Many commentators have noted that in order to murder their victims, the Nazis had to murder the German language first, associated as it was with high culture, rationality, and philosophical thought. A new, degraded form of German came into being, first in Germany itself, then in the camps, where it found its most brutal expression.

I did not realize--I realized this only much later--that the Lager's German was a language apart: to say it precisely in German, it was Orts- und zeitgebunden, "tied to the place and time." It was a variant, particularly barbarized, of what a German Jewish philologist, Klemperer, had called Lingua Tertii Imperii, the language of the Third Reich, actually proposing for it the acronym LTI with an ironic analogy to the hundred other acronyms (NSDAP, SS, SA, SD, KZ, RKPA, WVHA, RSHA, BDM, etc.) dear to the Germany of that time.

About LTI, and its Italian equivalent, much has already been written, also by linguists. It is an obvious observation that where violence is inflicted on man, it is also inflicted on language.

Levi, Drowned, p. 97.

Some of the language of the camps:

Fressen, to eat, a term applied only to animals in polite German (Levi, Drowned, p. 99.

Haftlinge, prisoners. When a young kapo referred to his charges as men rather than haflinge, he was corrected. (Levi, Drowned, p. 92.)


Schmutzstuck, schmuckstuck--a woman weakened to the point of death, the female equivalent of a Muselmann; literally "garbage" and "jewel", respectively. (Levi, Drowned,p. 99.)

Spritzen, abgespritzt--to kill or be killed by phenol injection.

We immediately realized, from our very first contacts with the contemptuous men with the black patches, that knowing or not knowing German was a watershed. Those who understood them and answered in an articulate manner could establish the semblance of a human relationship. To those who did not understand them the black men reacted in a manner that astonished and frightened us: an order that had been pronounced in the calm voice of a man who knows he will be obeyed was repeated word for word in a loud, angry voice, then screamed at the top of his lungs as if he were addressing a deaf person or indeed a domestic animal, more responsive to the tone than the content of the message.

If anyone hesitated (everyone hesitated because they did not understand and were terrorized) the blows fell, and it was obvious that they were a variant of the same language: use of the word to communicate thought, this necessary and sufficient mechanism for man to be man, had fallen into disuse. This was a signal: for those people we were no longer men.

Levi, Drowned, p. 91.

What allowed...the degeneration of German speech, over the length of a half century, from the rich, imbricated, responsible pursuit of truth into the garbled, vulgarized German authorized and distributed by the Nazi press, Nazi literature, and official bureaucratic speech [?]

Such an inquiry would be illuminating, but ultimately ineffectual, since the debasement of language and the traducing of the psyche, dependent as it is upon the organ of speech, is a process observable in varying degrees in all western language. The case of the German language is only an example of more notes in advanced capitalist societies that the command of nuanced and subtle language in public discourse has all but disappeared. The debasement of language, the stripping of its shading and moral intensity began in the West long before Hitler and continues after he is gone. It will help us to explain a kind of cauterization of conscience by the use of metaphor and euphemism; to understand that in official Nazi language the extermination of Jews was precisely that-- the disinfectant of lice, the burning of garbage, the incineration of trash, and hence language never had to say exactly what acts its words commanded: kill, burn, murder that old Jew, that middle-aged Jew, that child Jew.

Cohen, pp. 7-8.