20 January 1942: Today marks the anniversary of the odious Wannsee Conference.
Named for the south western suburb of Wannsee in Berlin where it took place, the conference is known for addressing and coordinating the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” Here, plans were laid out for the mass, systematic murder of Europe’s Jewish population.
SS general Reinhard Heydrich – who called and chaired the meeting – communicated that this would amount to approximately 11 million Jews. His figure was not just with Nazi occupied countries in mind, however, but was intended to encompass all of Europe – including neutral territories like Switzerland and Ireland. The 1935 Nuremberg Laws would act as the criteria to decide who was considered Jewish and Heydrich summarized that the extermination camps in occupied Poland would be used for the killings.
The meeting brought together 6 high-ranking members of the SS and 9 senior government officials, including the state secretaries from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior.
The inclusion of government officials was key. Part of the conference was informing agencies that would be relevant to fulfilling the “Final Solution”. Despite careful euphemistic wording, the participants knew mass murder was their goal and the meeting wasn’t as much about whether the government would take part as it was how to organize policy to enact it.
Although violence and discrimination towards Jews began immediately after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, the Wannsee Conference signifies a clear, methodical shift towards highly organized extermination.
The villa in Berlin where the meeting took place now serves as a Holocaust memorial. Visit the House of the Wannsee Conference for more information.