“For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones.” (Psalm 102:3–5)
Tomorrow marks the 73rd anniversary of Germany’s infamous Wannsee Conference, signalling a turning point from the mass murder of Jews to a systematic genocide of European Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other death camps.
On this day, a group of Germany’s political elite met at the Villa Minous, the Nazi SS guest house on the Greater Wannsee lake located in a Berlin suburb, to decide on “the Final Solution to the Jewish question.”
With the current rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism all around the world, many ask themselves if it is possible that such a turning point could happen today, focusing the rhetoric of hatred into new action?
Is it possible that people are already undertaking small and big steps toward a new genocide?
“What needs to be done to ensure that the next generation of Jews has a future in Europe?” the World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder asked. “This eruption of anti-Semitism has been an eye-opener for many people, and it would be wrong to go back to doing business as usual. Instead, we expect politicians and societies to address the root causes of this hatred, and to take appropriate action against it.”
The term “Final Solution” was the code name for the systematic, deliberate, physical annihilation of the European Jews, a plan that Hitler had authorized sometime during 1941. (USHMM)
Present were several high-ranking officers of the Nazi party and the Nazi SS, along with members of the police, the government, as well as state secretaries from the Foreign Office, the justice, interior, and state ministries.
As a result of this conference, millions of people were displaced and died.
“Fifty million people, including 6 million Jews, perished because 12 men gathered in a palace in Germany,” said Beverly Newman, the founder and a director of the Al Katz Center for Holocaust Survivors and Jewish Learning. (Bradenton)
SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, who was then the director of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office; RSHA), called the meeting.
The goal was to ensure the cooperation of the administrative heads of various government departments in the implementation of the Final Solution to the Jewish question, in which most of the Jews of German-occupied Europe were to be deported to Poland and murdered.
“During the course of the Final Solution, the Jews will be deployed under appropriate supervision at a suitable form of labor deployment in the East. In large labor columns, separated by gender, able-bodied Jews will be brought to those regions to build roads, whereby a large number will doubtlessly be lost through natural reduction. Any final remnant that survives will doubtless consist of the elements most capable of resistance. They must be dealt with appropriately, since, representing the fruit of natural selection, they are to be regarded as the core of a new Jewish revival,” Heydrich announced.
Adolf Eichmann, one of Heydrich’s subordinates, kept the minutes of the meeting and handed out 30 copies to the participants. The only surviving copy, marked No. 16 out of 30, was found in March 1947 among German Foreign Office files by American War Crimes investigators. (Jewish Virtual Library)
This one copy of the minutes of the Wannsee meeting was discovered and used by Robert Kempner a Jewish lawyer from Berlin and lead US prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. In a sweet twist of fate, during the trial, Kempner prosecuted the man who revoked his German citizenship in 1935—Wilhelm Frick.
The minutes are coldly bureaucratic and describe a pan-European plan for the genocide of the Jewish people. Because they only sum up what was discussed, the minutes do not give a completely accurate picture of what transpired. It is known, however, that the main element of the conference was Heydrich’s extended exposition of past, present, and future policies.
Incredibly, those present represented longstanding respected ministries that predated the Nazi state, examples being the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Ministry, and the Reich Chancellery. And none protested, as far as can be discerned from the minutes themselves or from other sources of the time as well as postwar testimony.
Kempner himself, who had held a post in the pre-1933 Prussian Justice Ministry, found it to be incredible that such individuals, apparently civilized men, eight of whom held doctorates, agreed with the plan.
The Protocol stands without equal as an example of the calm and orderly governance of genocide. (Jewish Virtual Library)
Euphemisms were used to cloud the clear intent, such as Heydrich’s discussion of protocols for “new possibilities in the East.”
Eleven million European Jews, which are listed by country, were included in these “possibilities.”
The use of these euphemisms has led Holocaust deniers to say that they were not talking about murder, but Adolf Eichmann during his trial confirmed that they were clearly talking about the systematic destruction of the Jewish People, saying “murder and elimination and annihilation were discussed.” (Holocaust History)
For the most part, all those attending were in agreement about the need to find a “final solution” to the Jewish question. The purpose of the buffet luncheon / meeting was logistics, how to carry this out. (Holocaust Explained)
Up until this time, extermination in German-occupied territories had been mostly piecemeal with Einsatzgruppen (task force) death squads employing locals to gather the members of Jewish communities, murdering them and burying them like trash in mass graves.
Other Jews had been herded into mass ghettos such as the Warsaw Ghetto and that of Lvov Poland, where they were starved in a slow, agonizing death.
The Plan to Eliminate the Jews
“With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish.” (Psalm 83:3)
The Nazis (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) rose in power following WWI, promoting an ideology of anti-Semitism and racial hygiene through eugenics. They also promoted the need for territorial expansion.
They intended to invade Poland and the Soviet Union and deport or kill the Jews and Slavs living there, since they were viewed as being inferior to the Aryan “master race.”
In Germany, the legal discrimination of Jews had been put into force immediately following Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor on the 30th of January in 1933, at which time he and the Nazi party he led seized dictatorial power.
The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed as early as April 7th of 1933, making it illegal for Jews to practice law or to serve in the civil service. Other legislation restricted them from other professions.
Initially, economic sanctions, such as these labor laws as well as violence had been employed to force Jews to voluntarily leave the country. The killings began following the invasion of Poland in September of 1939 and accelerated following the invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941.
In July of 1941, Hermann Goring, head of Germany’s defense forces and second in command to Hitler, authorized Heydrich in writing to prepare a plan for the “total solution of the Jewish question” in those areas that were under German control and to organize the participation of all relevant government organizations.
It was also necessary to determine who were Jewish so as to define the limits of the exterminations.
Historians differ when it comes to the significance of the meeting, since Jews were already being slaughtered in territories of the Soviet Union that had been occupied by the Germans six months before the meeting, and the Belzec and Chelmno death camps in Poland were operating at full tilt—the largest chambers gassing 2,000 Jews at a time.
There is disagreement among historians about the role and timing of the Wannsee Conference. It is believed that it may have been held in order to quell the concerns of some Berlin officials that Berlin Jews were being included in the shootings in the Soviet Union. While they were comfortable and familiar with the extermination of Russian and Eastern European Jews, they were less comfortable with their fellow Germans being included in the massacre. It is possible that Heydrich used this meeting to ensure that all the Reich’s ministries were on board with the program. (Jewish Virtual Library)
The point of the conference for Heydrich, however, was to impose his leadership with regard to the Jewish question. He wanted to suppress any opposition to the deportation of Germany’s Jews and wanted to attain agreement with respect to special categories of exemption, such as highly decorated WWI veterans and such borderline categories as the so-called Mischling (those with both Aryan and Jewish ancestry).
In the end, even though the conference may have put together a plan for the total genocide of Europe’s Jewish community and made Heydrich the supreme commander of that plan, Hitler or Himmler were responsible for the final decision to implement it.
Included in the protocols were those countries that were cooperating with the Nazis, such as Slovakia, Croatia and Romania; Italy and France were expected to not be a problem.
Only the Nordic countries were expected to object and were to be left to the last.
Dr. Josef Buhler, Secretary and Deputy Governor to the General Government of Poland requested that the “solution” begin in his territory since, according to Buhler, the majority of Jews there were unfit for work and carried diseases.
Buhler promised that Heydrich’s work “would have the support of the authorities of the Governor General.”
He had only one request: “that the Jewish question in this area be solved as quickly as possible.”
Apathy and Anti-Semitism
“On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.” (Zechariah 12:3)
The villa at 56-58 Am Grossen, Wannsee now serves as both a memorial and a museum to the planning and genocide of the Jews of Europe. Several rooms are devoted to this theme.
An overview with regard to the historical background of anti-Semitism and racism is also included.
Individual rooms at the center focus on the separate governmental organizations that were involved. For example, one room is dedicated to the Ordnungspolizei (uniformed police) and another to the Wehrmacht (army) as well as the civil administration in the occupied territories. Another room deals with the subject of collaboration, and another deals with the question as to how much the German people knew about what was happening. (ghwk)
Since anti-Semitism is once again on the rise, we must ask ourselves if genocide could happen today, either against the Jews or some other group.
The answer is that it is already happening.
The Sudanese government is attacking its Christian tribes, driving them out of the country and massacring them. The Christians and Yazidi, a Kurdish religious community, are being raped and slaughtered in Iraq and Syria by ISIS Islamic terrorists, with one million displaced from their homes.
In the past four years, Bashar al-Assad, the leader of the Syrian government has killed over 200,000 of his own people and scattered more than 2 million of them as refugees.
The escalation of anti-Semitism is alarming.
Six million Jews—the same number as were exterminated in the Holocaust—are now residing in Israel. Every neighboring nation plus Iran and others are actively seeking political alliances as well as military and nuclear capabilities to defeat and exterminate the Jewish state. The Introduction to the Hamas charter states:
“For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails.” (The Jerusalem Fund)
Despite these nefarious purposes outlined in black and white, the world labels them as victims, much as was the case for the Jews at the time of the Wannsee Conference.
Although the United States has historically supported Israel at critical moments in her founding and in her ongoing defense, the US leadership’s current and future support of Israel has been in question.
As German historian Georg Wilhelm Frederick Hegel said almost 200 years ago, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”