On the 64th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference

Today is the 64th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference; that is, the conference held at a mansion in the plush Wannsee district of Berlin, during which the first major discussion of the Final Solution occurred. The Wannsee Conference was a major turning point in the history of the Holocaust, when Nazi policy went from one of expulsion of Jews from the territories controlled by the Third Reich to one of industrialized extermination. In general, newer evidence suggests that the decision to exterminate the Jews had been made months before, but that the Wannsee Conference was convened to formalize it and establish SS control of the process.

Three news stories indicate that the museum that the mansion in which the conference was held has become has revamped its displays to include new information:
BERLIN, Jan 20 (Reuters) - On Jan. 20, 1942, a group of 15 senior Nazis met in the dining room of an idyllic lakeside villa where they ate breakfast, drank cognac and discussed the bureaucratic details of killing Europe's Jews.

The villa in Berlin's posh Wannsee district where the meeting took place is now a museum. On Friday, it reopens with a new permanent exhibition that offers a broad view of the "Wannsee Conference" and how the Holocaust was carried out.

"The main reason for revamping the exhibition was the opening of archives across eastern Europe," said Norbert Kampe, director of the Wannsee villa memorial. "That led to a rather unexpected breakthrough in research."

"The role of police and Gestapo in exterminating the Jews of eastern Europe has become much clearer," he told reporters.

The centre of the exhibition is the villa itself.

The dining room, with large windows overlooking the lake, is where the participants discussed what SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich described in an invitation to one senior official as "the final solution of the Jewish question."

The invitation letter is on display in the dining room. Dated Jan. 8, 1942, it was sent from Prague and addressed to Undersecretary of State Martin Luther at the Foreign Office.

"Discussion to be followed by breakfast, on 20 January 1942 at noon, Am grossen Wannsee 56-58," the invitation says.

The minutes from the meeting, known as the "Wannsee Protocol", are one of the most important documents from the war and played a key role in the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

"The Wannsee Protocol is emblematic of the Holocaust not just in its methodical blueprint for murder," historian Mark Roseman wrote in a book on the Wannsee Conference.

"It reminds us that the Holocaust is the best-documented mass murder in history. Bureaucracy was its hallmark."
Indeed. Claims of Holocaust deniers (such as David Irving or the nutjob who is presently President of Iran) aside, the Holocaust was almost certainly the best-documented genocide in history. The minutes of the Wannsee Conference, known as the Wannsee Protocol, although couching the conference's intent in euphemisms, leave little doubt that the formal policy of the Nazi government towards the Jews was now extermination or use as slave labor, and then extermination. So, what's in the new displays? This, for one:
The documents, posters, newspaper articles and photographs added to the exhibit are less dramatic than the minutes but create a clear picture of the day-to-day business of genocide.

One such document is a memorandum from a Nazi field commander in the east who says he has halted the "irresponsible" execution of Jews by the soldiers under his command.

The commander acknowledges "the urgent need to cleanse occupied territories of Jews" but questions whether this should be done without regard for the "economic needs of the Reich" -- indicating he thought some could be kept alive for slave labour.

Another paper jubilantly announces the end of the Warsaw ghetto which was destroyed in 1943.

"There is not a single Jewish residential district left in Warsaw anymore!" the document says.

Rainer Lendler, who designed the exhibition, described it as a "historical panorama."

There are photographs of survivors accompanied by personal statements. Relatives of top Nazis are also represented.
It sounds well worth checking out if you live in Germany or plan on traveling to Berlin.


  1. Dr. Dr.,

    You may want to provide a link to THHP's newest essay w/r/t this stuff.

    "General Semantics and Holocaust Denial" by Yours Truly:


  2. Have you seen Conspiracy (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0266425/)? It's an absolutely brilliant movie on the conference. Chilling.

  3. Are you two talking about the same thing?


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