INTRODUCTION by David Notowitz for Voices of the Shoah,

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Voices of the Shoah
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TEXT TRANSCRIPTS of all audio on set
BIOGRAPHIES of all speakers
TIMELINE of the Holocaust
GLOSSARY of Holocaust related terms


The following terms, names, and events, which may be unfamiliar to some listeners, are used by the speakers in the audio portion of this set or are used in the essays in this book.

German term meaning “campaign” or “drive,” often used by the Nazis to describe a systematic plan to assemble, deport, and kill Jews.

Aktion Reinhard
Code name for the plan to destroy_the Jewish population of southern and central Poland with poison gas. Resulted in the death of more than 2 million Jews. The death camps Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were established for this purpose.

The military alliance of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union that fought against Germany, Japan, and Italy (the Axis Powers) during World War II.

American Joint Distribution Committee
An American-based Jewish relief organization founded in 1914. Its primary task during World War II was to provide aid through food, money, and rescue efforts to the suffering European Jewish population. Its full name is American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; also known as “the Joint.”

A German word meaning “connection,” used by the Nazis to describe Germany’s March 13, 1938, annexation of Austria.

Hostility toward or hatred against Jews.

Arbeit Macht Frei
“Labor makes you free” or “Work will make you free.” This cynical, deceiving phrase, written on the entry gate of Auschwitz and other camps, was seen by many incoming prisoners.

Term used by the Nazis to describe a master race of non-Jewish Caucasians.

The Nazi’s largest camp, located in southwest Poland, near Krakow. It began as a concentration camp in 1940 for Polish inmates. Construction on the death camp annex, Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, began in October 1941. Approximately 1.5 million people were murdered there, 90 to 95 percent of whom were Jews. Auschwitz III, also called Auschwitz Buna or Monowitz, provided slave labor for German industry and the Nazi war effort. Surviving prisoners were liberated on January 27, 1945, by Soviet troops.

Axis Powers
The combined forces of Germany, Italy, and Japan, who formed a military alliance on September 27, 1940, known as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis. The Axis nations were later joined by Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia in November 1940 and Bulgaria in March 1941.

Babi Yar massacre
In the Babi Yar ravine near Kiev in the Ukraine, Einsatzgruppen shot to death more than 33,000 Jews over a span of two days in September 1941. As Soviet troops approached the region in July 1943, Nazi officials tried to hide evidence of the massacre by ordering prisoners to dig up and cremate the bodies of the victims.

bar mitzvah
An adolescent Jewish boy, who upon reaching the age of 13 takes on certain responsibilities and religious duties; the term also refers to the religious ceremony in which the boy publicly reads from the Torah in acknowledgment of his new identity. Literally, “son of the commandment.”

Death camp located in southeastern Poland; construction started in November 1941 with gassing beginning in March of the following year. Between March and December of 1942, when deportations to the camp ended, more than 600,000 people, mostly Jews from southern Poland, were murdered there. Before the camp was dismantled in July 1943, prisoners were forced to exhume and burn the corpses of Belzec’s victims. The Nazis then razed and planted over the camp to hide evidence of its existence.

The clandestine organization that facilitated the mass exodus of Jews escaping Eastern Europe from 1944to 1948. Approximately 225,000 Jews left Poland, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania, migrating to western and southern Europe with Bricha’s aid.

Located in east-central Germany, near Weimar, this concentration camp was established in 1937 as one of three original concentration camps. Initially for German Jews, the camp later contained Jews from all over Europe, as well as Russian POWs, Gypsies, and others. Approximately 43,000 people are thought to have died there. The prisoners took control of the camp as U.S. Army forces approached on April 11, 1945.

cheder (or heder)
Jewish religious school or class.

The first death camp established by the Nazis for the express purpose of killing Jews, in December 1941, near Lodz, in western Poland. Approximately 320,000 Jews, mostly deported from the Lodz Ghetto, were murdered there. Starting in the fall of 1944, Jewish prisoners were forced to dig up and burn bodies of the camp’s victims to hide evidence of the Nazis’ mass murders. Soviet forces entered the camp in January 1945, after the Nazis had killed most of the surviving prisoners and fled.

Chumash (or Humash)
The five books of the Torah, bound in one volume in a book form.

concentration camp
See essay on page 28.

Building in death camps that housed furnaces used to cremate and dispose of bodies after death by gassing, starvation, torture, and disease.

crime against humanity
A term used in the trials of Nazi war criminals called before the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 to describe crimes against groups, races, and individuals such as mass murder, enslavement, deportation, and inhumane treatment of civilians, whether or not the actions violated local domestic law.

The first concentration camp opened by the Nazis, in March 1933, located near Munich, in southern Germany. Before it was liberated by the U.S. Army on April 29, 1945, more than 7,000 prisoners were forced on a death march south to Tegernsee. An undetermined number of Dachau prisoners died in the death march and from medical experiments, euthanasia, and forced labor at the camp.

Yiddish term meaning “to pray”

death (extermination) camps
See essay on page 28.

death marches
Term coined by concentration camp prisoners to describe the long, forced marches under extremely brutal conditions, from one camp to another or to planned sites for mass murder. Most of the marches occurred in the final stages of World War II when the Nazis evacuated the camps as the Allies’ military forces advanced. Approximately 250,000 people died _on the death marches.

The scattered settlements of Jews outside of Palestine after their exile in Babylonian times; the Jews who live outside Israel.

displaced person (DP)
A refugee in flight from terror or oppression. As a stateless person, a refugee frequently suffers legal, political, social, and economic difficulties.

displaced persons camps (DP camps)
Camps established by the Allies following World War II throughout Europe as temporary shelter for those liberated from the concentration camps, forced marches, and slave labor.

Mobile death squads of the Nazi SS that followed the German Army into Poland and the Soviet Union. Their primary role was to remove political opposition, usually accomplished through massacres in which hundreds of thousands of people would be shot and buried (often still alive) in mass graves. The Einsatzgruppen were responsible for the shooting deathsof more than 1.25 million people.

Evian Conference
See essay on page 16.

Greek word meaning “to exit” or _“to go out.” Refers to the event in the Torah when Israelites left Egypt (see Passover); also refers to the migration of Jews from Europe to Israel following World War II.

See essay on page 70.

Final Solution
Term first used in July 1941 by SS leader Hermann Göring in his orders to Reinhard Heydrich, director of the Central Office for Reich Security, describing Hitler’s formal plans to systematically destroy European Jewry. The Final Solution was the ultimate “solution” to “the Jewish problem” (Judenfrage)—how to eliminate the presence of Jews in the expanding German Reich. A part of the Final Solution, Aktion Reinhard—named after Heydrich—was implemented in 1942, specifically outlining the extermination by gassing of Polish Jews of the Generalgouvernement.

German word for “leader.” Used in reference to Adolf Hitler.

gas chambers
Airtight rooms constructed so that poison gas—carbon monoxide or Zyklon B—could be used to kill large numbers of people. At the death camps, the gas chambers were constructed to look like showers to disguise their real purpose.

gas vans
Specially constructed vehicles, both mobile and stationary, designed to kill 25 to 60 people at a time with carbon monoxide exhaust fumes. Approximately 700,000 people were killed in the vans.

German for “General Government.” This term referred to southern and central Poland, annexed by Nazi Germany in October 1939.

The systematic and deliberate destruction of an entire people.

Non-Jewish person.

Nazi secret police (acronym for Geheime Staatspolizei). The most feared arm of the Nazi military/political machine, the Gestapo enforced security within Nazi territories, mainly through terror and oppression. Its aim was to eliminate enemies of the state, and it took a significant role in the institution of the Final Solution.

This term, which dates back to 16th-century Venice, referred to the part of a city in which Jews were restricted. Under German occupation, Jews throughout Eastern Europe were forced to live in the more than 350 ghettos in existence between 1939 and 1945. Separated from other parts of cities in which they were located by barbed wire and high walls, Jews who lived inside often suffered from severe food shortages and unsanitary living conditions. The ghettos sometimes served as crowded holding places for Jews doing forced labor as well as for Jews who were to be deported to death camps.

Gypsies (also Sinti or Rom)
Once believed to be from Egypt (hence the name), actually of Hindu origin, these wandering people first appeared in Europe in the 1400s. Gypsies were widely persecuted during the Nazi regime, although unlike the Jews, some, who the Nazis deemed racially pure, were spared deportation to the camps. Estimates of their number murdered range from 200,000 to 750,000.

Ha-Shomer Ha-Za’ir
Zionist socialist pioneering youth movement founded in 1916 in Vienna, which eventually spread around the world.

Harrison Report
See essay on page 66.

The Jewish language used in the Torah and other holy Jewish books; the official language of Israel.

From the Greek word for “whole burnt offering,” the term describes the systematic physical destruction of European Jewry between 1933 and 1945. Other groups were persecuted during World War II, but only the Jews were marked for total annihilation. A related term is Shoah, a Hebrew biblical term meaning “annihilation.” Other associated terms are the Yiddish Hurban or Churban, meaning “destruction.”

See Chumash.

Irgun Zeva’i Leumi
Hebrew for “National Military Organization.” An activist Jewish military organization founded in 1931 that carried out guerrilla activities against the British from 1944 to 1948.

Jewish councils established by the _Nazis in occupied territories and ghettos. While the Judenrat ostensibly represented Jewish interests, one of their responsibilities was the selection of Jews from their districts to be sent to death camps.

Judenrein (also Judenfrei)
Judenrein, German for “cleansed of Jews” (or Judenfrei, “free of Jews”). When all Jews had been murdered or deported from an area, Nazis would declare the place Judenrein. German towns often competed with one another to be the first to be named Judenrein in their area.

Concentration camp inmates selected by the SS to oversee other inmates. Kapos were given better clothing and food than that received by other prisoners.

A communal settlement in modern Israel.

City in southeast Poland. Jews first settled there in 1868 and numbered 24,000 by 1939. The city was the site of an anti-Jewish pogrom on July 4, 1946, when an angry mob, incited by the rumor that Jews (recently returned home after the war’s end) had killed Polish children for their blood for use in Jewish rituals, killed 42 Jews and wounded 50 others. This myth that Jews practiced ritual murder had been widespread and longstanding in both Eastern and Western Europe.

German for “children’s transport.” The movement to evacuate children to Great Britain from Nazi oppression following Kristallnacht. The first children arrived on December 2, 1938. Nine months later, when war broke out, nearly 10,000 children had been saved, of which 7,500 were Jewish.

kippah (also yarmulke or skullcap)
Traditional head covering worn by Jews.

“Proper” or “fit”; kosher refers to ritually correct Jewish dietary practices, based on biblical and Talmudic laws.

Kovno (also Kaunas)
Capital of independent Lithuania from 1920–1939, before Lithuania was annexed by the U.S.S.R. in 1940. The Nazis established a ghetto there immediately after they invaded the city in June 1941. Two years later, the ghetto was turned into a concentration camp. By the war’s end nearly all of Kovno’s Jewish population had been killed.

Kitchen Patrol. Term used in the U.S. military to denote working in the military kitchen.

November 9–10, 1938, the “Night of Broken Glass,” during which almost 100 Jews were killed and widespread anti-Jewish destruction occurred. More than 7,000 Jewish businesses were looted and more than 150 synagogues were destroyed, with hundreds of others badly damaged; in a number of instances, Jews were forced inside synagogues before the buildings were set on fire. Kristallnacht was a pogrom organized by the Nazis against Germany’s Jewish population, although the Nazis described it as the result of the public’s outrage over the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, by a Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan. Blaming the Jews for the violent events of Kristallnacht, the Nazis subsequently levied a fine of 1 billion Reichsmarks upon the nation’s Jews and also used the event as an excuse to deport between 26,000 and 35,000 Jews to the Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.

German term for “camp,” primarily used in reference to the concentration camps, although it was also used to refer to slave labor and death camps.

Lodz ghetto
The first major ghetto of the Shoah, opened in April 1940 in a very small part of the Polish city of Lodz, where more than 160,000 Jews were forced to live under horrible conditions of overcrowding, starvation, and forced labor. Jews were sent to Lodz from Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Moravia, and half of its population was deported to the Chelmno death camp. It was the last ghetto to be liquidated; in August 1944, nearly all of the remaining inhabitants, some 75,000 Jews, were sent to Auschwitz.

Magen David
A six-sided star that has become a symbolic representation of the Jewish people.

Death camp located near Lublin, Poland, Majdanek was first a labor camp for Poles and a POW camp for Russians, then, as of October 1942, a gassing center for Jews. Approximately 360,000 people died there, about 60 percent of that number died from disease, starvation, and brutal forced labor, while the remainder were gassed or executed. The Soviet Army liberated Majdanek on July 24, 1944.

Especially brutal concentration camp opened March 1938 near Linz, Austria. Approximately 119,000 people were worked to death or otherwise killed at this camp, including nearly 40,000 Jews, before U.S. troops liberated it May 1945.

Mein Kampf
A semiautobiographical book written by Adolf Hitler while he was imprisoned in Landsberg Prison for the attempted coup of the German government in 1923. The book, the title of which means “My Struggle” in German, outlines Hitler’s ideologies, including his hatred of Jews and the effectiveness _of a military state.

Hebrew word meaning “a gathering,” specifically, the gathering of water; a pool built for ritual, spiritual cleansing.

Hebrew for the Messiah.

German acronym for National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). Formed in 1919, the party acquired political power beginning in 1931; shortly after Hitler became chancellor in 1933, the Nazi party became the only officially recognized political party in Germany.

An American born of Japanese ancestry. During World War II, fewer than 20 percent of the Nisei had dual citizenship in the U.S. and Japan. Most were children of Japanese nationals. Some were young adults, but most were minors.

Nuremberg Laws
Enacted on September 15, 1935, these two laws denied Jews and descendants of Jews of their German citizenship and made marriages between Germans and Jews illegal, the latter a move to prevent any further “race-mixing” between Jews and German citizens.

Nuremberg Trials
After Germany was defeated, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States came together to try the most prominent captured leaders of the Third Reich, as well as business and industry leaders in international court. Held in the German city of Nuremberg, the trials began November 20, 1945.

Orthodox Judaism
Form of Judaism based on strict adherence to biblical and Talmudic laws within everyday life.

A person who sides with a particular group or cause. During World War II, the term referred specifically to anti-_Nazi resistance fighters operating in Nazi-controlled Eastern Europe.

Passover (also Pesach)
Jewish holiday celebrating the Jews’ exodus from ancient Egypt, where they had been slaves.

The practice, which originated in 1880s Russia, of beating, robbing, or killing helpless people, particularly Jews. Pogroms were not usually initiated by a government organization, but the police rarely halted them.

A teacher or sage who, upon completion of a course of study at a rabbinical seminary (yeshiva), is awarded a s’micha (an ordination) by no fewer than three rabbis.

Rosh Hashanah
Hebrew for “beginning of the year.” It is the Jewish New Year, commemorating the creation of the world. Ten days later is Yom Kippur, the “day of atonement.”

Shabbat (also Shabbos)
Hebrew for “sabbath”; seventh day of the Jewish week—from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday—during which the Jews are commanded to rest from work activities.

Yiddish word for clothing, rags, and material.

See Holocaust.

Death camp in central Poland established in March 1942; gassing of prisoners began the following month. The camp was closed immediately after prisoners rebelled on October 14, 1943, by which time an estimated 250,000 Jews had been put to death. Bodies of the camp’s victims were exhumed and cremated, and the camp was dismantled and planted over to hide its existence.

Death camp inmates assigned to take bodies from the gas chambers to the crematoriums.

Schutzstaffel, “Defense Protection Squad.” Formed in 1925 to serve as Hitler’s bodyguards, the SS were organized into a large group in the _late 1920s. The SS became the foundation of the Nazi military regime and had a key role in the eradication of European Jewry. Subunits of the SS included the Gestapo—the Nazi secret police—and the “Death’s Head” unit (SS Totenkopfverbaende, so named for the death’s head insignia on their uniforms), those especially trained to work in the concentration and death camps.

Yiddish word meaning “little town.” An Eastern European Jewish small town or community. All of the shtetls—more than 10,000—were destroyed in the Shoah.

sidur, sidurim (plural)
Jewish prayer books.

See kippah.

synagogue or shul
Jewish place of worship and meeting.

A comprehensive collection of Jewish laws and discussions on those laws, completed circa 500 C.E.

tallit, tallesim (plural)
Jewish prayer shawl.

Two small leather-covered boxes containing small fragments of sacred writing, which Jewish males strap to their heads and hands for use during the morning prayer ritual.

Theresienstadt (Terezin)
Ghetto and concentration camp established in 1941 near Prague. Prisoners there were treated better than at any other camp, and it was used to deceive the International Red Cross and the public. However, approximately 33,000 Jews died there and nearly 90,000 more were sent to their death, including 15,000 children, as it served as a way station for Jews being sent to Auschwitz. Soviet troops entered the camp in May 1945.

Jewish religious writings—literally, “law.” The Torah refers to the handwritten scroll containing the first five books of Jewish scripture (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

tohu vavohu
Hebrew for “unformed and void” or chaotic. In the first phrases of the Torah, the Earth is described with this phrase.

Death camp established in July _1942, about 50 miles northeast of Warsaw, in the north part of the eneralgouvernement, where an estimated 870,000 Jews were murdered. In August 1943 prisoners destroyed most of the camp in a failed uprising. Nazis closed the camp after ordering prisoners to eliminate the remaining evidence of the camp’s existence. The prisoners were then shot and the camp was turned into a farm.

A fatal disease, transmitted by lice or fleas, that permeated the camps and ghettos.

Also called a permit, this government document allows immigrants legal entry into the issuing country.

Nazi term for ethnic or racial Germans living outside of Germany proper. One major objective of the Nazi policy was to “repatriate” these people into a “Greater Germany.” Those policing areas annexed by Nazi Germany often gave Volksdeutsch the farms, homes, and businesses of both non-Jewish and Jewish Poles.

Wannsee Conference
Conference held in Wannsee, near Berlin, Germany, on January 20, 1942. At this gathering of German government officials, as well as Nazi military leaders and party members, high Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich presented formal plans, the “Final Solution,” to completely exterminate all of Europe’s Jews, 11 million people including not only the Jews of central and Eastern Europe but also those in the Soviet Union, England, Ireland, Turkey, and Switzerland.

War Refugee Board
See essay on page 40.

Named after a river in Poland, this term referred to the area around the city of Lodz, territory in Poland annexed by Nazi Germany in October 1939.

Warsaw ghetto
The largest Jewish ghetto built during the war, established in October 1940 and sealed off from the rest of the city the following month. At one time it held more than 400,000 people; conditions there were so horrendous that in 1941 nearly 45,000 people died due to disease caused by overcrowding and the lack of adequate food and sanitation or brutal forced labor. Approximately 250,000 Jews were sent to Treblinka in the summer of 1942. An armed uprising occurred the following spring, at which point the remaining inhabitants were killed or sent to camps, and the ghetto itself was razed.

See kippah.

Advanced school for Jewish study of the Torah and Talmud.

A language based on German, Hebrew, and Balto-Slavic languages, spoken by the majority of Eastern European Jews before World War II.

Yom Kippur
Literally, “Day of Atonement.” A day of fasting when Jews confess mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and resolve to improve in the coming year. Coming ten days after Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur is one of the holiest days in the Jewish year.

Yudenraut (see Judenrat)

Supporter of the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland in the area, formerly called Palestine, now called Israel.

Hebrew for “songs.”

Zyklon B
Commercial compound of hydrogen cyanide, a poison gas used to kill death camp prisoners, mainly at Auschwitz from September 1941 to January 1945. Developed as an insecticide, Zyklon B was selected for use in the camps because of its effectiveness in quickly killing large numbers of prisoners—as many as 2,000 in less than half an hour.

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