|The Wannsee Conference, 20 January 1942|
|By Dr Norbert Kampe*|
At the end of 1940, the SS acquired the sumptuous villa of an industrialist, built in 1914 in an elegant suburb south of Berlin, on the shore of Lake Wannsee. The villa was furnished to provide hospitality and hold meetings of the SS. On 20 January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) – the Security Service – chaired a by invitation only conference for members of the SS, senior civil servants and Party representatives. The only item on the agenda of the “discussion followed by dinner” was “the final solution of the Jewish Question”.
Since January 1941, Heydrich had been charged by Göring, Himmler and their staffs in several conversations to prepare “proposals for a final solution” for after the war. At the beginning of 1941, the main point was the deportation of all the Jews of Europe to the defeated USSR, to “Arctic camps” in Siberia, where they would die under unbearable living conditions. It was certainly foreseen that immediately after the planned attack, the Jews of the Soviet Union would be massacred by the “Einsatzgruppen” (the special action squads). Just a few weeks after the attack on 22 June 1942, the selective execution of individual men capable of bearing arms changed into murder by firing squad of all Jews, including the elderly, women and children. Wanting to be covered at the very highest levels for his responsibility for the massacres by the Einsatzgruppen and for his future career as organizer of the Final Solution, at the end of July Heydrich obtained Göring’s signature to a document he had drafted, which gave him a free hand.
Until September 1941, Hitler insisted on giving priority to obtaining victory over the USSR, and he refused to agree to demands by Gauleiters to deport German Jews, or to Heydrich, who wanted partial deportations. His authorization, or rather his order, in September 1941 for the deportation of the Jews in the Reich brushed away the last obstacles facing the heads of the SS. They certainly encountered considerable problems for temporary deportation locations, while they waited for transport to camps in Siberia to become possible. The German governments of Polish ghettos protested the arrival of Jews from Germany, and reacted by massacring local Jews “to make space”. In this way, Gauleiter Greiser of the Warthegau obtained approval from Himmler to murder 100,000 Jews from the Lodz ghetto who were unsuited for work. The killing started on 8 December 1941 at Chelmno, using gas chambers installed on trucks. The mass shooting of Latvian Jews from the Riga ghetto started in November 1941, when the first convoy from Germany arrived.
In mid-December 1941, within the context of his declaration of war against the USA, Hitler told his entourage about his ideas and wishes, and gave new orders, which had become much more radical in respect of the “final solution”: extending the deportations, which had only originally been intended for German Jews, to all European Jews in areas under German control. In the event that there would be a second world war, which only became a reality in December 1941, Hitler had on many occasions since 1939 announced in public speeches the annihilation of the Jews of Europe. Now he was obliged to fulfill his own dramatic prophesies. At the same time, the Blitzkrieg against the USSR had run out of steam by December 1941, and the Red Army had managed to stabilize the front and even achieve its first successes. Blinded by racist ideas (the rule of Judeo-Bolshevik sub-humans), the German military command launched a campaign that from the start was going to be long, on a limitless front over immense territory, for which the army was not prepared. The decision to make an imaginary “World Jewry” pay for this situation, for which he was responsible, was perfectly in keeping with Hitler’s character and his fanatical hatred of Jews.
For Heydrich, this expansion of the original deportation order to all the Jews of Europe, confirmed in a surprising manner his desire for plenipotentiary powers, which he had long thought of. This is certainly the reason that at the last moment he postponed the conference originally scheduled for 9 December 1941, and which took place only six weeks later. When the power struggle among the Nazi leadership and officials on the way to carry out “the solution to the Jewish question” and on who would be in charge had been resolved at the highest levels in favor of the SS and in favor of the most extreme plans for deportation and annihilation, it remained for Heydrich, at the 20 January “conference for Secretaries of State”, to flex and impose his newly-acquired powers and to obtain assurances of cooperation from the participants. It is possible that another motive for this performance - and Eichmann suggested this several times - was Heydrich’s wish to implicate the Secretaries of State and make them accomplices in genocide.
The fifteen participants at the “Wannsee Conference” discussed the cooperation of their various ministries and organizations in respect of the imminent deportation of all the Jews of Europe to the conquered territories in the East. The SD expected to deport up to 11 million people. The officials were informed in detail of methods of extermination already tried, and themselves made various proposals in the interest of their own departments. Not one of the participants evinced any scruples about planning a State crime on an almost inconceivable scale. It was understood that command of the operations would be awarded to Heydrich. Nonetheless, Heydrich did not succeed in his move to widen the circle of people to be deported from the Reich, well beyond the definition of “Jew” according to the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935. Heydrich wanted to deport “half Jews” and the Jewish husbands or wives of Aryan partners (following a compulsory divorce). Dr. Stuckart, Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior and author of the anti-Jewish laws and regulations, successfully defended his position against this attempt to take away his prerogatives, namely his official power to define whom in a legal sense was a Jew. It was based on Stuckart’s definition of “Jew” that Eichmann’s orders were framed for the preparations for the deportations from Germany, which were issued immediately after the Wannsee Conference.
The Wannsee Conference accordingly marks neither the time nor the place when the decision was taken to murder the Jews; Hitler had taken that decision earlier, verbally among his very closest circle. But it was the organizational conference, once the decision had been taken at the very highest level. As a result of this conference, the entire apparatus of the German State became both active and passive accomplices in the genocide of the Jews, of whom about six million would become victims.
The minutes of the Wannsee Conference are the most important of the many documents that have come down to us, and describe the crimes committed under the pens of the actual authors: the minutes prove that from January 1942, at the highest levels of government, it had been decided that not a single European Jew should survive deportation and slave labor, and that “those who resist” should be “handled in an appropriate fashion”, to prevent absolutely, contrary to earlier phases of the persecution of the Jews, “a Jewish renaissance” (Minutes, p.8). This is the reason that the Wannsee minutes are central to the claims forgery by Holocaust deniers. They ignore the documents and quotes from the same period, which refer to the Wannsee “Secretaries of State conference”. They ignore that Eichmann himself confirmed in court the authenticity of the minutes and identified its authors. Even if the minutes had never been found, even if the copy of Luther from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a participant at the Conference – nr. 16 out of a total of 30 copies of the minutes – had been destroyed at the end of the war as the other copies almost certainly were by their recipients, that would have changed nothing of the fact of genocide.
In 1947, the document was discovered in two Foreign Ministry files marked “final solution of the Jewish question”. The alleged forger or forgers would have had to fake hundreds of pages, together with handwritten notes and initials of then staff of the ministry that accompanied the minutes from Luther’s office, which have come down to us. A physical examination of the minutes themselves and the accompanying documents, the registration numbers, the margin notes and the signatures, all confirm their authenticity, in the opinion of the scientific staff of the political archives of the Foreign Ministry, beyond a shadow of a doubt. In addition, it is absurd to take account of copies or fabricated collages after the discovery of the original, in order to prove its lack of authenticity or to make them look like fake variations of the original, to make that look like the work of forgers. We can only recognize the historical fact that at the turn of the year 1941/42, the murder of all European Jews became the official objective of the German Reich and its institutions. With the Wannsee Conference mass murder was now transformed into systematic genocide.
* Dr Norbert Kampe is a historian and Director of Wannsee Conference House, a place of remembrance and education.