Wannsee Conference

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The Wannsee Conference was a meeting of senior officials of the Nazi German regime, held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942. The purpose of the conference was to inform administrative leaders of Departments responsible for various policies relating to Jews, that Reinhard Heydrich had been appointed as the chief executor of the "Final solution to the Jewish question". In the course of the meeting, Heydrich presented a plan, presumably approved by Adolf Hitler, for the deportation of the Jewish population of Europe and French North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) to German-occupied areas in eastern Europe, and the use of the Jews fit for labour on road-building projects, in the course of which they would eventually die, the surviving remnant to be annihilated after completion of the projects. Instead, as Soviet forces gradually pushed back the German lines, most of the Jews of German-occupied Europe were sent to extermination or concentration camps, or killed where they lived. As a result of the efforts of historian Joseph Wulf, the Wannsee House, where the conference was held, is now a Holocaust Memorial.

Contents

Background

The rapid German advances in the opening weeks of the invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, induced a mood of euphoria among the Nazi leadership, which began to take an increasingly radical view of the "solution" of the "Jewish question"—a question that seemed to become more urgent with the growing likelihood that the four million Jews of the western Soviet Union would fall under German control.[1] On 16 July 1941, Hitler addressed a meeting of ministers, including Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, at which the administration of the occupied Soviet territories was discussed. He said that Soviet territories west of the Urals were to become a "German Garden of Eden", and that "naturally this vast area must be pacified as quickly as possible; this will happen best by shooting anyone who even looks sideways at us."[2]

Hitler's chief lieutenants, Göring and the SS chief Heinrich Himmler, took this and other comments by Hitler at this time (most of which were not recorded, but were attested to at postwar trials) as authority to proceed with a more radical "final solution of the Jewish question" (Die Endlösung der Judenfrage), involving the complete removal of the Jews from the German-occupied territories. On 31 July 1941 Göring gave a written authorisation to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) to "make all necessary preparations" for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in all the territories under German influence, to co-ordinate the participation of all government organisations whose co-operation was required, and to submit a "comprehensive draft" of a plan for the "final solution of the Jewish question".[3]

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