Condemned by Evidence: Minutes of the Wannsee Conference

The House of the Wannsee Conference. <a href=
>Photo Credit</a>
The House of the Wannsee Conference. Photo Credit

In March 1947, while German foreign ministry officials were defending their actions at the Nuremberg Trials, assistant US chief counsel made an important discovery.

Amid the pile of documents abandoned by the Nazis, a cover page caught his attention. A stamp in red ink is clearly readable on the page: ‘Secret Reich Matter.’

It’s followed by 15 pages under the everyday title: ‘Minutes of Meetings’ and is evidence of the planned execution of European Jews and is a record of the Wannsee Conference that occurred January 20, 1942. It’s the 16th set of minutes and the only remaining one of the complete set of 30.

The discussion and the sheer cold-heartedness of the measures examined to exterminate Jews in Europe detailed at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942; even today is chilling in the extreme.

At noon, 15 men who had accepted an invitation from Reinhard Heydrich, head of the feared Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), met in an extravagant industrialist’s villa in the posh suburb of Wannsee, Berlin.

Reinhard Heydrich. Photo Credit
Reinhard Heydrich. Photo Credit

They included heads of Nazi administrative authorities, SS officers, and state secretaries. Most of their names were unknown, but they all had one thing in common; ambition. The men were young, well-educated and half of them possessed a doctorate.

The Wannsee Conference is considered, erroneously, as the body responsible for the Holocaust. But, no decisions were made that day, and the mass extermination of Jews had already started.

Heydrich brought personnel of all pertinent institutions such as the transport and foreign ministry to discuss the management of the mass murders and the planned deportations, and to have all the participating leaders under his control.

Contrary to accepted belief, the planned mass extermination of Jews started months before January 20, 1942. Hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been victimized by the ‘Final Solution’ of the Jewish question, particularly in areas of the Soviet Union taken by German forces in summer 1941.

At the time of the Wannsee Conference, 500,000 Jews, including women and children had been murdered, primarily by firing squad.

Hitler had made his views to exterminate the Jews known in 1942; on January 30, 1939, he prophesized the elimination of ‘international Jewry’ if there was a war.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, millions of Jews within a few months were living within the territory of Nazi Germany.

Holocaust expert and historian Michael Wildt says this was a crossroads in the eradication policy for Jews.

Deporting over 11 million Jews who were documented in the minutes of Wannsee Conference was no longer feasible. To get rid of the Jews, the procedures became more horrific and enormous, he explained.

The ‘evacuation to the east’ is vague yet undoubtedly expresses what is meant: the eradication of the Jews.

Adolf Eichmann, a prime collaborator of Heydrich, confessed this during his trial in 1961 when he recounted the talks in the villa: various methods of killing were discussed.

Crematorium operated at Auschwitz. Photo Credit
Crematorium operated at Auschwitz. Photo Credit

Even though the one remaining copy of the minutes contains ambiguous words such as ‘accordingly treated’ the document is still unique with regard to the lucidity of the purposes, said historian Peter Longerich.

As evidence, there’s the fact that the 20th century’s worst atrocity had the support of all conference attendees: the arms, foreign, interior and justice ministries, the National Socialist Party and the SS.

Even with all the information contained in the minutes, high-ranking Nazis such as Alfred Rosenberg and Hermann Göring claimed they didn’t know anything, DW reported.

Besides the extermination of the Jews, before his assassination, Heydrich had plans of his own. If the Soviet Union was defeated, high-ranking Nazis wanted to have masses of Jews as road workers. Undoubtedly, a large number would have died because of “natural decline,” as is written on page seven of the minutes. Whatever ‘remains’ were left over would be ‘treated accordingly.’

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE