Glossary of Holocaust-related Terminology (A-E)

Antisemitism - Prejudice towards, or discrimination against, Jews. Antisemitism was not new to Nazi Germany or Europe; feelings of hatred and distrust of Jews had existed there for centuries. (“Antisemitism” can also be written with a hyphen, as “anti-semitism,” but the growing consensus is to write it without a hyphen.)

Aryan - “Aryan” was used originally to identify peoples speaking the languages of Europe and India. The Nazis changed it to mean ”superior race,” described as white, tall, athletic, with blond hair and blue eyes.

Auschwitz - Usually refers to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp, located 37 miles west of Krakow, Poland. Established in 1940, it became a huge camp complex that included a killing center and slave labor camps.

Bar Mitzvah - Jewish religious ceremony held on a boy’s thirteenth birthday, marking his passage into manhood.

Bystander - One who is present at an event or who knows about its occurrence and chooses to ignore it. That is, neither participates in, nor responds to it.

Collaborator - In the context of war, one who cooperates with the enemy who is occupying his/her country and/or persecuting his/her people.

Concentration camps - Nazi system for imprisoning those considered “enemies of the state.” Many different groups and individuals were imprisoned in concentration camps: religious opponents, resisters, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), Poles, and Jews. Concentration camps were further subdivided into labor camps and death camps. Before the end of World War II, several thousands of these concentration camps were operating throughout Europe, in all countries conquered by the German army.

Crematoria - Furnaces constructed to burn human remains in the killing centers and concentration camps. The Germans had accepted bids for the construction of crematoria; many were built by German companies.

Death Camps - (Also called “extermination camps.”) These were concentration camps created for the sole purpose of killing people. Victims were murdered in assembly-line fashion oftentimes in gas chambers, and their bodies burned in open fields or crematoria, or were buried in mass graves. The Nazis operated six death camps: Sobibor, Belzec, Treblinka, Chelmno, Auschwitz, and Majdanek. Many concentration camps, such as Bergen-Belsen, Mathausen, and Dachau were also considered death camps because thousands were killed there as a result of starvation, mistreatment, and disease.

Death March - A forced march of Nazi prisoners from the camps toward the German interior at the end of World War II when the German armed forces were trapped between the Soviets to the east and the advancing Allied troops from the west. Treated with enormous brutality during the forced marches, thousands of prisoners died either by starvation, exhaustion, or were shot to death.

Dehumanization - Intended to change the manner in which a person or group of people are perceived. Dehumanization reduces the target group to objects, therefore these persons are no longer human and worthy of human rights or dignity. This was done by identifying people by numbers in place of their names, or as animals like “pigs,” or insects like “cockroaches.”

Deportation - The act of being forced to leave one's place of residence. The Nazis coerced, tricked, and forced prisoners to leave their homes or ghettos and board cattle cars destined for concentration camps and/or death camps. Prisoners in the overcrowded, unsanitary, cattle cars were given no food or water during the two to four day ride to the camps, and many died.

Discrimination - An action, following prejudicial thinking, that denies justice and fair treatment in employment, education, housing, or legal and civil rights.

Displaced Persons’ Camps (DP Camps) - Camps set up after World War II as temporary living quarters for the thousands of homeless people victimized by the Holocaust. Because in almost all cases their homes had been looted, stolen and/or destroyed, Holocaust survivors no longer had homes to return to. They lived in DP camps and then emigrated to new lives in the United States, Israel, Europe, South America, or Australia.

Einsatzgruppen - German name for SS mobile killing squads which followed the German army into Russia and eastern Poland. They rounded up Jews and other “inferior people” in the conquered territories, forced their victims to dig their own graves, and shot them. At least one million Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen.

Euphemism - A euphemism is a nice way of saying something terrible or something you wish to hide. The Nazis used euphemisms to hide their true intentions from victims and bystanders such as:

Evian Conference - A conference convened by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938 to discuss the problem of Jewish refugees in Europe. Thirty-two countries sent representatives to this meeting, which met in Evian-les-Bains, France. Although the delegates expressed sympathy for the plight of Jewish refugees, they were unwilling to take concrete steps to loosen the immigration laws of their respective countries.