Glossary of Holocaust-related Terminology (R-Y)

Racism – Belief in the superiority of one race over another. The racism of the Third Reich was based on the idea that Jews were a subhuman race. Jews were to be killed in a racial war to “purify” Germany and the rest of the world of Jews. The racism of the Nazis also included people of African descent, Mediterranean descent, Slavs, Poles, and Roma and Sinti (Gypsies).

Refugee – One who flees in search of safety, in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution.

Rescuer – One who saves the life of a persecuted person or group, usually at the risk of his or her own life.

Resister – One who opposes those in power for the preservation of one’s own human dignity or the dignity of persecuted others. Resistance can be organized and physical, as in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Uprising - It can also be cultural, as in the many schools, soup kitchens, and arts groups established in the ghettos. Or, resistance can be spiritual, as in the celebration of Jewish holidays in the concentration camps; participants risked being killed on the spot if caught.

SA – Abbreviation for Sturmabteilung, the German for “storm troopers,” a special armed and uniformed branch of the Nazi party. They were also called “Brownshirts” because of the color of their uniform.

Scapegoat – A person or group of people unfairly blamed for natural disasters or wrong actions done by others. The Jews were the scapegoats of the Nazis, and unfairly blamed for all of the economic, political, and cultural problems in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

Shtetl – The Yiddish word for small Jewish town or village.

Slave Labor – The Nazi system of exploiting for no pay the physical energy and skills of Jewish and other prisoners to serve the German economy. Prisoners were forced to work long hours in factories or in the fields, in conditions that were so deplorable that many died of exhaustion, starvation, or disease.

SS - Abbreviation for the German Schutzstaffel, Hitler’s elite guard, headed by Heinreich Himmler. There were many divisions of the SS and one of the most powerful was the Gestapo. The Einsatzgruppen were also members of the SS, as well as the Death’s Head Regiment whose members became commandants of concentration and death camps. Known as the “Blackshirts,” they wore black uniforms and became known throughout Europe as Hitler’s butchers, the most dreaded group of all who were given daggers and sworn to kill all who were enemies of Hitler, even their own brothers, upon graduation from special SS schools.

Star of David – A six-pointed star, symbol of the Jewish religion. Jews were required to wear a yellow star on their clothing for identification and to make them easy targets.

Stereotype – An oversimplified generalization about a person or group of people without regard for individual differences. Jews were stereotyped by the Germans of the Third Reich.

Survivor – One who experienced the events of the Holocaust and lived.

Swastika – An ancient Eastern symbol adopted by the Nazis as their emblem.

Third Reich – “Reich” is German for “empire.” The Third Reich is the official name of the Nazi regime. Historically, the First Reich was the medieval Holy Roman Empire, which lasted until 1806. The Second Reich included the German Empire, from 1871 to 1918. Hitler expected the Third Reich to last one thousand years; however, it lasted only twelve, from 1933 to 1945.

Totalitarian – A government or doctrine in which one political party or political group maintains complete control of a population even to the intimate, private details of an individual’s life such as one’s friendships.

Transit Camp – A holding facility - like a barn, warehouse or field - where Jews from nearby small towns and shtetls were forced to wait, sometimes for days. When the Nazis had a suitable number of people to fill a train, the Jews were transported to another camp. A well-know transit camp was in Drancy, France, where an orphanage of children was kept until being transported to Auschwitz.

Victim – One who is intended for persecution or death; also known as a “target.”

Visa – Legal permission for an immigrant or refugee to enter another country. Persecuted Jews from Nazi Germany had to possess not only a German passport, but also a visa from another country that permitted them to immigrate.

Wannsee Conference (vahn zey) – A conference held on January 20, 1942 at Lake Wannsee in Berlin where “The Final Solution” and other steps were approved which would lead to the total annihilation of European Jews.

Yiddish – A language spoken by Central and Eastern European Jews before the Holocaust that combines elements of German and Hebrew and written in Hebrew letters.

Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Memorial Day established to commemorate the Holocaust and the six million Jews who perished. It is held on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 19, 1943, which falls on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan.