Abstammungsbescheid – certificate confirming pure Aryan descent, issued by the records office of each city council, under the supervision of the local Kreisleiter. This certificate was essential to gaining a job in Nazi Germany.
Anielewicz, Mordecai – leader of the Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw ghetto, killed 8 May 1943.
Anschluss – annexation of Austria into the Third Reich, 13 March 1938
Appell – prisoner roll-call held twice daily in each concentration camp, conducted not via prisoner names but via their registration number.
Arbeitstrennung – work detachment for companies, factories or concentration camps. Usually made up of 50 people.
Appellplatz “Roll-call square”, area of the concentration camp where the “register” of prisoners was held at the start and end of each working day, and any other occasion when the camp inmates were counted.
The Aryans – “people of the spirit”, original inhabitants of the high plains of Tibet. According to Nazi theory, the Aryans remained genetically pure and uncontaminated by dliution with other peoples. The Germans were apparently its decedents, according to a supposed Aryan settlement in Scandinavian four thousand years ago.
Ariernachweis – “Aryan identity”, essential for civil rights both in the Reich and the territories it occupied: it was confirmed via the Abstammungsbescheid (see above).
Aso – acronym for “asozial”, used to identify “asocial” inmates in Nazi concentration camps and prisons. The category included Roma, “vagrants” etc, and was usually identified by a black triangle on prisoner uniforms.
The Axis – alliance signed in Berlin on 27 September 1940 between Germany, Italy and Japan. The Nazi-aligned regimes of Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia e Hungary would later sign up as well.
Aufstehen – the order for prisoners in the concentration camps to wake up: Primo Levi was haunted to the end of his days by the Polish version: “Wstawach!”
Bibelforscher – German term for Jehovah’s Witnesses, persecuted by the Nazis for their beliefs, and forced to wear a green triangle in the concentration camps.
Block, plural: Blocke – German term for camp barracks, generally a rectangolar single-storey building, hastily constructed (usually out of wood), for housing camp prisoners. It was also used for buildings with a specific purpose (the kitchen block etc). In some camps, each Block comprised two “stuben”, large rooms separated by a dividing wall with seperata entrances.
Blockaltester – senior prisoner in each block, nominated as Head of Block. They were entrusted with keeping watch on the prisoners in their block, and with control and maintenance of discipline.
Brennan, Timothy Captain of “F” company of the US 3rd Cavalry, first to enter Ebensee camp as it was freed by Allied troops on 6 May 1945. Ebensee was the last large Nazi camp to be liberated by the Allies. Right-click to download the moving letter he wrote to his wife Vera, in which he described the horrifying spectacle the Allied soldiers were presented with when they entered the facility.
BV – abbreviation of German word “Berufsverbrecher”, used in the concentration camps to identify common criminal prisoners.
Crematorium ovens – ovens designed by the Topf firm of Wiesbaden for use in concentration and extermination camps. Topf (which continued to produce similar ovens for civil use until 1975) regularly serviced the facilities without the slightest concern for the purpose they being put to. Its CEO, Ludwig Topf, committed suicide at the end of the war, and Topf chief engineer Kurt Prufer (who visited Auschwitz five times during its operation and knew what the ovens were being used for) was imprisoned by the USSR until his death in 1952.
Death marches – Term given by historians to the forced final evacuations (usually on foot) of various concentration camps at the end of the war, under SS supervision, that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, from malnutrition, exhaustion and SS brutality.
Dolmetscher German for interpreter, prisoners chosen to serve as interpreters in the camps.
Ebensee – concentration camp created on 18 November 1943 and liberated on 6 May 1945, Ebensee was one of the worst camps in Nazi Germany. Thousands of prisoners were used as slave labour to excavate underground tunnels, where the Nazis hoped to complete their “secret” weapons that would swing the tide of war in their favour. The camp was the last to be liberated, by an American division commanded by Timothy Brennan (see above), just two days after the final defeat of Nazi Germany. Thousands of Italian prisoners were deported to and died at Ebensee, mainly industrial workers arrested after the wave of strikes in March 1944. A census of the remaining prisoners began immediately after it was liberated, in one of its barracks. Today the town of Ebensee is twinned with the Italian city of Prato, as a mark of a friendship based on memories of the past.
Einsatzcommando Reinhard – SS unit engaged in anti-partisan warfare in northern Italy, run by Odilo Lotario Globocnik. Police functions in the newly-annexed “Litorale Adriatico” area of Italy were placed in the hands of the SS, led by Globocnik, a Treiste-born confidante of Himmler, and organiser of “Aktion Reinhard” massacres in occupied-Poland which claimed the lives of 2.5 million Polish Jews. To accomplish his task, Globocnik gathered together a 92-strong team of “professionals” with long murderous experience in the exterminations in the USSR, Poland and the camps at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Amongst the women and men sent to Trieste to work under Globocnik was a strong nucleus of Ukrainian Nazi sympathisers. In general, the Einsatzkommando were special workdetails set up to “carry out the fight against enemies of the Reich alongside the fighting troops“. They were organised out of the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptampt) which answered to Heinrich Himmler. The first commander of the Trieste Einsatzkommando was Christian Wirth, who arrived immediately after 8 September 1943, fresh from his involvement in the infamous “Aktion T4”, the physical elimination of tens of thousands of mentally and physically disabled prisoners, and so-called “incurable” prisoners, within the framework of the “Euthanasia” murder programme (see below). Wirth was killed by a partisan unit at Erpelle on 26 May 1944, to be replaced by August Dietrich Allers, whose right-hand man, Joseph Oberhauser, had been the commander of the Risiera at San Sabba. Trieste therefore had the dubious honour of hosting some of the most important individuals in the Nazi hierarcy of extermination, including Franz Stangl, the “butcher of Treblinka” responsible for 900,000 deaths. This concentration of so many significant Nazi functionaries demonstrates the importance of the “Litorale Adriatico” to the Third Reich. Thanks to the courage of a group of ex-prisoners at San Sabba, and to ANED, a post-war trial was held in 1976 that saw key Nazi operatives at the death-camp sentenced to long stretches in prison, but as a result of protection offered them by the Federal Republic of Germany (which rebuffed all attempts at extradition), the condemned (including Oberhauser) were never made to serve their sentences.
Euthanasia: mass murder programme launched by the Nazis after a long propaganda campaign aimed at “freeing” people with physical and mental disabilities from their suffering. Tens of thousands of people, who clearly did not fit into the regime’s preferred image of German racial superiority, were murdered by gas or lethal injection, many of them at Hartheim castle, a few kilometres from Mauthausen. The Euthanasia programme (which in reality was not euthanasia at all, but simple murder) created a crisis between the regime and the German Christian churches, who loudly protested against the programme, and forced its apparent cancellation (though in fact it continued behind the scenes).
Final Solution – the Nazi name for the systematic mass deportations of European Jews to their deaths in extermination camps, as formalised by the Wannsee Conference held on 20 January 1942. This represented the final step in a long and tragic history of German anti-Jewish discrimination, which had initially forced Jews to emigrate from Germany (and later Austria), stripping them of nearly everything they owned in the process. Hitler would briefly later consider an SS proposal (worked out by Adolf Eichmann) to deport 4million Jews to a huge SS-run ghetto on the island of Madagascar. But between the end of 1941 and the start of 1942, the decision (later confirmed at Wannsee) was taken to deport the entire Jewish population under German control. Eichmann was given the task of organising and arranging the deportations, which would send Jews from every corner of occupied Europe to their deaths in the extermination camps.
Gestapo – Acronym of “Geheime Staatspolizei”, secret state police. The political police of the Nazi state, and one of the arms of the administrative police, it adopted the name Gestapo in 1939, replacing the earlier GPA. It was declared a criminal organisation at the Nuremberg trials.
Goring, Hermann – key member of the Nazi Party (born 1893, died 1946). SA Commander, then Reich minister, Commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and president of the Reichstag, he was also held of a giant industrial complex (called “Hermann Goring Reichswerke”), which included construction companies, and petrol and metallurgical concerns. It was created in 1936 to help deliver the Nazis’ Four-Year-Plan, designed to make the German economy self-sufficient. The “Goring Werke” routinely exploited the slave labour of prisoners in the concentration camps. Sentenced to death at Nuremberg, he cheated the hangman the night before his execution, committing suicide probably via a smuggled cyanide capsule.
Hartheim Castle – “Euthanasia” programme killing centre, near Linz: right-click here to download a detailed ANED article on Hartheim (in PDF format).
Haftling – German word for prisoner held in a concentration camp. Prisoners were identified by a registration number, and by a coloured triangle sewn onto their uniform. Prisoners were sorted into a different category on arrival at a camp, and each category had a different colour triangle, which had to be worn at all times.
Hoess, Rudolf – SS officer who served first at Dachau, then Sachsenhausen, and finally as commandant of Auschwitz. Directed the mass killing operations of the “Final Solution” at Auschwitz Birkenau. He testified at the Nuremberg trials, and was hanged at Auschwitz after his own trial in Warsaw, in 1947.
IG Farben – huge chemical company that maintained very close relations with the Nazis and the SS, making huge profits in the process. Responsible for the production of Zyklon-B, IG Farben operated a huge factory at Auschwitz-Monowitz for the production of synthetic rubber (Primo Levi worked in one of its laboratories), and used tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners as slave labour in other facilities. The company was broken up after the war, giving rise to the modern BASF, Bayer, DEGESCH and Hoechst. Thirteen directors and senior management were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, in the “IG Farben” trial held by the Americans in 1947 and 1948.
IMI – “Internati Militari Italiani”- Italian military prisoners deported to the Reich as slave labour after 8 September 1943, after the new government in Italy had declared war on Nazi Germany, who were imprisoned in specific “Stalag” (in itself a double-acronym, taken from “Mannschaftsstammlager” – main camp for prisoners of war” – and Offlag – short for Offizierlager, meaning “officers’ camp”). In some cases, Italian officers and IMI were sent to concentration camps (Dachau and Dora are the best known examples of this).
Ka-Be – acronym of “Krankenbau”, the infirmary at Auschwitz. “Eight barracks, similar to all the others in the camp, but separated from them by a fence. 10% of the camp population is contained inside at any one time, but few stay there more than two weeks, and none more than two months: within this time-range, we are required to get better or die. Those who start to get better will be cured inside the Ka-Be: those who get worse will leave the Ka-Be for the gas chambers” (Primo Levi, If this is a man)
Kapo – probably an acronym of “Kameraden Polizei” (“comrade police force [of camp prisoners]”); prisoners entrusted by the SS with managing a work detail, or supervising other prisoners in general. In some camps, such as Auschwitz, the Kapo had an armband with the word “Kapo” written on it, and could exercise an authority similar to the “Lageralteste” (the prisoner head of barracks). The Kapo made it much easier for the SS to maintain control of the prisoners, and were rewarded with various privileges: they were chosen from amongst the “green triangles” (ordinary criminal prisoners), and many of them distinguished themselves by their sadism and cruelty – they were particularly hated by the other inmates. In some camps, the covert resistance partially succeeded in replacing them with “red triangles” (political prisoners), so changing the relationship between the Kapos and the other prisoners.
Kommando – German word for a work detail made up of prisoners. Assignments to work Kommandoes could be flexible or fixed, depending on need: some were formed only for specific tasks or even seasons (such as the Snow Kommando at Dachau), while others worked continually on the same activities. The word can also refer to a worksite external to a concentration camp manned by prisoners – generally a factory – and therefore also to a sub-camp.
KZ – German acronym for “Konzentrazionlager”, concentration camp.
Lager – German word for camp, detention centres for civilian and military prisoners, initially reserved for inmates sentenced by a court (Gericht), or who had been placed in “preventive custody”, or for prisoners-of-war. Later, they also housed people who had been randomly arrested and deported by the Gestapo, the SS or the German Army. There were various classifications of camp, depending on their capacity, structure and function (right-click here for a PDF list of the various camp classifications).
Lauskontrolle – lice inspection, usually carried out at night. Being found with lice on their bodies or clothes was often sufficient reason for a prisoner to sent to his/her death.
Litorale Adriatico – After 8 September 1943, and the creation of Mussolini’s puppet Republic of Salo, a large part of northern Italy ceased to be Italian territory and became an area under direct Nazi military administratation. It included the provinces of Trieste, Gorizia and Udine (plus the areas of Fiume, Pola, Lublyana and other occupied territories in Dalmatia). Similarly removed from Italian authority were the northern provinces of Belluno, Trento and Bolzano, which came to be known as the “Operationszone Alpenvorland”. This “Litorale adriatico” was placed under the control of the Gauleiter of Carinthia, Friedrich Rainer, who assumed all political and administrative power on 1 October 1943. Local authorities ended up under the control of German “advisers”, including the Fascist militia and various sections of the Italian police force, who were also employed in anti-partisan round-ups. This was specifically true for the Special Inspectorate for Public Security in Venezia Giulia, run by Inspector-General Giuseppe Gueli. Located at the infamous “Villa Triste” (the “House of Sadness”) in via Bellosguardo, it was created in 1942 with the specific tasks of combating partisans, and ensuring control of industrial workers. The relevant section of the Inspectorate became known as the “Collotti Gang”, after its commander Gaetano Collotti. After 8 September, he continued his anti-partisan activities in the service of the Nazis, and assisted particularly with the round-up of Jews. It was in this German-controlled area that the death camp at the San Sabba Rice Mill was established near Trieste in October 1943.
Meina – site of the first massacre of Jews on Italian territory after the Nazis occupied the country following the Italian declaration of war in September 1943. Carried out by an SS squad commanded by SS-Obersturmfurher Hans Kruger, its victims were mainly Jews from Salonika carrying Italian citizenship or who had been evacuated to Milan. Many of these had sought refuge in Meina, a small town on Lake Maggiore, and other villages in the vicinity. On 22 September 1943, these Jews (who had been confined to the Hotel Meina – where some had already been staying) were killed by a shot to the back of the head, and their bodies thrown into the lake. The SS weighed the corpses down with stones and chains to stop them floating to the surface. A murder trial was held at Osnabruck in 1968 (8 Janary – 5 July) and two members of the SS were sentenced to life imprisonment, but on 17 April 1970 the German Supreme Court in Berlin heard an appeal by the defendants, and annulled the sentences on the grounds of a statute of limitations.
Meneghetti, Egidio – renowned Italian chemist (born Verona, 1892, died Padova 1961), anti-fascist activist, key member of the Justice and Liberty partisan movement in the Veneto region (to which Primo Levi also belonged). Founder of the regional CLN (Committee for national liberation), and member of the regional military executive, he was arrested by the Carita gang in January 1945, and after brutal interrogation, he was delivered to the SS, who took him to Bolzano. From there, he was due to be deported to a death camp in Germany, but suspension of train services through the Brenner pass put paid to the plan. He was liberated when the camp at Bolzano was evacuated, between the end of April and early May 1945.
Meister – German term for civilian head of a factory that used slave labour from concentration camps.
Musulman – nickname (of unclear origin) given to camp inmates who had lost the will to resist their appalling living and working conditions, walking ghosts without any energy or will left.
“Night and Fog” – name given to a Hitler decree of 7 December 1941, by which people guilty of damaging “the security of Germany” were to be arrested and then made to disappear into “night and fog”, i.e. without anyone being able to trace them. On the basis of this decree, 40,000 Italian citizens were later deported to German concentration camps.
Night of Broken Glass – Ironic name given to the anti-Jewish violence of 9/10 November 1938, when an organised orgy of destruction, violence and murder swept across Germany. Thousands of synagogues, Jewish shops, offices and home were attacked and destroyed, and nearly 200 Jews died. The excuse used by the Nazis for the wave of violence was the assassination of German diplomat Ernst von Rath in Paris on 6 November by a young German-born Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, protesting against the expulsion of his parents from the Reich into a no-man’s land between Germany and Poland (which had deliberately stripped thousands of Poles living abroad of their citizenship).
Nuremberg laws – anti-Jewish laws decreed at Nuremberg in September 1935, during the annual Nazi Party Rally. The first decree, the law on Reich citizenship, stripped German Jews of their citizenship. The second, the law for the “Protection of German Blood and German Honour” banned marriages and sexual relationships betwen Aryans and non-Aryans. They represent the foundation for Nazi persecution of the Jews, which progressed over time from their exclusion from economic, political and social life to the mass murders in the “Final Solution”.
Oberkapo – a senior prisoner in the camps, also known as a “Prominenten”, entrusted with the task of controlling and directing the prisoners in a specific barracks. Answered to the SS-Arbeitsdienstfuhrer, and could call on the help of the Kapos and Unterkapos to carry out his tasks.
Organisation Todt (OT) – construction service created in 1933 to build German motorways, and run by Fritz Todt (1891-1942), who later ran the production of German armanents and war industries. After his death, OT came under the control of Albert Speer, and extended its activities into occupied countries, using both voluntary and forced labourers in their millions.
Organise – translation of German word “Organisieren”, meaning the ability of certain prisoners to acquire extra food, clothes and other items needed for daily survival in the concentration camps, obviously by a range of illegal and illicit methods.
Prisoners-of-war (in German “Kriegsgefangenen”) – prisoners taken in the course of battle, guaranteed humane treatment by the 1929 Geneva Convention. The Nazis in fact completely ignored these rules in their dealings with Soviet or Eastern European prisoners-of-war, hiding behind the excuse that those countries had not signed the Convention (although the Treaty itself, which Germany had ratified, specifically prohibited signatories from making such distinctions). The deliberate decision to treat these soldiers with extreme cruelty resulted in huge numbers of dead prisoners-of-war in German captivity (modern research suggests that between 3.3 and 3.5million Soviet soldiers died in German hands, out of a total of 5.7million Soviet troops captured).
Prominenten – concentration camp prisoners entrusted with command and control of other prisoners by the SS, usually on the base of their cruelty and severity. Also known as “Pridurki”.
Puppenhaus – German phrase meaning the “House of Dolls”, concentration camp brothels reserved for the use of the SS and the “Prominenten” (see above). The brothels were regularly visited by such prisoners, as long as they were not Jewish, who were specifically forbidden to do so in order to preserve “racial purity and hygiene”. Over 34,000 women were forced to serve in the brothels in Nazi camps.
Quarantine – period spent in specified section of concentration camps by prisoners who had just arrived (it was known at Buchenwald for instance as the “little camp”, and the “quarantine block” at other camps. Despite its name, however, their purpose was not medical but to disorientate and break the new arrivals, who in this way were given a very sharp introduction to camp discipline. On occasions, this would result in an early selection (see below). Sometimes, these prisoners would be set to work while in these barracks.
Registration number – Sequential number given to each prisoner on entry to a concentration camp. The numbers were spoken in German, and came to substitute the prisoners’ names both at roll-call and at other times when prisoners were called by the SS. The number was noted on prisoners’ registration cards, and in various registers (entry, death, transfer etc), in a complex series of beaurocratic procedures that were often handed over to prisoners to conduct. Such documentation exists for many camps, even if the Nazis succeeded in destroying at least part of their archives as they dissolved their camps), and in recent years, researchers and ex-prisoners have been able to recreate more complete registers for many facilities. In death camps, such as Auschwitz, new arrivals slated for instant death in the gas chambers were not given registration numbers, therefore the highest registration number does not correspond to the number of prisoners who actually arrived in such camps: this is also because numbers belonging to registered prisoners who had died were re-used for new arrivals. It was only at Auschwitz that the registration number was crudely tattooed onto prisoners’ arms. Some prisoners ceased even referring to themselves by name and used only their number.
Revier – “Sector, or district”, but also abbreviation of “Revierstube”, meaning hospital: in some camps, the word “Ka-Be” was used for the same facility. These were a block (or as at Mauthausen, a series of blocks) where sick prisoners were sent. Depending on the camp, some had medical and surgical facilities, but the main purpose was to weed out the prisoners who could not recover from their illnesses (who were then sent to the gas chambers). They were run by the “Lagerarzt” (an SS doctor), but were staffed by camp prisoners with medical experience, who were thus able to secretly organise and offer help and support to the prisoners in their care.
Selektion – German word for “selection”, meaning the periodical perfunctory checks of the camp inmates to separate those still capable of work from the ill and sick. The latter would then be murdered, usually (though not always) in the gas chambers.
Sonderkommando – “special commando”, a workdetail composed of camp prisoners forced to run the crematoria and/or gas chambers. Peridocally, members of the Sonderkommando would themselves be liquidated. At Auschwitz, 12 Sonderkommandos took turns, each comprising between 700 and 1,000 members. “The decision to create and organise these squads was the most evil act of Nazism… via these workdetails, the Nazis sought to shift the weight of their guilt onto others, specifically onto their victims, such that the latter could no longer even consider themselves innocent” (Primo Levi The drowned and the saved).
Speer, Albert – Born Mannheim 1905, Speer was one of Hitler’s favourite architects (responsible for the Nuremberg rally parade ground at the Zeppelinfeld, and the new Reich Chancellory, completed in 1939), becoming Minister of Armanents and War Production (on the death of Fritz Todt) in 1942. He used considerable political skill, ruthlessness, adminstrative ability and personal charm to take overall control of German war production and later nearly the whole economy, rationalising production and delivering a signficant increase in the amount of war material at Hitler’s disposal. He served the Fuhrer until the end, although he is credited with helping to obstruct the carrying out of Hitler’s “Nero Decree” of March 1945, which demanded an scorched earth policy within Germany itself. Involved in the deportations of Berlin’s Jews (he ran the office planning the complete reconstruction of Berlin, carrying the title “General Building Inspector for the Reich Capital”), he always claimed never to have known about the Final Solution. He was sentenced to twenty years at Nuremberg for the exploitation of slave labour, but was considered fortunate not to have been executed (the American and Soviet prosecutors both demanded the death sentence). Released from Spandau on 1 October 1966, Speer wrote a number of books that shed considerable light on the internal workings of the Nazi regime, and demonstrated how supposedly “non-political” or “non-ideological” administrators could actively serve the politics of the Nazis, and in fact were vital to its functioning. However, his books elided or completely obscured his personal guilt and knowledge on a number of matters, particularly on the Final Solution, and are often quite shaky on points of detail. Known as “the Nazi who said sorry”, Speer died in London in 1981 of a heart attack.
SS – “Schutzstaffeln”, “protection squad”, Nazi party police force and Hitler’s personal guard (from 1925), that later became an armed elite involved in internal State security, State administration, police functions and some economic activities (such as DAW, the infamous DEST, DWB, OSTI and others) run in close co-operation with the concentration camps. Run by Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), it had many sub-divisions, such as the SS Totenkopf (“Death’s Head”) units who served alongside the Wehrmacht in France and the USSR, and ran the concentration and extermination camps, and the Einstazgruppen. who murdered up to 2million people behind the lines in Poland and the USSR. Other sub-divisions were the armed SS forces known as the Waffen-SS, and the Germanische SS (SS-inspired foreign volunteer SS units, including one of Italian soldiers). The key organisation running the Final Solution, the SS were also responsible for population migrations from the West and East alike, and the cancelled Magadascar plan to deport 4million Jews from Europe. Declared a criminal organisation by the Nuremberg trial.
Stalag – German abbreviation for “Stammlager”, permanent prisoner-of-war camp.
Stangl, Franz – Austrian SS member born in 1908, who became a Austrian federal policeman after a short career as a weaver. He always maintained that he only joined the Nazi Party after Austria was annexed to the Third Reich in 1938, and that his registration number had been falsely back-dated by his colleagues so as not to create problems with the German authorities, but it is nonetheless clear that his SS number dates back to the much earlier clandestine period of the Austrian Nazi Party. He served at T4 – which ran the “Euthanasia” murder programme – at both Hartheim and Berneburg. He was promoted in 1942, and commanded the Sobibor death camp until a prisoner revolt led to its closure. After serving as commandant of Treblinka from September 1942 until August 1943 (overseeing the murders of some 900,000 Jews), he was transferred to Italy, where he served in anti-partisan formations in Trieste: there is also evidence of his activity at the San Sabba death camp. After the war, he escaped via the Vatican-inspired Italian “ratline” first to Syria and then to Brazil, where he openly lived under his real name until he was arrested in 1967 after being traced by Simon Weisenthal. He was extradited to Germany to stand trial, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1970. Aside the court records and evidence from survivors. Stangl’s life can also be reconstructed using the long series of interviews he gave in prison to writer Gitta Sereny, which formed the basis of her book “Into that Darkness”. He represents an important witness since he allows us to trace, from the inside, the mechanisms via which an ordinary person could transform himself into a vital cog in an extermination process. He died of heart failure in prison in June 1971.
Strasse – German for “road”, also known as “Autobahn”, motorway), it referred to the periodic shaving of a 3-cm wide stripe on the back of a camp inmate’s head, such that escaped prisoners could be easily identified.
Stuck (plural Stucke) – German word meaning “piece”, a disparaging term used in the concentration camps to refer to a prisoner (used in counting inmates for transfers, formation of workdetails etc).
Sub-camp – the main Nazi concentration camps (known as the “Hauptlager” or “Stammlager”) had economic and territorial command over the areas in which they were located, including the creation of dependent sub-camps (known as “Nebenlager”), particularly after 1942, when prisoners were increasingly used as slave labour to produce war material. The sub-camps thus had production as their principal purpose. Some like Sachsenhausen and Dora-Mittelbau grew hugely in significance and ended up being main camps in their own right. Others would ultimately hold thousands of prisoners (such as Gusen) and were equipped with facilities that made them effectively autonomous (such as crematoria). Still others used modified schools or churches to house their prisoners. Generally, they would send their sick or ill prisoners back to their main camp. The numbers of sub-camps attached to any main camp could be very high: Dachau had 123 sub-camps, Buchenwald 174 (including external kommandos) and Stutthof over 40.
Tattoos – prisoner registration number tattooed onto the left forearm of inmates at Auschwitz and its associated camps (as well as being printed on prisoners’ uniforms). Men had the number tattooed on the outside of their forearm, women on the inside. Roma prisoners (“Gypsies”) had the letter “Z” preceding the number, and Jewish prisoners had the letter “A” (later changed to “B”).
Transport – prisoner transport or transfer, the term could refer to prisoners deported to the Reich from an occupied country, or to the transfer of prisoners from one concentration camp to another, or a convoy of prisoners deported to their death in an extermination camp.
Triangle – piece of triangular cloth, in different colours, that camp prisoners were required to have sewn onto their jackets and trousers. The various colours referred to different categories of prisoner: “red triangles” were political prisoners, “greens” were common criminals, “purple triangles” were Jehovah’s witnesses and so forth, with some modifications in specific camps or at specific times. Jews were allocated the Star of David (in some cases in red or yellow for Jewish political inmates). In the middle of the triangle, a letter indicating the country of origin was placed: It or I referred to Italian prisoners, F to French etc. German and Austrian prisoners did not have this indication of country of origin.
Unterkapo – camp inmate, otherwise known as a “Prominente”, entrusted by the SS with the control of the other prisoners in a camp block, and answerable to a Kapo or Oberkapo.
Wannsee – suburb of south-west Berlin where a small group of top Nazi administrators met on 20 January 1942 to co-ordinate the so-called “Final Solution of the Jewish question”. The result of the the conference (called by SS deputy Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich for December 1941 but delayed by Pearl Harbour, the German declaration of war on the USA, and a massive Soviet counter-offensive in front of Moscow), key Nazi organisations (including the Foreign Office, the occupying German government in Poland, the Gestapo and SIPO, Ministry of Justice, Nazi Party Chancellery, Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, Office of the Four-Year Plan, and Reich Interior Ministry) accepted the central direction of the SS in the country-by-country deportation and extermination of all Europe’s Jews. The conference was not called to decide on a new policy but to ensure that the SS would have a free hand in implementing the already-confirmed decision for the Final Solution (mass killings of Jews by the Einsatzgruppen had already been underway behind the lines in the USSR for months, and the death camp at Belzec was already under construction), and that other government departments would not hamper its progress. The meeting also discussed the issue of Jews in mixed-marriages, although no decision was reached on whether to include these people in the deportations. Minutes of the 90-minute long meeting were produced by Adolf Eichmann and distributed to 30 individuals: a surviving copy of this “Wannsee Protocol” was found in 1947 amongst records seized from the German Foreign Office. Eichmann admitted at his trial in 1961 that the language used in the discussion was much more blunt than his official record indicates (“During the conversation [the participants] minced no words about it at all … they spoke about methods of killing, about liquidation, about extermination.” – quoted in Christopher Browning (2004) The Origins of the Final Solution, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press). A museum and memorial to the conference was opened at the site on the 50th anniversary of the meeting, in 1992.
Waschraum – “washroom”, buildings used by camp inmates to wash themselves, which were always cramped and lacked water and other basic amenities.
Wegner, Armin German poet and writer (born Wuppertal 1886 – died Rome 1978), who wrote a “special” letter to the Fuhrer’s Chancellory in April 1933. Wegner was a law graduate, journalist and writer from a family steeped in Prussian conversatism, married to the Jewish writer Lola Landau. This was the same man who had witnessed the massacres of Ottoman Armenians by the Turks in 1915 (he was serving as a medical officer at the time), and who decided to photograph everything he saw, the violence, the brutality, the eyes of the victims pleading for salvation from their God, the terrified and exhausted gaze of people without hope who were simply waiting for death, gathered together in small convoys across the desert to die from exhaustion, thirst, torture and hunger. One of the very few German intellectuals with the courage to express their opposition to Hitler’s insane plans for the country and the rest of the Europe, Wegner wrote “Reich Chancellor, this is not simply a question of the future of our Jewish brothers. It is also a question of the future of our entire country. In the name of the people, to whom I have not just the right but also the duty to speak out, as anyone else of our blood… stop all of this! Judaism survived Babylonia, slavery in Egypt, the courts of the Spanish Inquisition, the disasters of the Crusades and the 16th century persecutions in Russia, with a tenacity that has allowed this people to [survive and] grow old, the Jews will also overcome this threat, but the shame and the calamity caused by what you will bring down on Germany will not be forgotten for a very long time. In fact, who will suffer the same fate that you wish to bring down on the Jews, if not us?” (original reference in Italian, in Armin T. Wegner e gli Armeni in Anatolia, 1915, Guerini e Associati, Milan 1996).
Wegner received a swift response to his letter, being arrested by the secret police in Berlin, tortured and detained in various concentration camps; on his release, he left for Italy, where he died in 1978, aged 92. The Germans had not been able to silence his voice or his conscience. No ideologue, politicians or priest can explain the source of certain acts. What inspired Wegner was “just” his concept of the equality of all humans, and exactly in this simple idea of equality, Wegner found the courage needed to act: recognising the cries of pain, the appeals for help, the humiliations heaped on the Jews, and the call to humanity and dignity common to every human being. (text originally written by Giovanna Crestani, translation by C Dimarco)
Wirth, Christian – SS-Sturmbannfurher (SS major) born in 1895, one of the central figures in the “Euthanasia” murder programme, and one of the key staff responsible for running the “Operation Reinhard” extermination camps. A Nazi Party member from 1931, Wirth became a specialist in T4 (the programme of elimination of the mentally-ill, severly-disabled and anyone classed “unworthy of life”). The T4 operatives experimented with various forms of gas chamber to murder their victims. Promoted in 1940, he was sent to Lublin in 1941, where he created and ran the first “euthanasia” centre outside the Reich. In occupied Poland, he served at Chelmno, Belzec (where he was the commander), Sobibor and Treblinka. At the end of 1943, he was promoted and transferred again, to Italy, where he ran the San Sabba death camp. On 26 May 1944 he was killed by a partisan unit outside Erpelle, near Fiume (modern-day Rijeka). His sub-ordinates nicknamed him “Christian the Terrible”, in honour of his cruelty. Despite numerous complaints and much controversy, he is buried at the Costermano German military cemetery, where no indication is given of his SS membership, his role in the Final Solution or the “Euthanasia” murder programme. More information on Wirth’s role can be found in the memoirs of death-camp survivors, and in Gitta Sereny’s book Into that Darkness on Treblinka commandant Franz Stangl (see above).
Z, Zigeuner – German for “Gypsy”, or Roma, used in the concentration camps to identify and sometimes tattoo Roma prisoners.
Ziereis, Franz – born 18 May 1905 in Munich, a carpenter by trade, and member of the SS, Ziereis served in the SS “Thungen” division from 1938. Holder of the RFSS sword of honour, from February 1938 until May 1945, he was camp commandant at Mauthausen, and so also in control of all its sub-camps located across Austria. In this role, he committed horrendous crimes against thousands of prisoners from right across Europe. At the end of the war, he escaped with the rest of the camp’s SS detachment, but was captured by the Americans on 23 May 1945. Interrogated in his hunting lodge at Spital am Pyhrn, he received two gunshots while trying to escape, dying from these injuries on 25 May 1945, at the 131th US evac hospital which had been set up at Gusen I. Ex-prisoners later hung his body from the camp fence.
Zyklon B – hydrogen cyanide-based pesticide produced in a crystalline solid state, which released lethal gas when heated up via exposure to the atmosphere. Originally used in disinfection operations against lice and other parasites, it was later used on a much larger scale for the mass murders in the gas chambers. Produced by Degesch (part-owned by IG Farben), Zyklon-B was used to murder an estimated 1.2million people, including 960,000 Jews.