Holocaust History Glossary

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Rabbi Israel Miller Fund for Shoah Research, Documentation and Education

Holocaust History Terminology

The Holocaust (from the Greek ὁλόκαυστος holókaustos: hólos, “whole” and kaustós, “burnt”) also known as Shoah (Hebrew: השואה, HaShoah, “the catastrophe”; Yiddish: חורבן, Churben or Hurban, from the Hebrew for “destruction”), was the mass murder or genocide of approximately six million Jews during World War II, a program of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, throughout the Germany,  and German-occupied territories.

Approximately two-thirds of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe before 1933 were systematically murdered, including more than one million Jewish children.

Holocaust Period: 1933 – 1945

Partisans (Guerrillas): A partisan is a member of an irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area by a foreign power or army. During World War II partisans effectively harassed German troops and significantly sabotaged their operations. Partisans often established control over civilians in occupied areas, who supplied them with food and other needed material. Partisans operated throughout occupied Europe.

Ghetto: A ghetto is a part of a city in which members of a minority group were forced to live. The term was originally used in 16th century Venice to describe the part of the city in which Jews were confined.  During World War II, ghettos were established by the Nazis to confine in the oldest, poorest, most run-down areas of the city. Jews from the rest of the city and from surrounding areas were forced to move into the ghetto, creating terrible overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. Some ghettos were surrounded by walls, others by barbed wire, with armed guards at the gates.

The yellow badge (or yellow patch), also referred to as a Jewish badge, was a cloth patch that Jews were ordered to sew on their outer garments to mark them as Jews in public. It was considered to be a badge of shame associated with anti-Semitism.  The wearing of a yellow badge that was compulsory for Jews originated in Europe in the middle Ages and was revived by Nazi Germany.

Nazism:  Nazism is the commonly used name of National Socialism, a fascist political party that existed in Germany in the 1920’s. The Nazi party was elected to power in Germany in democratic elections in 1933, and quickly instituted a totalitarian government headed by Adolf Hitler as dictator. Using the tactics of terror and intimidation, they eliminated other political alternatives. Social and economic pressure compelled most people to join the Nazi party.


Adolf Hitler: Born in Austria, Hitler grew up to become a German politician and leader of the Nazi party. Using his position as the chancellor of Germany, he became a dictator and used his power to establish a new order of Nazi rule. He committed suicide in the final days of the Battle of Berlin, as the Third Reich finally collapsed to the Allies.

Red Army: the Red Army was the army of the Soviet Union. The color “red” represents communism, ideology of the Soviet Union. After June, 1941, when the Soviet Union joined the Allies, the Red Army achieved important victories against the Nazi forces.

Allies: The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as seeking to stop wars of aggression being waged by the Western and Eastern powers associated with the Axis.

The anti-German coalition at the start of the war (September 1, 1939) consisted of France, Poland and the United Kingdom, soon to be joined by the British Commonwealth (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa). After first cooperating with Germany in partitioning Poland in 1939 while remaining neutral in the Allied-Axis conflict, the Soviet Union joined the Allies in mid-1941 after Operation Barbarossa.  The United States joined in December, 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Anti-Semitism: Prejudice or discrimination against Jews — dislike, fear, and persecution of Jews.

Auschwitz-Birkenau: Largest of the Nazi concentration camps, located in southwestern Poland.  It was a dual purpose camp, combining murder by gassing, and slave labor. It also sent prisoners to other concentration camps for slave labor.  More than one million Jews were murdered there.

Concentration Camps: The first concentration camps were established in Germany as prison camps for political dissidents. In November 1938, thousands of Jewish men were sent there as part of an organized attack on the German and Austrian Jewish communities. During the Holocaust thousands of camps were established where millions of Jews and other occupied people were imprisoned. Four camps served as facilities of mass murder: Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Chelmno – where all but a small number were gassed upon arrival, and those who were selected to work were killed periodically. Two camps, Auschwitz and Majdane, served a dual-purpose – murder by poison gas, and slave labor. There were thousands of slave labor camps thought occupied Europe – in factories, quarries, farms, and underground facilities.

Deportation: Forced removal of Jews from their homes in Nazi-occupied countries.

Final Solution: The Nazi plan for the physical destruction of all of Europe’s Jewish population.

Forced-Labor Camps: Camps where prisoners were used as slave labor. They were housed in poor conditions, fed very little, and forced to work at difficult manual labor without any pay, and treated very harshly by their guards.

Genocide: Deliberate, systematic murder of an entire political, cultural, racial, or religious group.

Mein Kampf (My Struggle): Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, written during his imprisonment in 1924. Mein Kampf details his plan to make Europe Judenrein or “free of Jews.”

Occupation: Control of a country by a foreign military power.

Pogrom: Organized violence against Jews, often with the support of the government.

SS: The abbreviation for Schutzstaffel, the black-uniformed elite guards of Hitler, later the political police in charge of the concentration and death camps.

Swastika: An ancient religious symbol (a hooked cross) that became the official symbol of the Nazi Party. Now banned in Germany, the swastika is still used by neo-Nazis around the world.

Third Reich: The Nazi name for Germany and its occupied territories from January 1933 to April 1945.

Yiddish: A language used by Jews in central and eastern Europe. It was originally a German dialect with words from Hebrew and several European languages. Today it is spoken mainly in the US, Israel, and Russia.

Shtetl: A small Jewish town or village formerly found throughout Eastern Europe.

Synagogue: The building where a Jewish congregation meets for religious worship and instruction.

Commissar: An official of the Communist Party, especially in the former Soviet Union or present-day China, responsible for political education and organization.

Komsomol: The youth association of the Soviet Union for 14-26-year-olds.

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