Dictionary

Anschluss ("link up"): The name for the annexation of Austria into the German Reich, which took place on March 12, 1938.  

Anti-Semitism: A term coined in 1873 by Wilhelm Marr, a German philosopher and Jew-hater. Marr believed the term sounded more scientific and he used it to replace an earlier one, Judenhass (Jew-hatred).

Appel: The morning and evening roll call that took place in the German concentration camps.

Arbeit Macht Frei ("Work Makes You Free"): A German euphemism that was affixed over the gate in a number of concentration camps. The first to use this was Dachau (1933) though it would later be used at Gross-Rosen, Sachsenhausen, Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.

Aryan: Used by Nazis and other racists to delineate those people who were supposedly “superior” or a member of the “master race." This was defined as having come from Northern Europeans. 

Auschwitz: Located in southwestern Poland on the outskirts of Oswiecim, Auschwitz is perhaps the iconic image of concentration camps.  It was founded in 1940 and would eventually have three major camps and 45 satellite camps. Auschwitz-Birkenau became the most efficient extermination camp in the Nazi regime, with an estimated death toll of 1.1 to 1.5 million people.  Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Army in January 1945. 

Beer Hall Putsch: In 1923, the Nazi party attempted to overthrow the government of Bavaria during a meeting that was taking place at a beer hall known as the Bürgerbräukeller.  

Boycott: To refuse to buy or sell to a specific group.

Bystander: Anyone who stands by during a genocide, pogrom, or similar event and does nothing.  

Camps: It is believed that the first use of a concentration camp was during the Bar Confederation rebellion in the 1760s. However, the name derives from reconcentrados (reconcentration), as they were called by the Spanish during the Ten Years’ War. The English version came into usage with the Boer War as the British imprisoned victims as part of their campaign to pacify South Africa. The Germans first used concentration camps as part of the Herero Genocide. There were a variety of camps in the Nazi system.

  • Concentration Camp: Used by the Nazis to hold prisoners, these camps were initially created to segregate and re-educate Communists and political opponents, though they rapidly expanded to hold Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, religious dissenters, POWs, Soviets, and Poles. By January 1945, the camp system held as many as 700,000 prisoners. Many of these people died from starvation and horrid conditions.
  • Slave Labor Camp: A forced labor facility that provided Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners for factory labor in major German industries.
  • Transit Camp: A camp created as a “hold ground” for prisoners being moved from one camp to another.
  • Extermination Camp: A camp whose sole purpose was to exterminate persons brought and held in them. Six camps were designated as extermination centers: Chelmno (November 1941) was the first and used carbon monoxide vans to kill the victims. In December 1941, Chelmno was followed by Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, killing centers that formed part of Operation Rheinhard. Like Chelmno, these camps used carbon monoxide gas in gas chambers. Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau would be further evolutions in effective, industrialized killing as they used the more efficient Zyklon B gas. 

Concentration camps continue to be utilized as part of modern genocide. The Khmer created large work camps for its civilian prisoners and Serbian forces rounded up Muslim men and boys as part of their ethnic cleansing policies.

CDR (Coalition pour la Défense de la République): The Coalition for the Defense of the Republic was a fascist splinter group within the MRND, composed entirely of extremist Hutu.  They were instrumental in organizing and carrying out the Rwandan Genocide. 

Death Marches: A term coined by survivors to describe the forced marches concentration camp prisoners had to endure in the winter of 1945 as the war was drawing to a close.

Dehumanization: Describing or treating an individual or group in a way that is designed to depict them as being less than human.  

Deportation: The act of removing a given group of people from society, often moving them outside of their home country or region.  In some cases, as with the Holocaust and Armenia, deportations can be used as part of a genocidal action, while in others, it is a part of ethnic cleansing.  

Displaced Persons (DP): A person or group who are uprooted during a crisis. 

Einsatzgruppen ("SS Special Action Groups"): These were SS mobile killing units that functioned from 1941-45 and were responsible for the massive open air executions of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, and Soviet communists on the Eastern Front.

Endlösung: A German euphemism used with reference to the mass murders that would create the “Final Solution” to the Jewish Question in Europe. (See Final Solution)

Ethnic Cleansing: Often confused with genocide, ethnic cleansing involves the removal of a given group from a geographic area. The aim is to remove all culture remnants of the victim group. Ethnic cleansing often precedes or accompanies acts of genocide but is not a requirement.  

Eugenics: The pseudo-scientific belief that was used to promote the majority of "racial theories" in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  

Euthanasia: The Nazi euphemism to describe the extermination of the handicapped during the Holocaust.  

Final Solution: On January 20, 1942, the upper levels of the Nazi party met in Wannsee (Berlin) to discuss plans for the extermination of European Jews.  The plan was known by the euphemism “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”  

Genocidaire (plural: genocidaires): A person who is involved in committing a genocide.

Genocide: A term coined by Raphael Lemkin to describe the systematic, state-sponsored (or supported) killings of members of a specific, identifiable group.  

Ghetto: Originating in the Middle Ages, it refers to areas of towns where Jews chose or were made to live. Ghettos were used by the Nazis as a collection points for Jews who were eventually deported to concentration camps or murdered in open air killing actions.  

Holocaust: The term refers to the genocide of European Jewry by the Third Reich. In recent years, historians have expanded the concept to include victims of Nazi oppression across occupied Europe during World War II. Some people prefer to use the Hebrew word Shoah or the Yiddish word Hurban to refer to the destruction of European Jewry. The word comes from a Greek term (holokautomon or holokautoma) used to describe the Hebrew concept of olah, a sacrificial offering, that is brought up and burnt whole on the altar.

Holocaust By Bullet: A term that refers to the open air mass killings carried out by the Einsatzgruppen and collaborators. Recent archeological digs in the former Soviet Union suggest that as many as 1.3 million persons were exterminated in this manner.  

Hurban: A Yiddish word that refers to the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and which many religious Yiddish-speaking survivors chose to use when referring to the destruction of European Jewry.

Intelligentsia: Any member of the intellectual class of a given society, whose members often include political leaders, academics, artists, journalists, teachers, theologians and writers.  

Interahamwe ("Those who work together"): Initially formed as the youth movement of the MRND, the Interahamwe grew into militia groups who were responsible for carrying out and promoting the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.   

Internally Displaced People (IDP): Any group of refugees who have fled their homes and are living as displaced persons within their own country. 

Inyenzi: During the Rwandan genocide, Hutu propagandists referred to the Tutsi as inyenzi, which means “cockroach” in Kinyarwanda.

Janjaweed (sometimes Janjawiid or Jinggaweit): Meaning “horde,” the term is widely used to describe the militias who are financed to carry out genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Kangura ("Wake others up"): The MRND-controlled newspaper that was used to fuel ethnic hostility in the years before the Rwandan Genocide. The December 1990 issue contained the infamous Hutu Ten Commandments, which called for the total extermination of the Tutsi.  Kangura was published in Kinyarwanda as well as French from 1990 through 1994.  

Kapo: A prisoner appointed by the Nazis to be the "leader" for a group of other prisoners.   

Kinyarwanda: The language commonly spoken in Rwanda.

Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass"): On November 9, 1938, the Nazis organized a massive pogrom across Germany and Austria to vandalize Jewish shops and temples. This pogrom was instrumental in energizing violence against Jews.  

Lebensraum ("living space"): This refers to the theory promoted by Friedrich Ratzel in which nations compete for territory and resources in order to satisfy the basic needs of their people. Lebensraum was used by the Germans to justify the Herero genocide in 1904 and became an ideological pillar for the Nazi party in the 1930s.  

Liberation: Allied forces fighting their way through Nazi territory encountered concentration camps and the remains of prisoners who were subjected to death marches by their captors. 

Mein Kampf ("My Struggle"): Written by Hitler and published in 1925, Mein Kampf was used as a blueprint for Nazi ideology.   

Mischlinge: Persons of mixed heritage, notably a person of mixed German (Aryan) and Jewish or Gypsy blood. The Nuremberg Laws would “scientifically” define who these persons were and delineate their place in the new order in Germany.

MRND (Mouvement républicain national pour la démocratie et le développement): The National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development was the sole political party in Rwanda between 1975 until 1991, and was in power from 1975 until the end of the Rwandan Genocdie. The MRND was dominated and controlled by Hutu and became the political arm for enacting the genocide. 

Muselmann: A term applied to those prisoners in concentration camps who were close to dying from disease, starvation, exhaustion, and despair.

National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi party): Lead by Adolf Hitler, this political party opposed the post World War I German government and desired a dictatorship. Their ideology was Antisemitic, racist, xenophobic, and fiercely nationalistic. 

Nationalism: A sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests, as opposed to those of other nations.

Nuremberg Laws: Racial laws put into effect on September 15, 1935. “The Law for the Protection of the German Blood and Honor” stated that non-Jews were not permitted to marry or have sexual relations with Jews; the second law, “Reich Citizenship Law,” defined Jews as being non-Aryans and making Aryans the only true “Reich Citizens.” 

Nuremberg Trials: The International Military Tribunal (IMT) was one of the thousands of trials held after World War II. Held in Nuremberg, Germany, 21 Nazi leaders were tried on counts of 1) conspiracy 2) crimes against peace 3) war crimes and 4) crimes against humanity. The IMT was followed by twelve additional trials conducted exclusively by American forces, which are often referred to as the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials. 

Oneg Shabbes: Literally meaning the "Sabbath Delight," it was the code name for the secret archive established in the Warsaw Ghetto that sought to maintain a total record of what occurred in the ghetto. Emanuel Ringelbaum contributed greatly to the archive and helped hide the documents in buried milk cans, three of which were found after the war. 

Open Air Killing: The first mass killings during the Holocaust were large, outdoor executions. This type of killing was common among the Einsatzgruppen squads that operated on the Eastern Front in 1941. The term is used to differentiate between these instances of mass shootings and the later use of industrialized killing in gas chambers.  

Partisan: A term commonly used to refer to any group of resistance fighters during the Holocaust.

Perpetrator(s): Any person who participates or collaborates in committing genocide. The term is used synonymously with the French term genocidaire.   

Pogrom (Russian: devastation): An organized, often government sponsored, attack against Jews (see Kristallnacht). The term is also used to describe attacks which precede genocide in instances outside the Holocaust.   

Porrajmos ("the devouring"): A term used by Romani to identify the Nazi's program to exterminate the Roma and Sinti populations.  

Righteous Among the Nations (Righteous Gentiles): The title and recognition given by Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews. 

RTLM (Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines): One Thousand Hills Free Radio and Television was operated by Hutu extremists during the Rwandan Genocide. RTLM broadcast continuous messages urging Hutu throughout the country to kill their Tutsi neighbors. 

Scapegoat: A goat, upon whose head the sins of the people are symbolically placed, is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur.  In genocide, it refers to those who bear the blame for others and are the object of irrational hostility.

Selections (Selektion): The Nazis separation of camp prisoners based on those able or unable to work.

Shoah: A Hebrew word of biblical origins (Job 30:3) that, unlike the term Holocaust, has no sacrificial overtones. First employed in 1940 to refer to the genocide of Europe’s Jews, the word has replaced the word Holocaust in Israel and numerous European nations.

Shtetl: A Yiddish word meaning a “small town” and referring to those small Jewish villages and towns in Eastern Europe (Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Western Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Romania) before World War II. Most of the thousands of shtetlach and their predominantly poor Jewish inhabitants were exterminated during the war along with their unique civilization.

Sonderkommando: These were “special commandos” who were forced to work along the Nazi extermination units.  Those who were assigned to the Einsatzgruppen faced the task of burying corpses, while those primarily Jewish prisoners in the extermination camps had to remove the victims from the gas chambers, cremate the bodies, and dispose of the remains.  

Synagogue: A building or place used for assembly of Jews for worship and religious study.

Talmud: The 2,000 year old collection of Jewish laws, legends, and morals.

Torah: The five books of the Bible, known in Christianity as the Old Testament, on which Jewish law and life is based.

Treaty of Versailles: Signed in 1919, the peace treaty that ended World War I and held Germany financially responsible.