How Well Do You Know Famous German Terms from World War II?

John Miller

What was the German term for "lightning war," a series of fast, armored strikes meant to smash defensive lines?

As the Nazi war machine began crushing Europe, it utilized blitzkrieg tactics. The blitzkrieg included fast-moving armored columns that often crumpled even well-fortified positions.

Deutschlandsender referred to which communications system?

The deutschlandsender was the Nazi radio broadcasting station. The powerful radio station was a key component of the Nazi propaganda machine.

To what activity does the word "bücherverbrennung" refer?

The Nazis loved to control information, so the bücherverbrennung was a vital component of their campaigns. The term refers to book burnings.

What's the word for the German highway system constructed by the Nazis?

The autobahnen (aka the autobahn) is a system of highways built by the Nazis. Construction began in 1933, and it was Hitler who dug the ceremonial first bit of dirt.

What was the "SS"?

The SS (Schutzstaffel) was the elite branch of the German army. The SS committed some of the worst atrocities of World War II.

What was the term that the Nazis used to describe someone they believed was racially superior?

The Nazis idealized blonde hair and blue eyes, features typical of Northern Europeans. They called them "Aryans" and believed that the world would be better off with Aryans in charge.

What is "Mein Kampf"?

"Mein Kampf" is Hitler's autobiography, in which he detailed his plans for Nazi Germany. Far too many of those hideous plans were carried out in real life.

The word "Daseinskampf" refers to the Nazi idea of struggling for _____.

When Nazis gathered, they bemoaned their daseinskampf, the struggle for existence, particularly against perceived enemies like Jews, Communists or anyone else who didn't adhere to Hitler's crazed philosophies.

What was the name of the Nazi secret police?

The Gestapo was the Nazi secret police. If you said or did the wrong thing in Nazi Germany, the Gestapo would show up at your door ... and you'd disappear.

What was the purpose of the military squad called "Einsatzgruppen"?

The Einsatzgruppen was the Nazi death squad. It traveled around Europe, murdering "undesirable" elements like Jews.

What was an official title bestowed on Hitler?

Hitler was all about the power trip. He gave himself the title of Fuhrer as he ascended to the top of the Nazi party. In German, Fuhrer means "leader."

What did the phrase, "Blut and boden" mean?

The Nazis adopted the slogan "blut and boden," which means "blood and soil." It combined the idea of racially-driven nationalism with a specific territory, a handy tool when ostracizing the often nomadic lifestyles of Jews and other "undesirables."

The "Luftwaffe" referred to which branch of the Nazi military?

The Luftwaffe was the Nazi Air Force, which was terrifying in its might and relentlessness. The Luftwaffe laid waste to many European cities throughout the war.

What was the purpose of the Nazi Sturmabteilungen troops?

The Sturmabteilungen (storm detachment) was the storm trooper squad in the Nazi army. Also called the "SA," these troops were instrumental in helping secure Hitler's rise to power.

To what group did "Nationalsozialist" refer?

Nationalsozialist was the full term for Nazis. Nazis were National Socialists hell-bent on warping the rest of the world to suit their evil aims.

What was the name of the German army?

The Wehrmacht was the German army. The word means "defense force," but of course, during World War II, the Wehrmacht was used for many offensive operations.

What did it mean if Nazi troops set out to "liquidieren" a political opponent?

In Nazi Germany, you didn't persuade people to join the cause. Instead, you set out to "liquidieren" (or liquidate) your opponents -- that is, you killed them.

The word "Atomwaffe" referred to what weapon?

The Nazis did everything they could to develop Atomwaffe -- nuclear weapons -- during World War II. Had they succeeded, today's world would be very different.

What was the "Volkssturm"?

The Volkssturm ("People's Army") was an emergency force that included very young and very old Germans, called to arms in a futile effort to stop invading Allied forces. The Volkssturm didn't do much to stop the Allies, but it added to the cold and brutal legacy of Nazism.

To what aspect of Nazi life did the word "Obergruppenführer" refer?

Obergruppenführer was a term for military rank. It referred to a senior group leader in the notorious SS or SA.

The "V-1" and "V-2" were a type of _____.

The V-1 and V-2 were types of vergeltungswaffen, or weapons of retaliation. They were missiles that the Nazis launched against places like London.

The word "konzentrationslager" referred to which horrifying aspect of Nazi racial cleansing?

The konzentrationslager was the system of concentration camps that the Nazis used for the murder of millions of humans. People were shoved into the konzentrationslager and then starved or gassed to death.

What does the phrase, "Drang nach Osten" mean?

"Drang nach Osten" means "drive to the east," and it refers to a centuries-old concept that Germany should expand eastward. And that's exactly what Hitler was committed to doing.

When the Nazis used the word, "Untermenschen," to what were they referring?

The untermenschen were the "undesirable" humans of the world -- that is, anyone who didn't fit the Nazi definition of perfection. The Nazis set out to cleanse the world of untermenschen.

The "totenkopf" was a terrifying symbol worn by Nazi troops. What was its appearance?

The totenkopf was better known as the "death's head," and it featured a human skull. It was supposedly a symbol of loyalty that extended past death. And you know, it was meant to intimidate anyone who saw it.

The term "panzerkampfwagen" specified which sort of German weapon?

Your clue here is the "wagen" portion of "panzerkampfwagen." This word specified armored vehicles, which were a critical component to Nazi blitzkrieg attacks.

The Sicherheitspolizei was an agency that was part of the _____.

The Sicherheitspolizei (or SiPo) was an investigative police agency that was part of the notorious SS. The SiPo harassed and intimidated people into following Nazi philosophies.

What did it mean if you were part of the "selektion" in a concentration camp?

You did not want to be a part of the selektion (selection) process at a Nazi concentration camp. Being selected meant that you were chosen to be executed.

Which term was used to describe a Nazi doctor's power to declare whether a person's poor health made him or her a burden to society?

As the Nazis solidified power, they used the concept of euthanasiebefehl (euthanasia order) to determine which Germans lived or died. So for example, if your child was very sick and unlikely to get better, he or she might be euthanized to spare German society the burden of caring for them.

If the Nazis called you a "Ehrenarier," what did it mean?

The Nazis, of course, held Aryans in the highest esteem. People who worked for the goals of the Nazi party were sometimes called "ehrenarier," which meant you were an honorary Aryan and safe from the Holocaust.

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About This Quiz

OK, so “gesundheit” isn’t one of them. But when it comes to a Nazi-inspired lexicon, there are a whole lot of World War II-era terms that are exceedingly common in our everyday language. That’s the kind of power that the Third Reich and its reign of terror have on our culture, more than 70 years after the end of the worst conflict in modern history. You already know the name of the man who made big history by seizing power in Germany. Do you know the name of the book he used to inspire his followers? As you take our quiz, can you recall the various technological advances he leveraged to smash entire civilizations? The Nazis weren’t content to merely do battle – they wanted to crush other nations as quickly as possible. Do you know the words that they used for their tactics and weapons? From their anti-tank explosives to their machine guns, the Nazis were inventive in amazing and horrifying ways. And the Nazis kept busy far beyond the front lines. Do you remember the name that’s used to describe the systematic homicide of millions of Europeans? And can you recall the name of the all-powerful police force that rounded up the doomed? It’s a new century, but the Nazis and the words of their mad war live on. Take our quiz and see if you know your Volkssturm from your SS.

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