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auschwitz: inside the nazi state
Learning Resources IntroductionTeaching GuideSurprising BeginningsOrders & InitiativesFactories of DeathCorruptionMurder & Intrigue Liberation & RevengeCommunity Guide Timeline Biographies Glossary Web ResourcesOrganizationsBibliography

Glossary

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Allies

A military alliance of 26 nations that opposed the Axis during World War II. The Allies were led by Great Britain and the United States and included the Soviet Union and China.

Annihilation

Total destruction.

Anschluss

(German) After invading Austria in March 1938, the Third Reich declared it a province of Germany.

Antisemitism

Prejudice or discrimination against Jews. As a phenomenon, it dates back more than 2,000 years. Christian antipathy toward Jews developed as Christianity struggled to distinguish itself from Judaism during the Roman Empire. Christian thinkers began to criticize Jews for not accepting Jesus Christ as their messiah and to blame them for his death. This hostility continued for centuries, marginalizing Jews within society and frequently breaking out in violence. In the nineteenth century, antisemites added a "racial" basis to the religious aspect of their hatred. Some claimed Jews to be a separate and inferior race. The Nazis subscribed to this racial theory and blamed Jews for Germany's woes.

Arbeit Macht Frei

(German: "Work Makes You Free.") The motto emblazoned on the main gates of Auschwitz; originally used at Dachau.

Arrondissement

(French) A political district of Paris.

Arrow Cross

The Hungarian Fascist party.

Auschwitz

The largest Nazi camp and the only one that served as an extermination camp, concentration camp, and forced-labor camp. A complex of three primary camps (as well as numerous subcamps), it was located about 40 miles west of Krakow, Poland.

  • Auschwitz I was established as a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners in May 1940 near the town of Oswiecim. It later held Jews and Soviet POWs as well and was the site of brutal medical experiments. The camp also had a gas chamber where thousands of prisoners were killed.
  • Auschwitz II, or Auschwitz-Birkenau, was the largest of the three. It was built in the nearby Polish town of Brzezinka in October 1941 as an extermination camp. The pesticide Zyklon B was used in four gas chambers to kill some 1.3 million people, most of them Jews.
  • Auschwitz III, also known as Buna-Monowitz, was built at Monowicz to provide forced labor for German companies at nearby plants.

Auschwitz Protocols

Report written by two Jewish prisoners who escaped from Auschwitz in April 1944 and were able to reach Slovakia and tell officials there what they had witnessed. The subsequently written report called "The Auschwitz Protocols" described in detail the number of Jews who had been murdered at Auschwitz and plans for the murder of some 800,000 Hungarians. The report was forwarded to the West, where people now knew Auschwitz was, in fact, an extermination camp.

Axis

A military alliance of Germany, Japan, Italy, Hungary, and others, who opposed the Allies during World War II.


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Beaune-La Rolande

A transit camp south of Paris in occupied France.


Belzec

The second Nazi camp to operate solely as a killing center and the first to have permanent gas chambers. Between its establishment in March 1942 and November 1942 when its operations ceased, approximately 600,000 Jews were murdered there.

Bergen-Belsen

A concentration camp in Germany opened in 1940 to house prisoners of war. It was closed in 1943.

Birkenau

Also known as Auschwitz II, Birkenau was the extermination facility for Auschwitz. The Polish town of Brzezinka was evacuated to build Birkenau in October 1941. The camp had four gas chambers, which could kill 6,000 people a day. An estimated 1.3 million people died there.

Bobbies

British police officers.

Bolsheviks

A faction of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party that was a precursor of the Communist Party. The Bolsheviks had long favored a violent revolution to put the peasant and working classes in power, whereas other Russian communists preferred a more gradual change that would temporarily rely on the more privileged classes for leadership as the state moved toward a classless society. During World War I, the Bolsheviks opposed the Russian war effort; other Russians supported the war. In November 1917 the Bolsheviks staged a revolution and took power. A civil war between the Bolsheviks and the remaining parties in the government ensued between 1918 and 1920. The Bolsheviks prevailed, ultimately forming the Soviet Union.

Buna-Monowitz

Also know as Auschwitz III, Buna-Monowitz was one of three camps comprising Auschwitz, in which prisoners worked as slave laborers for various industrial plants run by German firms, including IG Farben. Their wages advanced the war effort.


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"Canada"

The name given to the area of Auschwitz-Birkenau where prisoners' confiscated belongings were stored. It was so named after the vastness and wealth of the country of Canada.

Capitalism

An economic system in which both property and the means of production are privately owned.

Carbon monoxide

One of the first gases used by the Nazis to murder people. The gas was pumped into an otherwise sealed room and caused people to stop breathing.

Channel Islands

A group of islands (including Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark) off the coast of France in the English Channel that were occupied by the Germans during World War II.

Chelmno

Built in 1941 near Lodz, Poland, it was the first camp whose sole purpose was mass murder. An estimated 300,000 people were killed there, mostly Jews from Lodz and the surrounding areas, but also including Gypsies, Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war. The Nazis destroyed the camp in late 1944.

Collaborator

A political term with moral implications; one who cooperates with the enemy. During World War II, both individuals and governments (e.g., Vichy, France) collaborated with the Nazis.

Commandant

The top overseer of concentration camps who had complete authority over the treatment of prisoners.

Commissars

Communist Party officials in the Soviet Union who were responsible for enforcing party loyalty.

Communism

An ideology that calls for collective ownership of property and the means of production. Members of a communist community are expected to share work equally, according to their ability, and share benefits according to their need. In theory, political and economic decisions are made collectively. In practice, communist countries were governed by the Communist Party, which became synonymous with state-made decisions and management of state-owned resources. Communists called for an overthrow of capitalism, but factions within the movement differed in the methods they preferred to achieve revolution. Although the Nazis took a similarly totalitarian approach to governing, business was typically left in private hands but operated in cooperation with the government.

Concentration camps

Facilities initially meant to isolate Nazi political opponents and later to house people the Nazis considered racially inferior. The Nazis established their first concentration camps almost as soon as they came to power. The first prisoners were primarily communists, Social Democrats, and labor leaders. Later, the camps housed Gypsies, religious dissenters, homosexuals, and others whose beliefs, behavior, or identity threatened the Nazis. After 1938 the Nazis began sending Jews to concentration camps. After World War II started, prisoners in concentration camps were forced to work for the war effort. By the end of World War II, hundreds of camps with more than 700,000 prisoners were located across German-controlled Europe.

Conspiracy

A secret agreement among two or more people or nations.

Corruption

Action that lacks integrity, virtue, or moral principle; bribery to commit a wrong.

Council of Elders

Jewish communities under Nazi control were ordered by the Germans to establish councils. Sometimes elected and sometimes appointed by the Germans, the councils typically were composed of prewar Jewish community leaders and tried to meet a wide range of needs within the ghettos, including food, health care, and education. The councils had very little real power, but because the Germans ordered them to select Jews for forced labor, their actions have been debated. Some councils were democratic, others authoritarian, but frequently they had no choice other than to comply with German demands in hopes of saving lives.

Crematorium

A place with a furnace for burning bodies of prisoners who had been killed. Cremation became the method of choice for Nazis to dispose of their victims.


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Dachau

First Nazi concentration camp. Established near Munich in 1933, Dachau operated continuously until April 1945. The camp generally housed enemies of the Nazi state: political prisoners, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Jews. Inmates were forced to work in war production.

D-Day

June 6, 1944, when the Allies landed at Normandy on the northern coast of France to open a second front in Western Europe.

Death camps

Death camps, or extermination camps, existed primarily to kill their prisoners. The final stop in the Nazi Final Solution, the camps killed up to 3.5 million people between 1941 and 1945. All six Nazi death camps (Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek-Lublin, Sobibor, and Treblinka) were in Poland.

Death marches

In the winter of 1944-1945, when the Allies were closing in on concentration camps, prisoners were marched hundreds of miles into the German interior without food, shelter, sanitation, or rest, to keep them from falling into Allied hands.

Deportation

Forced relocation. During World War II, groups of Jews were deported from their homes first to ghettos and later from ghettos to concentration, slave labor, and extermination camps.

Drancy

Suburb of Paris that contained a transit camp for Jews arrested in France. Vichy officials set up the camp on German orders. Most of the Jews held at Drancy were sent to camps in Poland. Although living in France when they were arrested, most of the Jews were from other countries.


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Eastern Europe

Area composed, generally, of countries to the east of Germany, Austria, and Italy, including Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania, the Baltic States, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and western Russia. Many of the people in Eastern Europe are Slavic and were generally looked down on by the Nazis.

Eastern Front

For the German Army, the Eastern Front was Russia.


Einsatzgruppen

(German): Battalion-sized mobile killing units of the Security Police and SS Security Service that followed the German armies into the Soviet Union in June 1941. Their victims, primarily Jews, were shot to death and buried in mass graves from which they were later exhumed and burned. At least a million Jews were killed in this manner.

Endlosung

(German) Final Solution.

Ethnic Germans

Germans who lived as minorities outside the German Reich, mostly in Eastern Europe.

Eugenics

So-called "science" of improving the human race through the control of hereditary factors. Eugenics was popular with biologists, anthropologists, and the public in the early twentieth century, in both Europe and the United States.

Euthanasia Program

The Nazis' vision of racial supremacy led them to want to eliminate the "genetically tainted" and those they deemed unworthy of life. Hitler ordered Operation T4 to kill the disabled. The program selected doctors to identify people—first handicapped children and later disabled adults—in hospitals, asylums, and concentration camps, who would then be killed in the gas chambers of the extermination centers. Word of the secret program leaked out, and responding to public criticism, Hitler officially ended the gassings in 1941, after the program had killed 70,000 people. The euthanasia program continued secretly, however, and killed more than 80,000 additional people. The program laid the groundwork for mass murder in the extermination camps.

Extermination camps

See Death camps.


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Fascism

Political philosophy that exalts nation and race above the individual and has a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

Final Solution

Nazi effort to rid Europe of all Jews. When the Nazis first posed "the Jewish question"—that is, what to do with the people whom the Nazis blamed for most of Germany's problems—they aimed only to force Jews out of Germany, through antisemitic policies or deportation. By the onset of the war, the Nazis were sending Jews to concentration camps or murdering them outright, such as during the invasion of the Soviet Union. By 1942 they had finalized a plan, the Final Solution, to annihilate the Jews of Europe systematically.

Forensics

Suitable for use in a court of law.

Führer

(German: "leader"): Hitler was the Reichsführer, or leader of the state.


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Gas chamber

Closed room in either a fixed or mobile space in which people are killed by means of poison gas that is piped in. The Nazis originally used carbon monoxide but later found Zyklon B to be more efficient. Typically, fixed gas chambers were disguised as showers, and victims disrobed before entering, having been told they would be given a shower.

Gauleiter

The Nazis divided Germany into regional districts known as Gaugeblete or Gau. Each Gau was run by a Gauleiter who was appointed by and reported to Hitler. The Gauleiter had political, economic, and some police responsibilities for the Gau.

Genocide

In 1948 the United Nations defined genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, including killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Gestapo

(German): Secret State Police.

Ghetto

Section of a city in which a particular population lives and is sometimes closed off from the rest of the city. The Nazis set up ghettos in or near some European cities as places to hold Jews before they were deported out of German territory or to camps in Poland. Some 400 ghettos were established, primarily in Eastern Europe, holding about two million Jews by the summer of 1942. Jewish Councils of Elders governed the ghettos at the pleasure of the Nazis. Although some ghettos maintained active religious and cultural lives, the ghettos had high death rates due to malnutrition and poor health care. Jews in the ghettos were originally used for forced labor, but in 1943 the Nazis began closing the ghettos and sending their inhabitants to concentration or extermination camps.

Guernsey

One of the British Channel Islands.

Gypsies

Popular term for Roma and Sinti, nomadic people believed to have come originally from northwest India. Prejudice toward Gypsies, who first appeared in Europe in the 1400s, was and is widespread. It is estimated that the Nazis killed more than 100,000 and as many as 500,000 Gypsies during World War II.


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Hereditary biology

Study of the role that genetics and heredity play in the biological traits of an individual. A specialty of Dr. Josef Mengele, this became the identification of racial contributors to biology, which would serve ideology.

Hlinka Guard

Named for Father Andrej Hlinka, a Slovakian priest and nationalist leader between World War I and World War II. The Hlinka Guard was responsible for domestic security in the independent nation of Slovakia during World War II and cooperated with the German SS in deporting Jews to Polish camps.


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Ideology

Set of beliefs common to a particular political or economic system. Nazi ideology, for example, was known for its nationalistic, antisemitic, and anticommunist beliefs.

IG Farben

Major German chemical conglomerate made up of eight companies. It exploited over 350,000 slave laborers during the war to profit from the war effort. An IG Farben company also produced Zyklon B, which was used in the gas chambers of the extermination camps. After World War II, IG Farben was broken up into six separate companies.

Imperialism

Extension of rule of one nation over another by acquisition or control of its economic or political life.

Initiative

Taking independent steps to get something accomplished, often without direction from others.

Iron Guard

Local Romanian fascists who killed significant numbers of Jews.


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Jehovah's Witnesses

Religious sect whose beliefs forbid them to swear allegiance to any worldly power. They thus were enemies of the Third Reich. About half of the 20,000 Witnesses in Germany during World War II were put in concentration camps. About 2,500 died there.

Jersey

One of the British Channel Islands.

Jewish Agency

Founded in 1929 to help establish a Jewish home in Palestine. Its mission is to rescue Jews at risk and resettle Jewish people in its homeland (now Israel).

Jewish Brigade

Only all-Jewish fighting unit; established by the British Army in 1944 and executed many clandestine operations in the years following the war, including hunting for Nazi perpetrators, helping Holocaust survivors get to Palestine, and participating in the creation and operations of the Israeli Defense Forces in the country's War of Independence in 1948.


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Kapos

Camp prisoners who worked for the SS to supervise prisoner work crews. Nazi camps operated in part through a kind of hierarchy in which prisoners had differing levels of authority. Using prisoners to help administer the camps allowed the Nazis to use fewer guards. Kapos were sometimes hardened German criminals and sometimes members of other prison populations. They received various benefits for cooperating with the Nazis. Some were vicious in their treatment of other prisoners; some believed that by cooperating with the Nazis they could improve other prisoners' lives.

Kommandatur

(German): Command post or central administration building.

Kristallnacht

(German: "the night of broken glass"): On November 9-10, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a spate of violence on German Jews, destroying hundreds of Jewish businesses, synagogues, and private homes and arresting tens of thousands of Jews.


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Labor camps

Locations where prisoners were made slave laborers working for the war effort.

Libel

Written defamation of a person.

"Little Red House" and "Little White House"

Two structures just outside of Birkenau. The "Little Red House" was a former peasant cottage that was converted into the first gas chamber at the death camp. It was just outside the camp, hidden in trees. It went into operation in March 1942. In June 1942 another cottage was turned into a gas chamber and became known as the "Little White House." Both buildings were referred to as shower rooms. It is estimated that 200,000 Jews died in these buildings in 1942 before they were replaced by new gas chambers.

Lódz

After the Germans occupied Lódz, Poland, in September 1939, they created a ghetto from all over the area. Some 200,000 Jews in the Lódz ghetto worked in more than 100 factories organized to support the war effort and run by the ghetto's governing Jewish Council of Elders. The ghetto maintained a lively religious, cultural, and political life but disease and malnutrition killed more than 40,000 people. Because of the ghetto's productivity, the Council of Elders was able to keep it open until 1944 (most ghettos closed in 1943), when the Nazis sent Jews from Lódz to death and concentration camps.

Lublin

City in Eastern Poland whose Jewish population (40,000) was one-third of the city's inhabitants. In 1942, more than 30,000 of its ghetto residents were sent to the newly opened Belzec extermination camp.


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Memoir

Account of the author's personal experiences.

Monowitz

See Auschwitz III and Buna-Monowitz.

Mortuary

Place where dead bodies are kept before burial or cremation.


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Nationalism

Political philosophy in which the welfare of one's country is critical and loyalty to one's country is a duty.

Nationalist right

The nationalist right in Germany included people who, like the Nazis, had a fierce loyalty to their country, believing in their country's greatness over all other countries. They also were suspicious of forms of government that gave power to the people, preferring more authoritarian forms of government. Humiliated by Germany's defeat in World War I, the nationalist right sought a scapegoat and blamed Jews for their country's downfall.

Nazi

Short for National Socialist German Workers Party, a right-wing, nationalistic, and antisemitic political party formed in 1919 and led by Adolf Hitler from 1921 to 1945. Fiercely nationalistic, the Nazis sought great territorial gains for Germany. Authoritarian in disposition, they opposed the democratic government of the postwar German Weimar Republic and detested the communism of the Soviet Union. The Nazis sought the advancement of what they called the Aryan people—a "master race" of blond-haired, blue-eyed northern Europeans—and the elimination of non-Aryans, particularly Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs, whom they slated for slavery and extermination. When the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933 under Adolf Hitler, they instituted a totalitarian state, which had total control over German life until 1945.

Noma

Gangrenous condition of the face and mouth caused by debilitation. Because it was common among the Gypsies at Auschwitz due to poor hygienic conditions, Dr. Josef Mengele studied the condition, believing that noma had a racial or genetic, rather than an environmental, basis. Mengele's noma office treated dozens of Gypsy children, only to kill them later when the Gypsy camp was liquidated.

Nuremberg Laws

Two statutes enacted at the Nazi Party's national convention in Nuremberg in September 1935: The Reich Citizenship Law deprived German Jews of their citizenship and all pertinent, related rights. 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.

Nuremberg Trials

From November 1945 to October 1946, a tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany, established by Britain, France, the USSR, and the United States, tried Nazi leaders for war crimes against humanity.


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Occupation

Control of a country taken over by a foreign military power. The Nazis invaded Poland beginning in 1939, for example, and ruled the country until the end of World War II.

Oswiecim

Polish name for Auschwitz.


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Pearl Harbor

Japan attacked the United States by bombing Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941. This was the catalyst that brought the United States into World War II against Japan, Germany, and Italy.

Perpetrator

Someone responsible for committing an act. The term is typically applied to someone who has committed a crime.

Persecution

Systematic oppression or harassment of a person or group, often because of race, religion, beliefs, or other characteristics.

Political prisoner

People who are imprisoned because of their opposition to the state and its policies. Those who opposed Nazi policies or who were considered enemies by the Nazis were arrested and placed in concentration camps. They included communists, labor leaders, and social democrats.

Posen

Province in the center of Poland where Himmler met with SS officers and claimed the right and duty to kill Jews because, he claimed, Jews "wished to kill" Germans.

Propaganda

False or misleading information used to manipulate public opinion. During World War II, for example, the Nazis described Theresienstadt as a model concentration camp to prove that they were not treating people poorly.

Prussic acid

Primary ingredient in the commercial insecticide Zyklon B.

Przemysl

Jewish ghetto in southern Poland.


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Red Army

Russian army.

Red Square

Large open area in Moscow next to the Kremlin, which has long been the seat of Russian government.

Reich

(German: "empire"): The Third Reich was the term used by the Nazis to describe Germany under their rule. The First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire, which ended in 1806. The Second Reich was the German Empire of 1871-1918.

Reichsführer

(German: "state leader"): Title Hitler gave himself in 1934 when he took on the role of president and chancellor of Germany.

Reichsmark

Currency used in Germany from 1925 to 1948. In 1941 one Reichsmark was equivalent to about $ .40 US. If it was still in use today, one Reichsmark would be equivalent to about $5 US.

Resistance

Sabotage and secret operations against occupation forces and collaborators.

Rollwagons

Carts used to take bodies to the crematoria.

Royal Air Force

British air force.



Ruthenians

Latin form of the word Russians. Ruthenia, the country, was at different times part of Ukraine and Czechoslovakia.


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SA

SA: Nazi storm troopers.

Sachsenhausen

Concentration camp north of Berlin, Germany, which opened in 1936. The camp held Soviet prisoners of war, Poles, Jews, Gypsies, and others, who worked in a brickyard and armaments plants. Many were executed.

Scapegoat

Refers to someone who is held responsible and punished for someone else's wrongdoing. It derives from an ancient Jewish legend recounted in the Bible in which Moses' son Aaron confessed all the sins of the people of Israel over the head of a goat. The goat was then released into the wilderness, symbolically bearing the sins of Israel. The Germans, for example, made scapegoats of the Jews because they thought the Jews were responsible for their losing World War I.

SD

Head of the security apparatus of the SS.

Selection

Prisoners arriving at camps were selected for work or death. Typically, SS officers or doctors examined them as they arrived and determined whether they were fit to work. If not—because they were ill, elderly, or very young—they were sent to their death. The SS also conducted selections among prisoners already in camps to determine those still fit for work. In ghettoes, Jews were selected for deportation to the camps.

Slavic

Relating to speakers of the Slavic languages of Eastern Europe, including Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and Polish.

Slovakia

Independent nation created in 1938. A staunch German ally during World War II that willingly implemented a series of antisemitic measures against Slovakian Jews.

Sobibor

German extermination camp in eastern Poland. During its operation from May 1942 until October 1943, the camp executed 150,000 to 250,000 Jews. In October 1943 about 300 prisoners escaped from the camp, although most were eventually caught or killed. Soon thereafter, the camp was closed.

Sonderkommando

(German: "special commandos"): Jewish death camp prisoner who assisted in the Final Solution. The job of a Sonderkommando was to remove bodies from gas chambers, burn them in camp crematoria, and get rid of the remains in order to hide the evidence.

Soviet Union

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or Soviet Union, was established in 1922 after the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War, which ushered in communist rule, and dissolved in 1991. It encompassed 15 republics joined together in a federal union. The republics included Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Russia, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. In practice, Russia was the seat of power.

The USSR was based on a Marxist communist political philosophy. The Soviet state owned and managed all industry, and most farmland was owned by the state or organized into collective farms (in which numerous private farms worked together according to government orders). The government provided for many of the people's social needs, such as health care. Both before and after World War II, the USSR made great strides at moving from a backward agrarian nation to an industrial state.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union effectively governed the country, and it occasionally consolidated its power by purging real and alleged opponents both outside and within the party. In addition to actual political enemies, the victims of the Party's purges included peasants who opposed agricultural reforms, intellectuals and artists who opposed repressive policies, and religious groups who opposed state atheism and religious oppression. Jews were among the targets of Soviet persecution. Tens of millions of people were killed or sent to prison as a result of purges.

For years, Western nations actively opposed the USSR, but they joined forces to fight the Axis powers during World War II. After the Allied victory, the antagonisms resurfaced, and a cold war of international friction mostly short of actual war ensued for decades. During most of the Cold War, the East and West fought proxy battles in places like Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Africa, and Central America, where indigenous armies were actively supported by the East and West. By the 1980s internal economic problems destabilized the Soviet Union at the same time that its leaders called for openness and reforms. By 1991 the resurgent republics in the USSR dissolved the union and reestablished themselves as independent nations.

SS or Schutzstaffel

(German: "defense echelon"): Elite organization that answered to Hitler alone as it sought to destroy his enemies and advance Nazi plans. Founded as Hitler's personal bodyguard unit in the 1920s, the SS grew to have authority over all German police agencies and, ultimately, the Final Solution. Led by Heinrich Himmler, it also was responsible for, first, emigration of Jews from Germany, and later, their deportation to and misery in the SS-managed concentration, labor, and extermination camps. The SS conducted medical experiments on prisoners in the camps, linked the camps with German industry, and organized the mass murder of prisoners. As an organization that upheld Nazi racial policies, the SS demanded racial purity of its members.

Stammlager

(German: "main camp"): Central building in a concentration camp.


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T4

See Euthanasia Program.

Third Reich

Germany under Nazi rule.

Totalitarianism

Control by a centralized and autocratic authority.

Transit camp

Place where enemies of the Nazi state were held, pending their deportation to concentration and/or death camps.

Transports

During the Holocaust, the Nazis moved large numbers of people from place to place, typically ending up at a concentration or death camp. These movements were known as transports.

Treblinka

Opened in 1942 as part of Operation Reinhard, the effort to kill all Jews in the Polish General Government, Treblinka operated as an extermination camp for only about 16 months but killed more than 800,000 Jews and several thousand Gypsies. The camp dealt primarily with Jews from ghettos in central Poland, including Warsaw.


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USSR

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; see Soviet Union.


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Vichy

City in central France. During World War II, the Vichy government controlled that part of France not occupied by the Germans, but it did so as a German ally and in an authoritarian manner.


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Wannsee Conference

On January 20, 1942, at a meeting in the Wannsee district of Berlin, SS leaders informed leaders of the German bureaucracy of the role they would play in implementing the Final Solution. Various ministries were assigned responsibilities for the deportation, forced labor, and mass extermination of European Jews.

Wehrmacht

German armed forces during World War II.

Weimar Republic

Parliamentary democracy established after World War I in Germany that ruled from 1919 to 1933.

World War I

Conflict between 1914 and 1918 fought mainly in Europe. On one side were the Allies (mainly France, Britain, Russia, and the United States). On the other side were the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey). Both Hungarian nationalism and German imperialism were among the causes. The Central Powers were defeated. The Treaty of Versailles that ended the war changed the face of Europe and the Middle East, toppling empires and replacing them with a variety of forms of government.

World War II

Conflict between 1939 and 1945 involving nearly every major power in the world. World War II was fought between the Axis nations (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and Allied nations (Great Britain, Russia, the United States, and others). War was officially declared in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, but in the years preceding 1939, Axis countries encroached on their neighboring countries numerous times. Initially, the primary combatants were Germany and Italy on one side and Great Britain and France on the other. France had earlier pledged to aid Poland, if invaded. Russia, which had previously signed a nonaggression pact with the Nazis, joined the war in 1940 when Germany invaded it despite the pact. The United States entered the war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in late 1941. Initially, the Axis forces won many battles. U.S. and Soviet armaments production was relatively safe from attack because it was far away from the front lines (unlike Axis industries, which were frequently bombed). The war ended in Europe in May 1945, when the Allies defeated Germany. Japan surrendered in September 1945, after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese cities. Following the war, the United States occupied Japan for several years as the country rebuilt. In Europe, the main Allied powers temporarily divided Germany into occupation zones. In time, Germany was divided into two countries: the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), a democratic country allied with Western Europe and the United States; and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), a communist country allied with the Soviet Union. In 1990, in the midst of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the two parts of Germany were reunified into one country.


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Yad Vashem

Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority established in 1953 by an act of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset). Since its inception, Yad Vashem has been entrusted with documenting the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust period, preserving the memory and story of each of the six million victims, and imparting the legacy of the Holocaust for generations to come through its archives, library, school, museums and recognition of the Righteous Among the Nations.


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Zyklon B

Commercial name for a pesticide used by the Nazis at Auschwitz to kill Jews and other prisoners. The chemical was first tested on Soviet POWs in September 1941. When Zyklon B pellets are exposed to air, they form a deadly gas. Death camp personnel would lead victims into a shower room, lock them in, and release the gas.