Is there a list of German words or expressions which should not be used because of Nazi connotations? I'd be particularly interested in less obvious ones like "jedem das seine" (to each his own), which for all I know is legal in Germany and perfectly fine to use in (translation in) other languages.
This list could be endless. The Nazis did not coin too many common expressions but loved to twist the meaning of existing ones.
Jedem das Seine is a good example. The rooting latin (actually after a greek principle) is suum cuique, which describes distributive justice, equity between persons. The Nazis put the German version of that motto on the gate of the Buchenwald concentration camp, twisting its meaning accurately, as they meant that's what is due to the captives inside.
So, what to do? It's practially impossible to avoid «Nazi terms» as soon you try to express a common idea with a buzzword. You are stumping through an old old minefield hoping nothing explodes nearby.
Avoid buzzwords. Chances are quite high the Nazis used the word for its good buzz before you. That's the reason we love English buzzwords that much. No chance to trigger a Nazi mine.
Full circle, why suum cuique is a good example? Because the Feldjäger (German military police) still use the Latin version of the motto.
About the legal situation:
In short: It's not illegal to use an expression which was twisted by the Nazis. That would be an endless list. It is however illegal to use an official slogan or catchphrase used by the Nazis (or any other unconstitutional organisation) as a distinguishing mark.
The latter interpretation of § 86a StGB was heavily disputed. Though the Bundesgerichtshof (the highest German appellation court) already ruled in 1972 that paragraph needed the promotional constraint, too, it is not literally included and so, people who distributed »swastika prohibited« signs have been convicted by lower courts.
In another Bundesgerichtshof judgement of 2007 the BGH stated again promotion is needed for § 86a StGB to come into effect, as it had to be undesired by the people who made that law to penalize educational advertising against unconstitutional organisations.
This is probably not much of a legal problem, but depending on your target audience it can become one concerning (dare I day it?) political correctness. Obviously there can be no exhaustive list. For starters, all references to the Nazi party, its organisations, programs or ranks are taboo (except, obviously, in an historical context). That's not much of an issue, though, because us non-historians usually have little reason to talk about Blockwart, Konzentrationslager, Kraft durch Freude, Winterhilfswerk, Mutterkreuz, Sturmbannführer and the like (The jury's still out on whether Führer, used neutrally as "leader" or "guide", is OK. Avoid it to be on the safe side. Also, unlike in English, don't call anybody a nazi unless he is one, and I mean behaving like on in the political sense.)
These are all specialized terms, coined by the nazis, and there is little need to use them in everyday speech. It gets more difficult with a few other terms or sayings. While it's easy to see why Arbeit macht frei and Meine Ehre heißt Treue are right out, I for one don't consider Jedem das seine offensive, but there are those who do. The same is true for both durch den Rost fallen and (doing something) bis zur Vergasung: while these expressions are actually older than the Third Reich, they are considered offensive by many.
Even if something is very hard, you probably shouldn't call it hart wie Kruppstahl, and even though you don't like a particular painting or sculpture, please refrain from calling it entartete Kunst. Let me close with a few more traps for the unwary: the term Endlösung, while seemingly innocuous, should definitely by avoided, as should be -- and that's a new one -- all references to the number 88. While you may safely ignore all similar codes and plead ignorance there, 88 is the one you should know about. (But then Ariel, a brand of washing powder, had to learn this the hard way, too.)
It may not only be a single word or expression but also the context it was used to make it not welcome in Germany. Therefore a list is only half of the story.
Nevertheless some dictionaries will tell you on your research that you have found a word that was used or was exclusively used in Nazi Germany.
To give you an example, entries in the Duden will give you
Gebrauch: nationalsozialistisch abwertend
- for a word that was used by Nazis only. The DWDS will tell you there it was used nazistisch.
1. (im Mittelalter) Abhängigkeit des Zinsbauern vom Grundherrn
2. (nationalsozialistisch) Abhängigkeit von privaten Geldverleihern
- for words that also have a Nazi meaning in addition to another meaning. It is context that matters here.
Other words that today do not have a Nazi connotation (e.g. Autobahn) will not have such usage or meaning references even if the word was invented or frequently used in the time then.
We can use the Duden search function to generate a list of words by searching for "nationalsozialistisch".
Sadly I have not found any online resource to ease recognizing Nazi idiomatic expressions.
If you read, for instance, the influential book “Aus dem Wörterbuch des Unmenschen” (¹1962, ³1968) by Dolf Sternberger, Gerhard Storz and Wilhelm E. Süskind, you’ll find many unexpected words and expressions discussed therein: Anliegen, Ausrichtung, Betreuung, charakterlich, durchführen, echt – einmalig, Einsatz, Frauenarbeit, Gestaltung, herausstellen, intellektuell, Kulturschaffende, Lager, leistungsmäßig, Mädel, Menschenbehandlung, organisieren, Problem, Propaganda, querschießen, Raum, Schulung, Sektor, tragbar, untragbar, Vertreter, wissen um …, Zeitgeschehen.
Some lexemes and phrases trigger a special kind of reaction: the suppressed höhö laugh. It occurs when a significant part of an audience isn’t sure whether it’s okay (i.e. politically correct or socially acceptable) to express amusement about some double entendre or pun in public or whether it actually was meant to be funny. This depends a lot on context, but can include any mention of
- Volk, Volksempfänger, Volkswagen, völkisch
- Heil (but not heilen/Heilung)
- total(er Krieg)
- (seit … Uhr) wird zurückgeschossen (or adapted verbs)
- Endsieg/-lösung/ → End-SBST
- Lösung der …-frage
- Lebensraum (im Osten), (Volk) ohne Raum
- SBST₁ durch SBST₂ ← “Kraft durch Freude”
- SBST macht ADJ ← “Arbeit macht frei”
- Mein SBST ← “Mein Kampf”
- Bund deutscher SBST ← Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM)
- Wehrmacht (instead of Bundeswehr)
- Untermensch → Unter-SBST, Über-SBST
- Arier(nachweis), arisch
- braun, weiß, schwarz
Any connection to raising one’s (right) arm, creating jobs by huge state-funded infrastructure projects, deadly gas and cremation, and of course all more or less derogatory terms for social or ethnic groups like Zigeuner, Krüppel, Weltjudentum or their stereotypical characteristics, e.g. Hakennase.
Phonetically and prosodically, even “rolling” r sounds, emphasizing oi diphthongs, speaking in a stakkato rhythm and several other clues will be remindful of Hitler’s or Göbbel’s voice. Similar typographic effects come from broken scripts (“blackletter”, Fraktur) and zigzag S-runes.
Combinations often avoided in abbreviations or codes include:
- AH “Adolf Hitler”
- HH “Heil Hitler”
- HJ “Hitlerjugend”
- KZ “Konzentrationslager”
- NS “Nationalsozialismus”, NSDAP (e.g. hinted at in the brand name “Lonsdale”)
- SA “Sturmabteilung”
- SS “Schutzstaffel”
- the number 88
- any digit combination V# “Vergeltungswaffe”
Furthermore, of course, any kind of swastika and some symbolism with skulls, eagles or oak leaves is indicative – and the once fashionable small mustache as worn by Charlie Chaplin, especially if combined with hair parted to the side. Some calendar dates and their various numeric notations may also require special considerations, e.g. Hitler’s birthday on 20 April, Reichspogromnacht on 9/10 November, German surrender on 8/9 May, liberation of KZ Auschwitz on 27 January or start of WW2 on 1 September.