italy, where in 1516 Jews were forced to live behind walls and gates in a quarter called the Geto Nuovo (“New Foundry”). Eventually the term “ghetto” came to be used for all quarters in which Jews were forced to live separately. During World War II, the Nazis created Jewish ghettos throughout occupied Europe to facilitate the separation of the Jews and their deportation to concentration camps and extermination centers. Thousands of Jews died in the ghettos from starvation, disease, and forced labor.
Hebrew: The ancient language of the Jewish people. Hebrew remained the language of prayer and study for most Jews throughout history, and was revived as a spoken language in the 19th century. It is now the official language of the State of Israel.
Hitler, Adolf: (1889-1945) Nazi party leader and German chancellor who led Germany into World War II and the Holocaust. An extreme racist, Hitler placed antisemitism at the center of Nazi politics. He committed suicide in Berlin on April 30, 1945.
Holocaust: A word of Greek origin meaning complete destruction, especially by fire. The word is used to describe the murder of European Jewry by the Nazis and their collaborators. The Hebrew word for Holocaust is the biblical term Shoah (pronounced show-ah), meaning catastrophe, destruction, or disaster.
Holocaust Denial: An attempt to refute or minimize the reality of the Holocaust, contrary to overwhelming historical evidence proving otherwise. Holocaust denial includes claims that the number of Jews killed has been greatly exaggerated and that the murder of Jews was not a deliberate policy of the Nazi regime.
Inflation: A general increase in consumer prices.
Inquisition: A tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church established in the 13th century to discover and suppress heresy. The Inquisition caused the torture and murder of thousands of Jews during the Middle Ages.
Jewish Badge: The Nazis ordered Jews to wear badges in Germany and occupied countries in order to distinguish them and isolate them from surrounding populations. The badge took many forms; often it was a yellow cloth Star of David marked “Jew” in the local language, or a white armband marked with a star. The badge was a revival of a medieval practice.
Killing Center: Also known as Death Camp. A camp set up by the Nazis in occupied Poland for the mass murder of Jews, as well as Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), primarily by poison gas. The six Killing Centers were Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek.
Kosher: Literally meaning “fit” or “proper,” the term applies to anything that is suitable for use according to Jewish law. Most often the word “kosher” refers to food that is acceptable by the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut). According to these laws, certain kinds of meat may not be eaten, kosher meat must be slaughtered in a specified manner, and milk and meat may not be eaten together.
Kristallnacht: (German, “Night of Broken Glass”) On November 9-10, 1938, German and Austrian mobs led anti-Jewish riots in which thousands of windows in synagogues, Jewish homes, and businesses were smashed. Hundreds of Jewish-owned buildings were set on fire, including all major synagogues. At least 91 Jews were killed and some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and deported to concentration camps. Kristallnacht was the first major event in the destruction of European Jewry. Although the Nazis called it Kristallnacht, some people now refer to it as “Pogromnacht”— ”Night of the Pogrom.”
Liberators: Soldiers and staff of the Allied Armed Forces who reached the various concentration camps toward the end of World War II (1945). American, British, Canadian, French, and Russian forces liberated the prisoners and cared for them until they returned home or went to Displaced Persons camps.
Nazi: A member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party that took political control of Germany under Adolf Hitler in 1933, after gaining mass popular support. The Nazi Party was violently antisemitic and believed in the supremacy of the “Aryan race.” In addition to Jews, Nazi persecution was directed toward Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, African-Germans (Black Germans), and political enemies of the Nazi Party.
Nuremberg Laws: Two laws issued in 1935 to exclude from German life people whom the Nazis considered alien. The first law removed German citizenship from “non-Aryans,” and the second law prohibited them from marrying Germans. The term “non-Aryan” was applied to Jews primarily, but it referred to all non-Germanic peoples, including Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), and African-Germans (Black Germans).
Palestine: An area in the Middle East that was controlled by the British from 1918 to 1947. In 1947, the United Nations divided Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, which prompted an attack by five neighboring Arab nations. The Jewish victory in this war led to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Partisan: A member of an organized fighting group that attacks the enemy within occupied territory. During World War II, partisans fought Nazi occupying forces, in most cases, harassing and killing Nazis and sabotaging their war efforts. Some Jews formed their own partisan groups; others fought the Nazis as members of local resistance organizations.
Pogrom: A brutal mob-led attack against a particular group of people, especially Jews. Pogroms in Eastern Europe were often carried out with the support of local authorities. The term comes from a Russian word for “outrage” or “havoc.”
Prejudice: A judgment about other people that is formed before the facts are known. Often, prejudicial opinions are based on stereotypes or unproven suspicions.
Rabbi: A Jewish religious leader trained in Jewish law. The term comes from the Hebrew word for “my teacher.”
Rescuers: Non-Jews who provided Jews with food, hiding places, medical care, or help in crossing borders into countries not controlled by the Nazis. Some rescuers hid Jews in their own homes, putting themselves in great danger. Although there were relatively few of them, rescuers are warmly remembered for their courage and for their humanity. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Memorial Center in Israel, has officially recognized more than 27,000 non-Jews who aided Jews during the Holocaust and has given them the title “Righteous Among the Nations.”
Resistance: Jews resisted the Nazis in many ways, both spiritually and physically. Many Jews engaged in spiritual resistance by keeping Jewish identity alive through education, religious observance, cultural activities, and community assistance. Some fought in underground organizations or as partisans in the forests of Eastern Europe; others organized revolts in the ghettos and even in three of the Nazi killing centers.
Roma and Sinti: An ethnic group that originated in India but has lived in Western Europe since the 15th century. Traditionally a nomadic people, most Roma today no longer travel. Along with the closely related Sinti people, they are often referred to as “Gypsies”—a name given to them by Europeans who mistakenly believed they came from Egypt. The Roma and Sinti were severely persecuted by the Nazis and many died in concentration camps and killing centers.
Scapegoat: Someone who is made to take the blame for others.
Segregation: The practice of separating people of different races, classes, religions, or ethnic groups within a society, particularly as a form of discrimination.
Sephardic: Refers to Jews who trace their origins back to Spain and Portugal before the Expulsions of 1492 and 1497. There are communities of Sephardic Jews all over the world. Sephardic Jews follow some customs that are different from the customs of Ashkenazi Jews.
Shabbat: The Jewish Sabbath, which begins on Friday evening and ends on Saturday night. It is a day of spiritual rest and reflection.
SS: Specially chosen Nazi troops, totally committed to racism and loyal to the Hitler regime. Because of their ruthlessness, they were assigned to the most brutal tasks, including the implementation of the “Final Solution.” SS stands for the German “Schutzstaffel,” which means “protection unit.” The function of the SS, however, was not defense, but terror.
Stereotype: A generalization about the members of a group. Often stereotypes perpetuate negative assumptions and false beliefs about an ethnic, religious, or racial group.
Synagogue: A communal center where Jews worship, study, and celebrate holidays and community events (also sometimes called a temple). In Hebrew it is called a beit knesset, and in Yiddish it is known as a shul.
Theresienstadt: A ghetto established in 1941 in the Czech town of Terezin. The Nazis planned it as a model settlement, to create propaganda for the world about how well they treated the Jews. Many well-known Jews were sent to Theresienstadt, including artists and writers. Despite the horrible living conditions and the constant fear of deportation, residents struggled to maintain an active cultural life, putting on plays, concerts, and art exhibitions in the ghetto. Most of the ghetto’s residents were eventually deported to Auschwitz.
Tikkun Olam: (Hebrew, “repairing the world”) Jewish philosophical belief that the world is incomplete and that human beings need to repair it through justice and acts of loving kindness.
Torah: Literally meaning “Teaching,” Torah usually refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), or a scroll containing these books. A Torah scroll is handwritten on parchment and read from out loud in the synagogue during certain prayer services.
Treaty of Versailles: The peace treaty signed in Versailles, France, in 1919, that officially ended World War I between Germany and the Allies. The treaty required Germany to claim responsibility for the war, pay extensive reparations, cede territory it had conquered, and limit its military forces.
Weimar Republic: The government established in Germany in 1919 following the country’s defeat in World War I. The Weimar Republic was Germany’s first democracy, but it fell in 1933 when Hitler’s Nazi party took control.
Zionism: A movement concerned with establishing and supporting a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. It comes from the Hebrew word Tzion, a biblical name for Jerusalem. Modern Zionism began in the late 19th century and included several different ideological factions.