Skip Navigation


Abstract: Art is described as abstract when it does not depict recognizable scenes or objects but instead is made up of forms and colors that exist for their own expressive sake.

Allies: In World War II, the group of nations led by England, the United States, and the Soviet Union that fought against what was known as the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Japan, and their allies).

Antisemitism - Hatred, hostility, or discrimination directed at people because they are Jewish.

Ashcan school - A group of early twentieth-century American artists, including Arthur B. Davies, Robert Henri, and John Sloan, who sought to paint "real life" and urban reality. They often painted pictures of the grittier side of New York City life.

Assimilation - The process of adapting one's behaviors and attitudes to become like those of the surrounding culture.

Auschwitz-Birkenau - Located in Poland, this complex of concentration and extermination camps was the largest in the Nazi system. Auschwitz was established in 1940 as a concentration camp, and the killing center at Birkenau was added in 1942. By the end of the war, one million Jews had been killed in its gas chambers or as a result of the horrifying living conditions in the camp.

Axis powers - The name given to the alliance of Germany, Italy, Japan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovakia before and during World War II.

Bauhaus - The influential school of art, architecture, and design founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, by Walter Gropius. The school moved to Dessau, Germany, in 1925 and was closed down by the Nazis in 1933. Many world-famous artists, designers, architects, and craftspeople taught and studied at the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus tried to bridge the gap between fine art and craft. Its style included simplified forms as well as materials and techniques borrowed from industry and manufacturing.

Biedermeier - A style of art and design that was popular with the middle class in Germany and Austria during the first half of the nineteenth century. It was a simplified interpretation of the French Empire Style, which preceded it.

The Blue Rider - A German art movement based in Munich during the 1910s. The artists of the Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter in German) sought to express spiritual truths through their expressionistic paintings. The Blue Rider included Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, August Macke, and others.

Concentration camp - A prison camp established by the Nazis, in which the inmates were used as slave labor. Because of the inhumane living conditions there, millions of people suffered and died in the camps.

Conceptual art - Contemporary art is described as conceptual when concepts take precedence over aesthetic or material concerns. In conceptual art, the art object is not an end in itself but is intended to convey an idea or provoke an intellectual response from the viewer.

Death camp - A Nazi camp to which Jews and other prisoners were brought to be killed, primarily by gassing. The Nazis set up six death camps (all in Poland) at which more than three million people were killed. They included Chelmno, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Majdanek.

Emancipation - Emancipation literally means freeing an individual from unjust legal restrictions. The term is often used to refer to the granting of civil rights to Jews in Western and Central Europe during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, in response to the spread of Enlightenment philosophy.

Encaustic - A method of painting that uses pigments mixed with hot wax. Encaustic was used by artists in the ancient world and in early Byzantine icons up to the seventh century, and the practice was revived in the twentieth century. Encaustic can be built up on a surface to create a low relief and can be reheated to produce a glossy finish.

Enemy Alien - An individual whose native country is considered to be in conflict with the country in which he or she is living.

Figurative - Art is described as figurative when it represents recognizable figures or objects.

Final Solution - The term the Nazis used to refer to their plan to kill all the Jews of Europe.

Fuehrer - Literally meaning "The Leader" in German, Der Fuehrer was the title Adolph Hitler gave himself in Nazi Germany.

Genocide - First used in print in 1944, the term genocide refers to the deliberate destruction of a religious, racial, national, or cultural group.

Ghetto - The term ghetto originated in Venice, Italy. In 1516, Venetian Jews were forced to live in an area called the Ghetto Nuovo (New Foundry). Eventually, the word came to be used for any area in which Jews were forced to live. During World War II, the Nazis created ghettos in cities and towns throughout Eastern Europe. They were usually enclosed in walls or barbed wire, and the residents were not free to enter and leave as they wished. Starvation, disease, and overcrowding were common.

Gouache - An opaque watercolor paint or a painting created in this medium.

Installation - A work of art that occupies a space and transforms the way in which the space is experienced. Often, viewers are able to enter the space and become immersed in the work. Installation art makes use of a wide range of media.

Internment camp - A detention center for political opponents, enemy aliens, and other residents who are believed to present a danger to a country, especially in wartime. During World War II, thousands of Jews in the unoccupied zone of France (particularly those without French citizenship) were imprisoned in internment camps. Many were subsequently sent to Auschwitz.

Kristallnacht - German for "Night of Broken Glass." On the night of November 9-10, 1938, anti-Jewish riots (organized by the Nazi leadership) raged across Germany and Austria. Thousands of windows were smashed, and synagogues and other Jewish-owned buildings were set on fire. At least ninety-one Jews were killed, and some thirty thousand Jewish men were arrested and deported to concentration camps. This event, which came to be known as Kristallnacht, was the first large-scale attack on Jews by the Nazis.

Liberation - The discovery and evacuation of Nazi concentration camps by Allied forces in late 1944 and 1945.

Magen David - Hebrew for "Shield of David." Also known as the "Star of David," the Magen David is a six-pointed star that serves as an emblem of Jewish people and as the central image of the Israeli flag. During the Holocaust, Jews throughout Europe were required to wear Stars of David on their clothing to identify and isolate them.

Nazi - Short for the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers' Party) founded in Germany in 1919. The Nazi Party took control of Germany in 1933 under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. The Nazi regime was a fascist dictatorship based on military force, the suppression of dissenting opinions, violent antisemitism, and a belief in the racial supremacy of the German people.

Non-objective art - Art is described as non-objective when it contains no recognizable figures or objects.

Nuremberg Laws - A set of laws issued in 1935 that systematized the exclusion and persecution of Jews and other "non-Aryans" in Germany. The first, the Reich Citizenship Law, stripped German Jews of their citizenship and all associated rights. The second, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor, outlawed marriages between Jews and non-Jews. Additional regulations further removed Jews from German political, social, and economic life.

Palette - A slab of metal, wood, or other material on which an artist mixes paint; also, the range of colors used by a particular artist or in a particular work or art.

Partisans - Members of a militia group that attacks the enemy from within occupied territory. During World War II, partisans fought Nazi occupying forces throughout Europe, harassing and killing Nazis and sabotaging their war effort.

Pearl Harbor - A harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. On December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, crippling the American fleet in the Pacific and prompting the American entry into World War II.

Photojournalism - An approach to photography, such as is typically seen in newspapers and magazines, in which the images create a narrative about current events.

Picture Plane - The flat surface of a painting or drawing, or the imaginary surface from which objects seem to recede in a painting or drawing that uses perspective to suggest three-dimensional space.

Pogrom - From a Russian word meaning "havoc." A mob attack in which Jewish men, women, and children were brutalized and killed and their homes sacked and looted. Pogroms in Eastern Europe were often carried out with the support of local authorities.

Pop art - An art movement of the 1950s and '60s that drew inspiration from and used images common in popular culture, such as comic books, Hollywood movies, product packaging, and advertisements. Leading practitioners of Pop art include Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Claes Oldenburg.

Resistance - A term used to describe the ways in which Jews and other targeted groups opposed Nazi persecution. In addition to armed revolts in ghettos and camps and underground partisan activities, many Jews engaged in spiritual resistance--that is, they refused to let the Nazis break their spirit or defeat their humanity. Acts of spiritual resistance include religious observance, cultural events, artistic expression, education, and mutual assistance.

Righteous Among the Nations - Non-Jews who risked their own lives in order to save Jews during the Holocaust. Visit the Yad Vashem website, for more information.

Roma and Sinti - Two closely related European ethnic groups. Often referred to as Gypsies (based on the mistaken notion that they originated in Egypt), the Roma and Sinti were traditionally nomadic. Most Roma and Sinti, however, no longer travel. Members of these groups were persecuted harshly by the Nazis. Many Roma and Sinti were killed in the concentration camps and death camps.

Socialism - A system of social organization that promotes a classless society in which all members have an equal share in the economy.

Swastika - An ancient symbol resembling a cross with four equal arms that bend at right angles. The name is derived from a Sanskrit word for "good fortune" or "well-being." Also known as the "hooked cross" (hakenkreuz in German), the swastika has been used as an auspicious symbol and decorative motif by numerous cultures from the Far East to Europe and the Americas. The Nazi Party adopted the swastika as its official emblem in 1920.

Terezin Ghetto - A town in Czechoslovakia, Terezin (Theresienstadt in German) served as a ghetto between 1941 and 1945. More than 140,000 Jews were deported there by the Nazis. The deportees were mainly Czech Jews and also German Jews who were prominent figures, married to non-Jews, elderly, or decorated or disabled World War I veterans. Since the deportees included many artists and writers who struggled to maintain a vibrant cultural life in the ghetto, the Nazis decided to exploit their talents by showing off Theresienstadt as a "model settlement." The Nazis planned to gradually transfer the inhabitants of the ghetto to death camps, thus concealing the decimation of European Jewry from the free world. More than 120,000 Jews died in the ghetto or at Auschwitz and other extermination camps.

Treaty of Versailles - The peace treaty signed by Germany and the Allies in 1919 that officially ended World War I. Among other things, the treaty required the German government to pay massive reparations, cede territory to other European nations, and limit its military forces.

Wannsee Conference - A meeting held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on January 20, 1942, at which high-ranking Nazi officials discussed the implementation of the Final Solution--the systematic murder of Europe's Jews.

Warsaw Ghetto - The Polish city of Warsaw housed the largest of the Nazi ghettos during World War II. Established in November 1940, the Warsaw Ghetto held nearly half a million Jews in overcrowded, unsanitary, disease-ridden conditions. During 1942, most of the ghetto's residents were deported to the Treblinka death camp. In April 1943, the Germans tried to raze the ghetto and deport its remaining inhabitants, but the Jews staged a revolt under the leadership of a young man named Mordecai Anielewicz. Although the Nazis eventually crushed the rebellion, the Jewish fighters held out for almost a month against the powerful German forces. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising, as it has become known, remains a powerful symbol of Jewish armed resistance during the Holocaust. Visit the Unites States Holocaust Memorial's website, to learn more about the Warsaw Ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Yahrzeit - Yiddish for "year's time"; in the Jewish tradition, the anniversary of the death of a loved one according to the Hebrew calendar.

Zionism - A political movement that began in the late nineteenth century, advocating the establishment and support of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

Artlex Art Dictionary
Tate Collection Glossary
US Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia
Museum of Jewish Heritage, Meeting Hate with Humanity
A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Museum of Tolerance Online Multimedia Learning Center