Faces of the Holocaust glossary

Glossary of terms used in the videotapes

Anstellung means “assembly place” in German.  It was the usual name for the open area in a concentration camp where prisoners were assembled each day for roll call and sometimes to witness a beating or execution.

Arbeit Macht Frei means “work will make [you] free” – a cynical slogan that was placed above the entrance gates to several of the camps.

Nazi ideology used the term Aryan to mean the “pure white northern European race,” ideally blond and blue-eyed, the most superior humans.  It was a central goal of Nazism to ensure that Aryan blood was not mixed with that of “inferior” people, most especially the Jews.  Properly, the word “Aryan” refers to an ancient warlike tribe that swept over prehistoric Europe (and Persia and India) and conquered the native “old Europeans.”  They imposed their language on the peoples they conquered, and it evolved into the modern European languages – English, German, Greek, Latin, Russian and many others.  Hitler’s mistake was to assume that people who speak Aryan languages must be of “Aryan blood.”

The Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations in Jerusalem recognizes people like Johanna Van Schagen.  Trees, symbolic of the renewal of life, have been planted in and around the Yad Vashem site in honor of those non-Jews who acted according to the most noble principles of humanity by risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Plaques adjacent to each tree record the names of those being honored along with their country of residence during the war. More plaques appear on walls of honor in the newly dedicated Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Auschwitz, with its sister camp Birkenau, was the largest of all the death camps.  Located in southern Poland not far from the Czech border, it housed several million prisoners between its founding in June 1940 and its liberation in April 1945.  The gas chambers were built in 1942 and operated almost constantly for three years.  It was not a single camp but a huge complex of concentration, extermination and labor camps.  Auschwitz had three main sections: Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp; Auschwitz II or Birkenau, the extermination center; and Auschwitz III or Monowitz, mainly a labor camp for an I. G. Farben factory. Hundreds of thousands died in its gas chambers, and the total death count is at least 1.6 million and perhaps as much as 3 million.  It was also notorious for Joseph Mengele’s medical experiments and other research with chemical weapons.  Factories operating with slave labor surrounded the camps.

The Balkans is a somewhat vague term referring to southeastern Europe, including the former Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia), Bulgaria, Rumania, and sometimes Hungary.  Most of the Balkan countries were occupied by the Nazis and were used as a source of slave labor for the German war effort.

Bergen-Belsen, another major death camp, is south of Hamburg.  About 60,000 Jews were exterminated there.

Berlin was the old capital of Prussia, and after 1871, of united Germany.  During the Nazi era it was home to thousands of high-ranking military and civil officials, the headquarters of the SS and SA, and for a time the real nerve center of Europe.  Berlin suffered hundreds of Allied bombing raids between 1940 and 1945 – some 76,000 tons of explosives, five times the power of the first atom bomb.   Berlin was largely rubble when the Soviet army marched in on May 1, 1945.

Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war,” was the German tactic (unheard of before 1940) of lightning-quick attacks by land, sea and air against an enemy.  As few nations were prepared for such an onslaught, it was highly effective in the first year of the war.

The Sturmabteilung, SA, or “storm troopers,” were known as Brown Shirts in the early days of the Nazi Party, and they retained that nickname after Hitler came to power.  They were technically police, but actually were fanatically loyal terrorist squads used to destroy enemies of the party.  After some of their leaders were executed in 1934, they became less important, though still feared.

Buchenwald was established in 1938, just before Kristallnacht.  It became the largest death camp in Germany and is still maintained as a memorial by the German government.  It is located in upper Saxony, not far from Nuremberg.  Between 60,000 and 65,000 died there.

A bunker is an underground shelter or command post, mentioned by several of the survivors and liberators.  It might be anything from a simple hole in the ground to an elaborate nerve center, like Hitler’s bunker in Berlin.

Caserne is a French word for prison, used throughout Europe.

A chancellor is a prime minister; the term is used in Germany, Austria and a few other countries.  The chancellor is the real head of government, as opposed to the president, a ceremonial post in Germany.  The head of the party with a majority in the Reichstag would normally be chancellor.  This is how Hitler came to power – legally and democratically – in 1933.  His title in German was Reichskanzler.

In Europe, then and now, circumcision (the ritual removal of the foreskin of the penis) was not common except among Jewish men.  The Nazis forbade Aryans to circumcise their sons.  This was often how the Nazis could identify a man as Jewish.

A collective farm (kolkhoz) was a large, state-owned farm in the Soviet Union.  Many Jewish refugees who fled into Russia were put to work on collective farms.

The confiscation laws, passed between 1938 and 1939, required Jews to hand over money, property, business, jewelry, other valuable items and even pets.  They were enacted after Kristallnacht.

A crematorium (plural crematoria) is an oven used to burn dead bodies.  All the death camps had them, as did some concentration camps.

Crystal Night: see Kristallnacht.

Dachau, located in a suburb of Munich, was the first concentration camp established by Hitler (in 1933).  It became one of the largest and most notorious, though it was never technically a death camp.  During its twelve years of operation it housed some 206,000 prisoners, at least 35,000 of whom died.

A death camp was a facility set up specifically to exterminate prisoners in an organized way – Auschwitz, Treblinka and a few others.  The vast majority of camps were classified as concentration camps – Dachau, Mauthausen, etc. –  meaning that  prisoners were sent there for detention or work, not to be killed.  In practice, of course, all camps were “death camps” for those who perished there.

As the war ended and the Germans knew they had lost, death marches were a last desperate attempt to prevent Jews and other prisoners from being liberated.  Inmates were marched out of concentration and death camps that were about to be captured, and often forced to walk great distances across dangerous territory with little food or water, deeper into German-held territory.  Those unable to continue were often shot on the spot.  Some of the soldiers who discovered the death camps also stumbled onto victims of death marches still straggling across the countryside.

The discriminatory laws, also called Nuremberg Laws, were promulgated over several years in the 1930s.  They gradually deprived German Jews of most of their civil and human rights.  They were an excuse for the harassment and eventual extermination of Jews.

DP or “displaced persons” camps were set up all over Europe by the Allies at the end of World War II, to take care of hundreds of thousands of refugees (Jews and non-Jews alike) who lost their homes during the conflict.  Many Holocaust survivors spent weeks, months or even a year in DP camps before moving on to America or Palestine, or elsewhere.

Many who lived through the war in Europe remember ersatz coffee, made from grains, chicory or other substitutes because the real thing could not be had.  Ersatz is German for “fake.”

The Final Solution, or the final extermination of the Jews, was discussed even before the war among Nazi leaders and became official policy at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942.  Of course, many Jews had already been killed, but now the destruction became large-scale and systematic.  The gas chambers were built and used after that date.

The French Resistance, “Maquis,” or “Underground,” better known but actually less effective than similar movements in Poland and Czechoslovakia, was directed from London by the Free French government in exile.  Most Maquisards had little military training and could not offer much support to the Allies.  However, many of them did help fugitive Jews – in some cases the entire Jewish population of towns or villages was saved.  Often Jewish children were passed off as Catholic members of French families, and some did not rediscover their Jewish origins until decades later.

Führer or Fuehrer is German for “driver” or “leader.” The word  has many uses that have nothing to do with Nazis; but today the word it is avoided in Germany when possible because of the bad connotations.  Hitler was called by this title throughout his career as head of the Nazi Party.

A Gauleiter was a “district leader” in the Nazi Party; he often commanded large regions and was very powerful, and much feared by people in occupied nations.

Genocide is the deliberate destruction of an entire people or ethnic group.

The Gestapo, short for Geheime Statspolizei or “homeland police,” was Hitler’s secret civilian police force.  It was used to discover and stamp out political opposition.  The Gestapo were instrumental in the roundup and extermination of the Jews and in running the concentration camps.

A ghetto is a neighborhood where a particular ethnic or religious group is forced to live.  It is from the Italian borghetto, “little city,” and has been a commonly used word since the Middle Ages.  It has connotations of being poor, overcrowded and dirty, though often that was not true – some Jewish ghettos (though always crowded) contained wealthy households, shops and businesses, and were not at all dirty or dangerous.  During the war the Nazis built walls and fences around ghettos (especially in Poland and Lithuania) and used them as “holding pens” for Jews on their way to concentration camps.

Gleiwitz was a small concentration camp in Poland.

Josef Göbbels or Goebbels (1897-1945) was Hitler’s chief propaganda minister and one of his closest associates.  He was the military commander of Berlin during the Allied bombings and was designated by Hitler to be chancellor of Germany after Hitler’s suicide.  But he refused the “honor” and also committed suicide a week before the German surrender.

Hermann Göring or Goering (1893-1946) was president of the Reichstag in the 1930s and during the war was commander of the Luftwaffe (air force).  He organized Hitler’s wartime economic system and used his power to exploit and plunder the occupied countries.  He was captured and tried by the Allies for war crimes but he committed suicide in his cell at Nuremburg before he could be executed.

Hershel Grynszpan (pronounced “greenspan”) was the young Jewish student who killed a German diplomat in Paris in November 1938, after his parents were deported to a concentration camp.  The assassination provided the Nazis an excuse for launching the Kristallnacht atrocities.

The Nazi salute “Heil Hitler!” was the usual greeting in Germany during the Third Reich, and failure to use or respond to it would often lead to arrest.  Today the opposite is true: one can be arrested for saying it!

Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) was Hitler’s right-hand man, head of the SS and one of the most cruel and feared Nazi leaders.  Along with Heydrich, he was responsible for the implementation of the “Final Solution.”  When captured by the British, he committed suicide.

Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), field marshal and Germany’s greatest military hero of World War I, served as president under the Weimar government from 1925 to 1933.  He hated the Nazis, but when they won a majority in the Reichstag in 1933, he was forced to appoint Hitler as chancellor.  When he died, Hitler also made himself president of Germany.

The Hitler-Stalin Pact (August 1939), also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact after the two foreign ministers who signed it, was a secret agreement between two sworn enemies – Germany and the Soviet Union.  Hitler wanted Poland, while Stalin wanted the Baltic states and Finland; they agreed not to interfere with one another when those nations were invaded.  The pact made possible the attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, which is considered the first act of World War II.  In 1941 Hitler broke the agreement by attacking the U.S.S.R., bringing them into the war on the Allies’ side.

The word Holocaust is from the Greek, meaning “entirely burned up.”   The equivalent Hebrew term is “Shoah.”  Though applied to other historical events, it has come primarily to mean the attempted destruction of European Jewry during the Nazi era.  It also includes the extermination of the Gypsies, the handicapped, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other groups targeted for similar reasons.

An icon is a religious image, usually painted on wood, venerated by Russian and Greek Orthodox Christians.

The German word Judenrein means “Jew-clean” or “free of Jews,” and was a principal goal of Nazi policy.  Judenfrei or “Jew-free” was also used.

The kaddish is the Hebrew prayer for the dead.

Kapo is a slang term for concentration camp prisoners who tried to save their own lives by betraying their fellow prisoners – they served as guards, informers or supervisors, and received extra privileges such as food or better sleeping quarters.  Those who were still alive at liberation were often murdered by other prisoners.  The derivation is uncertain but might be related to “captain,” or “Kapitan” in German; or perhaps Italian “capo,” meaning “boss.”

A kibbutz is a collective farm in Israel.  These were established long before the Nazi era, and some of the Jews who escaped Germany early on went to kibbutzim.  Property is owned by the community and all members work for the common welfare.

Kristallnacht – the night of November 9/10, 1938 – was the real turning point in the history of the Holocaust.  Persecution of Jews had been indirect and mostly nonviolent until then.  But early in November, a Jewish student assassinated a Nazi diplomat in Paris.  This event was the excuse for turning loose the Nazi SS and their sympathizers on the Jews of Germany.  That night, all over the country, houses and shops were looted and synagogues were burned.  Thousands were arrested and sent to camps during those two days.  The window glass that littered the streets in Jewish neighborhoods gave rise to the expression “Night of Broken Glass.”  Kristall means “crystal,” but also “broken glass.”  After Kristallnacht many Jews realized that the government was out to destroy them, and thousands fled the country.  Many others were unable to escape before the war broke out ten months later.  About 150,000 of Germany’s 500,000 Jews managed to escape.

Kuybyshev is a city in southeastern Russia to which many Jewish refugees fled as the Germans invaded eastern Europe.  In 1990 it regained its old pre-Communist name, Samara.

A labor army or labor battalion was a large group of civilian workers, drafted by military command to build roads or fortifications or do other heavy work needed by the armed forces.  Several European nations on both sides used labor armies, but most were in the Soviet Union.  Many Holocaust survivors owe their lives to the labor battalions, although the work was hard and conditions often very harsh.

The Lodz Ghetto was one of the largest Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Europe (205,000 Jewish inhabitants before the war).  Lodz is in northwestern Poland, and at times has been under Russian or Lithuanian control; the ethnic mix is very diverse.  The German occupation forces established the ghetto as a vast prison in 1940, herding into it thousands of Jews from all over northern Poland – and later, from western Europe.  During the war years it was a source of slave labor.  An unrecorded number of Jews were killed there or died of disease or starvation, while most of the remainder were exterminated at Chelmno.  The name is pronounced “ludge.”

Lublin is a city in eastern Poland that had a large population of Jews.

Luftwaffe is the German term for “air force.”

Mauthausen is in Austria, near Linz on the Danube.  Life there was particularly hard because inmates were forced to work under terrible conditions in a stone quarry.  The death rate was very high, and Mauthausen was one of the last camps liberated, on May 5, 1945.  About 120,000 died there.  It was also one of the starting points for the “death marches,” the forced treks that occurred at the end of the war when the Nazis tried to move prisoners away from the Allied advance.

Minsk is the capital of Belarus, before 1991 called the Belorussian S.S.R., part of the Soviet Union.  Before the war it was a center of Jewish culture.

Germany invaded the Netherlands in the spring of 1940, part of the larger Blitzkrieg that overran western Europe that year.  The Dutch government surrendered quickly to avoid reprisals and destruction, and the Queen fled to London.  During nearly five years of occupation, the Dutch people suffered many hardships but most did not collaborate, and many worked actively against the Nazis through the Underground.  The Netherlands was liberated in the fall of 1944.  About 106,000 Dutch Jews, or three-quarters of the Jewish population, died in the Holocaust.

Nordhausen, one of the larger concentration camps, was located in Thuringia southwest of Berlin.

Occupation means the control of a country or region by a conquering enemy; it usually means military or martial law is in force and people are treated harshly.

Orthodox Jews are those (a small minority in the United States) who strictly observe the dietary and sabbath laws.  In Europe they could often be easily identified by their clothing.  Not many German Jews were Orthodox, but a high percentage in Poland and eastern Europe were.

Partisans are resisters or freedom fighters who operate behind enemy lines in occupied territories.  Sometimes synonymous with “underground” or “resistance.”

Passover or Pesach is a major eight-day Jewish holiday usually occurring near the time of Easter.  It commemorates the exodus of the Jews to Israel from slavery in ancient Egypt and so holds a special meaning for those who survived the Holocaust.

A pogrom is a riot or organized attack against Jews, often resulting in destruction of property, looting and raping, expulsions, and even death for the victims.  It is a Russian word and is used commonly in eastern Europe.  (Pronounced “puh-GROM”)

The Polish Underground, also known as the “Home Army,” operated throughout the war under the direction of the exiled government in London.  The espionage network was highly efficient and supplied much valuable information to the Allies.  The underground also aided Jewish refugees and supplied some weapons for the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Many Holocaust victims were political prisoners sent to camps because of their ideological views;  many were communists, socialists or anarchists, and many of them went to the camps even before the large-scale persecution of the Jews.  Of course, some of them were Jews.  As time went on, the label was applied to virtually anyone who opposed the regime, including Catholic priests and Protestant ministers.

Race defilement was a charge often brought against Jews who married, had children with, or even just dated non-Jews. Rassenschande in German.  The Nazis did not want “Aryan” blood “polluted” with Jewish blood.

Revisionism is usually a respectable intellectual attitude among historians – the “revision” of previously held theories in light of new information.  However, in Holocaust studies it specifically refers to those who deny that the Holocaust ever happened, or that it is greatly exaggerated.  Some revisionists are promoting a racist agenda; others are looking for financial or professional gain.  Revisionists are also called “deniers.”

Righteous Gentiles are non-Jews who have been honored by the Israeli government for helping to save Jews during the Holocaust.  A better translation of the Hebrew term is “Righteous Among the Nations.”  In this book we prefer the term “rescuers” because it is broader, and includes people who have not been officially recognized.

Romania was a monarchy until the end of World War II, a relatively new country created in the late nineteenth century out of provinces conquered from the Ottoman Empire.  But the Romanians are an ancient people, descendants of the Roman inhabitants of the province of Dacia.  The Jewish population of this region has been large since at least the Dark Ages.  Romania also has the world’s largest Gypsy population, even though a quarter million of these semi- nomadic people also died in the Holocaust.

The SA or Sturmabteilung, “storm troopers,” were also known as Brown Shirts – see above.

Sabbath (or more correctly, shabbat) is the weekly Jewish day of rest, beginning at sundown Friday and continuing until after dark on Saturday.  Orthodox Jews do not work or travel or do business on the sabbath.  It is also a day for special meals and synagogue services.  Usually pronounced “shabbas” by western European and American Jews.

Sanitätslager or Sanitaetslager means “sanitary camp,” and refers to the medical or hospital section of a concentration or prisoner-of-war camp.

A scapegoat is a person or group that is unjustly blamed for some fault or problem in society.  It is easier to ‘scapegoat’ other people than to look for and correct the real causes of a social problem.

SD or Sicherheitdienst, “security service,” was Hitler’s intelligence service.  Headed by Reinhard Heydrich, its real function was as yet another private army of thugs loyal to Nazi ideals.  The Gestapo was technically a branch of the SD.

Siemens Werke is a major German multinational corporation, involved in a great variety of heavy industrial production.  During the war it supplied a large part of Germany’s weapons and ammunition, as well as chemicals and other war materiel.  Siemens was one of the major users of Jewish and prisoner slave labor.  It still exists and flourishes today.

SS is the abbreviation for Schutzstaffel, “defense squadron,” also called Black Shirts.  Established in 1923 as Hitler’s bodyguards, they evolved into a large ‘alternative army’ of fanatically loyal Nazi soldiers who ran the concentration camps and murdered millions of Jews and other ‘enemies.’  Every branch of the government and the military feared the SS, the real power behind Hitler’s throne.  Many Holocaust survivors remember direct encounters with “SS-men.”

While protecting eastern European Jews from Nazi genocide, the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) often forced them into conditions approaching slave labor.  Able-bodied Jews dug ditches, laid railroad track, and sometimes died under harsh conditions – but hundreds of thousands were saved from the death camps.  The Soviet government helped families to reunite and allowed the fugitives  some freedom of movement.  After the war most of these survivors came to the United States or to Israel.  Of the Soviet Jews who lived in areas occupied by the Nazis, 107,000 died in Russia and 900,000 in the Ukraine.

Stereotyping is the habit of attaching an uncritical, uncomplimentary or generalized label to a person, race, idea, or the like.  For example, Jews were stereotyped as money-hungry.

The swastika, or Hakenkreuz in German, was the symbol of Nazism.  Hitler borrowed it from India, believing that the ancient Indians were also Aryans.  It is a symbol of life and hope in many cultures. Today it is illegal to display a swastika in Germany and many other European countries.

A synagogue is a Jewish house of worship, prayer, and study.  Its leader is usually a rabbi, and it is governed by a committee of laypeople.

General George Patton’s Third Army led the invasion of Normandy and then the vast sweep across France which liberated that country in the summer and fall of 1944.  Patton continued on into Germany that winter and his troops were usually at the forefront, which is why so many of his veterans were present at the liberation of concentration camps.

Treblinka was one of the largest death camps, located east of Warsaw on the site of a former prison camp.  Like Sobibor and Belzec, it has very few survivors – because nearly everyone was gassed or shot immediately upon arrival.  It operated for only about a year (1942-43), until an inmate revolt destroyed much of the camp. After that Himmler ordered it closed and the evidence obliterated.  In the first five weeks alone, a quarter of a million died; the eventual toll was about 800,000.  Today, 17,000 stones memorializing destroyed Jewish communities stand on the site.

Many inmates of concentration camps and ghettos were killed, not by gas or bullets, but by typhus, a disease caused by bacteria found in unsanitary living quarters.  Lice often carry the bacteria.  The symptoms are high fever, intense headache, dark red rash, and delirium.  It is usually fatal if not treated.

The Ukraine, now independent, was one of the fifteen Soviet Republics within the U.S.S.R. and part of Russia since ancient times.  The Ukrainians are, however, a distinct people with their own language and have not always been friendly toward Moscow.  Hitler’s invasion of the U.S.S.R. in 1941 drove directly across this region, aiming for the oil fields near the Caspian Sea and for industrial centers like Stalingrad.  Soviet resistance was fierce, all the more so because many Ukrainians sympathized with the Nazis and might have tried to help the invaders.  Some of the bloodiest and most destructive battles of World War II were fought in the Ukraine.  Nine hundred thousand Ukrainian Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust.

The term underground is often used to describe resistance movements behind enemy lines, like the French Maquis or the Polish partisans.  It can also be a secret network formed to thwart the invader’s policies, such as the Dutch underground that found safe refuges for Jews.

The War Crimes Commission was created by the Allied military leadership at the end of World War II to investigate, try, and imprison or execute Nazi war criminals.  It operated in many places in 1945-46, but the most high-profile prisoners were tried at Nuremberg.

The Warsaw Ghetto was a large Jewish neighborhood, dating back to medieval times, consisting of hundreds of apartments and small houses mixed in with shops and schools in a maze of winding streets.  Prejudice had long forced Jews to congregate in certain neighborhoods, but they were free to come and go and usually worked elsewhere in the city.  Before the war about 160,000 people lived here.  When the Nazis occupied Warsaw, they built a wall around the ghetto and forced an additional 340,000 Jews – most but not all from Poland – into the small area.  Food and fuel were extremely scarce and a barter economy quickly developed.  Since Jews could not leave and non-Jews could not enter, almost all shops and businesses closed.  A few of the residents were put to work in armaments factories outside the walls, but most were virtual prisoners. In  July 1942 three-fourths of the population was shipped off to concentration camps, mainly to Treblinka.  A rebellion in 1943 held out longer against the Nazis than the entire nation had done in 1939.

The force behind the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the Jewish Fighting Organization (J.F.O.) which grew out of a meeting of the major organizations in the ghetto. Headed by Mordecai Anielewicz, and formed in July 1942 in response to the massive deportations to Treblinka, the J.F.O. made numerous, unheeded pleas to the outside world for help. Secretly the J.F.O. secured some weapons and explosives. Against incredible odds, the inhabitants of the ghetto revolted in the spring of 1943. The uprising lasted roughly five weeks, until the heavily armed Germans used smoke bombs and explosives to burn and destroy the ghetto.  Many of the survivors were then massacred.

Wilno, Vilna, Vilnius – the capital of Lithuania has been part of Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Sweden, and the realm of the Teutonic Knights.  It was founded in the tenth century and was capital of Lithuania after 1323.  From 1795 to 1915 it was under Russian control, and during that period flourished as a center of rabbinic studies.  The city is the spiritual capital of the Hasidic movement in modern Judaism.  Between the world wars Vilna was the capital of a Polish province, and the 1931 census showed a Jewish population of 54,000.  As a result of the notorious Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 1939, Vilna became the capital of the new Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania.  Nazi occupation troops held it from June 1941 until July 1944, and during those three years nearly all the Jewish population was murdered or taken away to camps.  It is still the capital of Lithuania, now an independent state.

Yad Vashem is the world’s principal Holocaust memorial and archive, located in west Jerusalem.

The yellow star often seen in exhibits and books about the Holocaust was a cloth badge, three or four inches across, sometimes with the word “Jew” in the appropriate language.  The Nazis required Jews to wear these on their clothing for easy identification.  Later it helped in rounding them up for deportation to ghettos or concentration camps.  As the Nazis occupied one country after another, they required Jews to wear the six-pointed star as well.  In Denmark, many non-Jews – and the King himself – wore them as a gesture of defiance.  In the camps, different groups wore similar symbols: for example, pink triangles for homosexuals, purple triangles for Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Today the yellow star is a badge of honor for survivors and their families.

Yiddish was the common language of Jews in Poland and all over eastern Europe and Russia, as well as in some immigrant neighborhoods in America.  It is a form of Middle German but written in Hebrew characters, and with many Hebrew loan words.  German Jews usually spoke German, not Yiddish.  Its use was another means for Nazis to identify who was Jewish.

Zionism was a political movement, founded in the late nineteenth century by Theodor Herzl, aimed at fostering Jewish identity and nationalism.  Its eventual goal was to found a Jewish homeland state in Palestine.  Many Jews in Nazi Germany identified with the movement.  Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the world Zionist movement has led the effort to support it financially and morally, and encourages Jews to emigrate there.

The gas used to kill Jews and others in the death camp gas chambers was Zyklon-B, a brand name for a pesticide derived from hydrogen cyanide and manufactured by I. G. Farbenindustrie and Bayer, among other companies.  Also spelled Cyklon-B.