In my English class at our home school co-op, I have been teaching a series on the vocabulary and concepts of major world religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism, and Judaism. We covered Judaism last week, but didn't have time to discuss the Holocaust so I told them we will do it tomorrow (April 12). This is actually providential timing, since Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is tomorrow. Please note that this is not a full treatment of the Holocaust -- I am only introducing the terms and concepts. I will bring along and introduce several books about the Holocaust -- some from the library and some that I own -- mainly focusing on fiction and biography. I have included a short list of some of these after the vocabulary list. I will also read a picture book, The Harmonica, by Tony Johnston. I can never make it through this book without crying. That is as it should be. This is such a crucial historical period to study, in hopes that we will never let this happen again. Unfortunately, this past week marked the 16th anniversary of the beginning of 100 days of genocide in Rwanda, while the world stood by and did just about nothing... Will we never learn?
Vocabulary of the Holocaust
The Jews and Persecution
• anti-Semitism: attitudes and actions against the Jewish people. Semite refers to the Jewish people being descended from Shem, the son of Noah
• Yiddish: language spoken by many Jews in Eastern Europe; a combination of German, Hebrew and dialects of the countries in which Jews were living.
• prejudice: an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason
• scapegoat: a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place. The Jews were made scapegoats (falsely blamed) for all sorts of problems in Germany. The term originally comes from the Bible, in which a goat was let loose in the wilderness on Yom Kippur after the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on its head. Lev. 16:8,10,26.
• persecution: harassing or oppressive treatment, especially because of religion, race, or beliefs
• Diaspora: the scattering of communities of the Jews around the world, away from their homeland, Israel. From the Greek for “dispersion,” the term dates back to 556 B.C. when King Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Judeans to Babylonia and refers to the Jewish communities outside Israel.
• deportation: the expulsion of an undesired alien or other person from a state or region; Jews were deported from European cities to concentration camps
• displacement: the process, whether official or unofficial, of people being involuntarily moved from their homes because of war, government policies, or other societal actions, requiring them to find new places to live. Displacement is a recurring theme in the history of the Jewish people.
• Holocaust: The destruction of 6 millionJews by the Nazis and their followers in Europe between the years 1933-1945. Other individuals and groups were persecuted and suffered grievously during this period, but only the Jews were marked for complete and utter extinction. The term "Holocaust" - literally meaning "a completely burned sacrifice" - tends to suggest a sacrificial connotation to what occurred.
• Shoah: originally a Biblical term meaning widespread disaster, it is the modern Hebrew equivalent of the word Holocaust
• genocide: the deliberate and systematic destruction of a religious, racial, national, or cultural group
• pogrom: an organized and often officially encouraged massacre of or attack on Jews. The word is derived from two Russian words that mean "thunder."
• atrocity: appalling, cruel or monstrous condition or behavior
• annihilate: to reduce to utter ruin or nonexistence; Hitler's goal for the Jews was annihilation.
• ghetto: A section of a city where Jews were forced to live, usually with several families living in one house, separated from the rest of the city by walls or wire fences, and used primarily as a station for gathering Jews for deportation to concentration camps.
• the Resistance: the "underground" organizations working to help the Jews against Hitler/Nazi army
• White Rose Movement: A group of young German students who protested against the Nazi treatment of Jews and others. Most of the members of this group were eventually rounded up and executed.
• gypsies: a nomadic darker skinned ethnic group, whose ancestors were originally from India, which settled in Europe and was persecuted during the Holocaust along with the Jews.
Hitler and the Nazi Party
• Adolf Hitler: Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Reich Chancellor) of Germany who lived from 1889-1945. He committed suicide at the end of the war.
• Nazi: the political party, headed by Adolf Hitler, which seized political control of Germany in 1933; the German acronym for the National Socialist German Workers' party. People with similar aggressive racist views today are often called neo-Nazis.
• swastika: a bent cross symbol that the Nazis adopted as their official symbol; it was once an ancient symbol used to ward off evil spirits
• reich: German word for "empire." The Nazis hoped to establish a Greater German Reich that was “judenfrei” (“free of Jews”).
• Gestapo: acronym for Geheime Staatspolizei, meaning Secret State Police. Prior to the outbreak of war, the Gestapo used brutal methods to investigate and suppress resistance to Nazi rule within Germany.
• Aryan Race: a supposed "super race" of Northern Europeans. Hitler wanted to preserve the purity of good European blood by weeding out the undesirables. "Aryan" was originally applied to people who spoke any Indo-European language
• propaganda: information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
• Hitler Youth: (Hitler Jugend) established in the 1920's, it indoctrinated boys with Nazi propaganda, made them serve the war effort, and encouraged them to betray friends and family who were not loyal to the cause. The girls' organization was called Bund Deutcher Mädel. Hitler wrote in 1933: "My program for educating youth is hard. Weakness must be hammered away. In my castles of the Teutonic Order a youth will grow up before which the world will tremble. I want a brutal, domineering, fearless, cruel youth. Youth must be all that. It must bear pain. There must be nothing weak and gentle about it. The free, splendid beast of prey must once again flash from its eyes...That is how I will eradicate thousands of years of human domestication...That is how I will create the New Order." By 1936, all German youth were required to join it.
• Protocols of the Elders of Zion: a major piece of anti-Semitic propaganda, compiled at the turn of the century by members of the Russian Secret Police and later used by the Nazis to turn public opinion against the Jews. Translated into many languages, the book has been reprinted and is currently widely distributed by Neo-Nazis and others who are committed to the destruction of the State of Israel.
• Nuremberg Laws: two anti-Jewish statutes enacted September 1935 during the Nazi party's national convention in Nuremberg, taking away the Jews' civil rights. The first deprived German Jews of their citizenship rights. The second outlawed marriages of Jews and non-Jews, forbade Jews from employing German females of childbearing age, and prohibited Jews from displaying the German flag.
• Night and Fog decree: Secret order issued by Hitler on December 7, 1941, to seize "persons endangering German security," who were to vanish without a trace into night and fog.
• kristallnacht: (German) "Night of the Broken Glass" pogrom unleashed by the Nazis on November 9-10, 1938. Throughout Germany and Austria, synagogues and other Jewish institutions were burned, Jewish stores were destroyed, and their contents looted. At the same time, approximately 35,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps. The "excuse" for this action was the assassination of Ernst vom Rath in Paris by a Jewish teenager whose parents had been rounded up by the Nazis.
• blitzkrieg: "lightning war," used to describe the speed, efficiency and intensity of Germany's military attack against their opponents
• commandant: commanding officer of a military organization
The Concentration Camps
• Final Solution: The cover name for the plan to destroy the Jews of Europe - the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question." Beginning in December 1941, Jews were rounded up and sent to extermination camps in the East. The program was deceptively disguised as "resettlement in the East."
• concentration camp: a guarded compound for imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc., especially any of the thousands of labor camps established by the Nazis prior to and during World War II.
• extermination camp: a concentration camp especially used for killing Jews
• Auschwitz: Concentration and extermination camp in upper Silesia, Poland, 37 miles west of Krakow. Established in 1940 as a concentration camp, it became an extermination camp in early 1942. Some other main camps were Buchenwald, Dachau, Ravensbrück, and Treblinka.
• euthanasia: the original meaning of this term was an easy and painless death for the terminally ill. However, the Nazi euthanasia program took on quite a different meaning: the taking of eugenic measures to improve the quality of the German "race." This program culminated in enforced "mercy" deaths for the incurably insane, permanently disabled, deformed and "superfluous."
• gas chambers: large, sealed rooms (usually with shower nozzles) used for murdering prisoners of concentration camps with a poisonous gas called Zyklon B; many people were led into gas chambers with the belief they were going in to take a shower.
• crematorium: ovens built in concentration camps to burn and dispose of the large number of murdered bodies.
• death marches: At the end of WWII, when it became clear the German army was trapped between the Soviets to the east and the advancing Allied troops from the west, the Nazis, to thwart the liberation of camp inmates, forced them to march westward, resulting in the deaths of thousands.
After the War
• Zionism: a movement of people dedicated to establishing and preserving the modern nation of Israel as the Jewish homeland. Israel became a nation on May 8, 1948.
• Yizkor books: also known as memorial books, chronicle the lives of Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust. These rare books uniquely record the history of the shtetls (villages), cities, or regions of Europe, and are often one of the few remaining sources on a town’s people, as well as its cultural, religious, and social institutions.
• Yad Vashem: museum in Jerusalem dedicated to the memory of Holocaust victims. A tree lined avenue at Yad Vashem is commemorates "The Righteous of the Nations" -- those Gentiles (non-Jews) who risked their own lives to save Jews from the Nazis. The name of the Yad Vashem Museum is taken from an Old Testament passage in Isaiah: "I will build for them a name and a memorial." (Isaiah 56:5). There are many other Holocaust memorial museums around the world, including a large one in Washington, D.C.
• survivor: a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks
• Holocaust Remembrance Day: also known by the Hebrew term Yom Hashoah, falls on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, chose this date because it falls between the date on which the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began and Israel's Independence Day, and also because it occurs during the traditional Jewish period of mourning known as the Counting of the Omer.
• Nuremburg trials: a series of court trials conducted in 1945-1946 by the International Military Tribunal in the attempt to convict those accused of war crimes during the Holocaust. There were 24 men tried; of these, 12 were sentenced to death by hanging, 3 to life imprisonment, 4 to shorter prison terms, and 4 acquitted (declared not guilty).
For More Information
• www.ushmm.org/ (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)
Books (Fiction & Biography):
• The Hiding Place by Corrie TenBoom, or any biography of her
• The Harmonica by Tony Johnston -- picture book about a boy in a concentration camp
• The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco -- picture book
• Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura E. Williams
• When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
• Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
• The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
• Hiding to Survive: Stories of Jewish Children Rescued from the Holocaust by Maxine B. Rosenberg
Be sure to look at my Judaism Vocabulary list too!