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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 for Reinhard Heydrich, chief executor of the Final solution to the Jewish question, to discuss Final Solution policies for Jews with administrative leaders. During the course of the conference several plans were discussed and recorded in minutes entitled Protocol of Conference which were classified as a top secret Nazi document.
In the course of the meeting, Heydrich presented a plan 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 according to the text of the Wannsee Protocol, the surviving remnant to be annihilated after completion of the projects. Instead, as Soviet and Allied 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.
In 1935, the German Reichstag was controlled by the Nazi Party. It codified longstanding antisemitic practices, both official and unofficial, in the Nuremberg Laws which made them official policies of the Third Reich. These laws provided legal definitions of who was a Jew and who was a German citizen (definitively severing Jewish identity from German citizenry), prohibited sexual intercourse between Jews and state citizens, and provided punishment in forced labor camps for those who fell afoul of the law.
In 1939, Adolf Hitler signed an "euthanasia decree" (later known as Action T4), which instituted a forced eugenics program extending the existing laws enabling sterilization for those deemed genetically or socially unfit. Under this new policy doctors were allowed, and in some cases required, to take the lives of those deemed unfit rather than to sterilize them. The term euthanasia in this context is an euphemism, since its aim was not to relieve pain and suffering, but rather, for the sake of societal 'purity', to prevent further 'pollution' of the race.
The notion of mass deportation of Jews, as part of the plan to "purify" all of Europe, reached its peak with the forced deportation of Jews to labor camps in Poland and in the Madagascar Plan of 1940, which was shelved due to logistical challenges during the war.
Rapid German advances in the opening weeks of the invasion of the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa created the growing likelihood that the four million Jews of the western Soviet Union would fall under German control. The minutes of the Wannsee Conference estimated the Jewish population of the Soviet Union to be five million,with another three million in Ukraine. On 16 July 1941, Hitler addressed a meeting of ministers, including Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, at which 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."
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 definitive "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 written authorization 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 coordinate the participation of all government organizations whose cooperation was required, and to submit a "comprehensive draft" of a plan for the "final solution of the Jewish question".
Göring was at this time the second most powerful figure in the Nazi regime, having been given the special rank of Reichsmarschall and designated as Hitler's successor. Heydrich would thus have understood that any instruction coming from Göring carried Hitler's authority. He also knew that his immediate superior, Himmler, favored exterminating the Jews, and Heydrich was at that moment directing the Einsatzgruppen to do just that in the newly conquered Soviet territories. Rudolf Lange, commander of Einsatzkommando 2 in Latvia, wrote that his orders were "a radical solution of the Jewish problem through the execution of all Jews". In October, deportation of the Jews of Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to the east began. When a train carrying about 1,000 German Jews arrived at Riga in Latvia on November 29, 1941, Lange simply had them shot. But this was clearly not a feasible method of dealing with millions of people: the cost of the ammunition alone was unacceptable, and it was observed that even SS troops were uncomfortable about shooting assimilated German Jews as opposed to Ostjuden ("Eastern Jews"). The head of the German civil administration in Belarus, Generalkomissar Wilhelm Kube, who among other crimes personally murdered Jewish children, objected to the deportation of German Jews to the Minsk ghetto "who come from our own cultural circle" where they were being casually killed by German soldiers.
Accordingly, during the second half of 1941 Heydrich and his staff worked on proposals to "evacuate" all Jews from Germany and the occupied countries to labor camps, either in occupied Poland or further east in the Soviet Union, which it was assumed would soon be completely conquered. Those who were unable to work would be killed, while the remainder would soon be worked to death. But the German defeat in front of Moscow in November–December led to a sharp change of emphasis. Euphoria was replaced by the prospect of a long war, and also by a realization that food stocks were not sufficient to feed the entire population of German-occupied Europe.[a] It was at this time that the decision to proceed from "evacuation" to extermination was made. Speaking with Himmler and Heydrich on 25 October, Hitler said, "Let no one say to me we cannot send them into the swamp. Who then cares about our own people? It is good when terror precedes us that we are exterminating the Jews. We are writing history anew, from the racial standpoint."[b]
Planning the conference 
By November 1941, it was becoming known in the upper reaches of the Nazi leadership and government offices that Hitler intended all the Jews of Europe to be evacuated to the eastern territories and executed by whatever means.[c] To carry out such a massive enterprise involving the registration, assembly and transportation of millions of people at a time when the necessary material and human resources were already severely stretched, would be a formidable logistical challenge. It was also one that at least some elements of the German state apparatus might be expected to obstruct or fail to cooperate with. It thus seemed advisable to bring together representatives of all affected departments to explain what was intended and how it was to be carried out, and to make it clear that the project had been undertaken on the highest authority of the Reich.
On 29 November, Heydrich sent invitations for a meeting to be held on 9 December at the headquarters of the International Criminal Police Commission (the forerunner of Interpol, of which Heydrich at the time served as President) at 16 Am Kleinen Wannsee (in the comfortable lakeside suburb of Wannsee on the western edge of Berlin). He enclosed a copy of Göring's letter of 31 July to indicate his authority in the matter. As this was to be a meeting of administrators to discuss implementation of a policy already decided at the executive level, those invited were mostly state secretaries, i.e., chief administrative (subministerial) officers of government ministries. The ministries to be represented were Interior, Justice, the Four Year Plan and Occupied Eastern Territories. The Foreign Office was to be represented by an undersecretary, since Heydrich suspected that State Secretary Weizsäcker was not fully aligned with the objectives of the regime. Also invited were representatives of the Reich Chancellery, the Nazi Party Chancellery, the Race and Resettlement Main Office of the RSHA and Gestapo chief Müller. When Hans Frank, head of the General Government in occupied Poland, heard of the meeting, he demanded to be represented and Heydrich agreed. SS-Sturmbannführer Lange was invited for his experience in executing German Jews in Latvia. Heydrich's right-hand man Eichmann was to take the minutes.
Developments in early December 1941 disrupted the original meeting plans. On 5 December, the Soviet Army began a counter-offensive in front of Moscow, ending the prospect of a rapid conquest of the Soviet Union. On 7 December, the Japanese attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, causing the U.S. to declare war on Japan the next day. To fulfill its obligations under its Tripartite Pact with Italy and Japan, the Reich government immediately began preparing to issue a declaration of war on the U.S. on 11 December. Some meeting invitees were involved in these preparations, so Heydrich postponed the meeting without rescheduling it on 8 December. In early January 1942, Heydrich sent new invitations to a meeting to be held on 20 January. German historian Christian Gerlach sees in Heydrich's postponement the exploitation of an opportunity to broaden the original objective. Götz Aly wrote, "The postponement followed, one could assert, the political confusion that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had caused. But Gerlach substantiates with convincing details that the originally planned Wannsee Conference had an entirely different theme from that which actually took place six weeks later. It had been anticipated only to discuss problems that occurred with the deportations of the (Greater) German Jews... Only after Hitler's speech of 12 December was Heydrich able, as Gerlach shows, to broaden the theme and fix a conference on the 'Final Solution of the European Jewish question'."
The venue for the rescheduled conference was changed to a villa at 56–58 Am Großen Wannsee, a quiet residential street across the Großer Wannsee from the popular Wannsee beach. The villa, built in 1914, had been purchased from Friedrich Minoux in 1940 by the SS for use as a conference centre.
|SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich||Chief of the RSHA
Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia
|Schutzstaffel||Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler|
|Dr. Josef Bühler||State Secretary||General Government of Poland||Governor-General Dr. Hans Frank|
|SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann||Head of Referat IV B4 of the Gestapo
|Gestapo, RSHA, Schutzstaffel||Chief of Amt IV SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller|
|Dr. Roland Freisler||State Secretary||Reich Ministry of Justice||Reich Minister of Justice Dr. Franz Schlegelberger|
|SS-Gruppenführer Otto Hofmann||Head of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office (RuSHA)||Schutzstaffel||Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler|
|SS-Oberführer Dr. Gerhard Klopfer||Permanent Secretary||Nazi Party Chancellery||Chief of the Party Chancellery Martin Bormann|
|Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger||Permanent Secretary||Reich Chancellery||Reich Minister and head of the Reich Chancellery Dr. Hans Lammers|
|SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Rudolf Lange||Commander of the SiPo and the SD for the General-District Latvia
Deputy of the Commander of the SiPo and the SD for the Reichskommissariat Ostland.
|SiPo and SD, RSHA, Schutzstaffel||SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor der Polizei Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker|
|Dr. Georg Leibbrandt||Reichsamtleiter||Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories||Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories Dr. Alfred Rosenberg|
|Martin Luther||Under Secretary||Reich Foreign Ministry||Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop|
|Dr. Alfred Meyer||Gauleiter
State Secretary and Deputy Reich Minister
|Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories||Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories Dr. Alfred Rosenberg|
|SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller||Chief of Amt IV (Gestapo)||Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), Schutzstaffel||Chief of the RSHA SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich|
|Erich Neumann||State Secretary||Office of the Plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan||Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan Hermann Göring|
|SS-Oberführer Dr. Karl Eberhard Schöngarth||Commander of the SiPo and the SD in the General Government||SiPo and SD, RSHA, Schutzstaffel||Chief of the RSHA SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich|
|Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart||State Secretary||Reich Interior Ministry||Reich Minister of the Interior Dr. Wilhelm Frick|
In preparation for the conference, Eichmann drafted a list of the numbers of Jews in the various European countries. Countries were listed in two groups, "A" & "B". "A" countries were those under direct Reich control or occupation (or partially occupied and quiescent, in the case of France); "B" countries were allied or client states, neutral, or at war with Germany. The numbers reflect actions already completed by Nazi forces; for example, Estonia is listed as judenfrei ("free of Jews"), since the 4,500 Jews who remained in Estonia after the German occupation had been exterminated by the end of 1941.
- Old Reich [Germany proper]: 131,800
- Ostmark [Austria]: 43,700
- Eastern Territories [Polish areas annexed by the Reich]: 420,000
- General Government [occupied Polish lands]: 2,284,000
- Bialystok [district in eastern Poland, under German civil administration]: 400,000
- Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia: 74,200
- Estonia: free of Jews
- Latvia: 3,500
- Lithuania: 34,000
- Belgium: 43,000
- Denmark: 5,600
- France/occupied territory: 165,000
- unoccupied territory: 700,000
- Greece: 69,600
- Netherlands: 160,800
- Norway: 1,300
- Bulgaria: 48,000
- England [i.e. United Kingdom]: 330,000
- Finland: 2,300
- Ireland: 4,000
- Italy including Sardinia: 58,000
- Albania: 200
- Croatia: 40,000
- Portugal: 3,000
- Romania including Bessarabia: 342,000
- Sweden: 8,000
- Switzerland: 18,000
- Serbia: 10,000
- Slovakia: 88,000
- Spain: 6,000
- Turkey (European portion): 55,500
- Hungary: 742,800
- USSR: 5,000,000 [including subtotals for:]
Total: over 11,000,000
Heydrich opened the conference with an account of the anti-Jewish measures taken in Germany since the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. He said that between 1933 and October 1941, 537,000 German, Austrian, and Czech Jews had emigrated. This information was taken from a briefing paper prepared for him the previous week by Eichmann who, after his experience in organizing the forced emigration of the Viennese Jews in 1938, had become the leading expert on the practicalities of solving the "Jewish question".
Heydrich reported that there were approximately eleven million Jews in the whole of Europe, of whom half were in countries not under German control.[d] He explained that since further emigration of European Jews had been prohibited by Himmler, "another possible solution of the problem has now taken the place of emigration, i.e. the evacuation of the Jews to the East"; this would be a "provisional" solution, but "practical experience" was already being collected for the "future final solution of the Jewish question".
Holocaust denialists claim that the Wannsee Conference decided on no more than the "evacuation" of the Jewish population of Europe to the east, with no reference to killing them.[e] But in fact, Heydrich made the ultimate fate intended for the evacuees clear:
Under proper guidance, in the course of the final solution the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes. The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival.
Historian Christopher Browning observes: "No less than eight of the fifteen participants held the doctorate. Thus it was not a dimwitted crowd unable to grasp what was going to be said to them. Nor were they going to be overcome with surprise or shock, for Heydrich was not talking to the uninitiated or squeamish."
Heydrich went on to say that in the course of the "practical execution of the final solution", Europe would be "combed through from west to east" but that Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia would have priority "due to the housing problem and additional social and political necessities". This was a reference to increasing pressure from the regional Nazi Party leaders in Germany, the Gauleiters, for the Jews to be removed from their areas to allow accommodation for Germans made homeless by Allied bombing, as well as for laborers being imported from occupied countries. The "evacuated" Jews, he said, would first be sent to "transit ghettos" in the General Government, from which they would be transported eastward. Heydrich said that to avoid legal and political difficulties, it was important to define who was a Jew for the purposes of "evacuation". He outlined categories of people who would be exempted. Jews over 65 years old, and Jewish World War I veterans who had been severely wounded or who had won the Iron Cross, might be sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. "With this expedient solution," he said, "in one fell swoop many interventions will be prevented."[f]
The situation of people who were half or quarter Jews, and of Jews who were married to non-Jews, was more complex. Under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, their status had been left deliberately ambiguous. Heydrich announced that "Mischlings" (a Nazi pejorative for mixed-race persons) of the first degree (persons with two Jewish grandparents) would be treated as Jews. This would not apply if they were married to a non-Jew and had children by that marriage. It would also not apply if they had been granted written exemption by "the highest offices of the Party and State." Such persons would be sterilised or deported if they refused sterilisation.
"Mischlings of the second degree" (persons with one Jewish grandparent) would be treated as Germans unless they were married to Jews or Mischlings of the first degree, or had a "racially especially undesirable appearance that marks him outwardly as a Jew", or had a "political record that shows that he feels and behaves like a Jew". Persons in these latter categories would be killed even if married to non-Jews.
In the case of mixed marriages, Heydrich advocated a policy of caution "with regard to the effects on the German relatives". If such a marriage had produced children who were being raised as Germans, the Jewish partner would not be killed. If they were being raised as Jews, they might be killed or sent to Theresienstadt depending on the circumstances.[g] These exemptions applied only to German and Austrian Jews, and were not always observed even for them. In most of the occupied countries, Jews were rounded up and killed en masse, and anyone who lived in or identified with the Jewish community in any given place was regarded as a Jew. One of the few exceptions to this was France, where the Vichy French regime, in exchange for its ready cooperation, was able to apply its own rules, affecting mainly refugees and recent immigrants rather than French-born Jews. Heydrich commented, "In occupied and unoccupied France, the registration of Jews for evacuation will in all probability proceed without great difficulty", but in fact the great majority of French-born Jews survived. In Denmark, very few Jews were ultimately exterminated due to strong opposition from both the king and the populace and the actions of Danish partisans in evacuating most of the Jewish population to Sweden.
More difficulty was anticipated with Germany's allies Romania and Hungary. "In Romania the government has [now] appointed a commissioner for Jewish affairs", Heydrich said. But in fact the deportation of Romanian Jews was slow and inefficient despite the high degree of popular antisemitism. "In order to settle the question in Hungary," Heydrich said, "it will soon be necessary to force an adviser for Jewish questions onto the Hungarian government". The Hungarian regime of Miklós Horthy continued to resist German interference in its Jewish policy until 1944, when Horthy was overthrown (by Nazi intervention) and 500,000 Hungarian Jews sent to their deaths by Eichmann.
Heydrich spoke for nearly an hour. Then followed about thirty minutes of questions and comments, followed by some less formal conversation. Luther from the Foreign Office urged caution in Scandinavia and other "Nordic" countries where public opinion was not hostile to the small Jewish populations and would react badly to unpleasant scenes. Hofmann and Stuckart pointed out the legalistic and administrative difficulties over mixed marriages, arguing for compulsory dissolution of marriages to prevent legal disputes and for the wider use of sterilisation as an alternative to deportation. Neumann from the Four Year Plan argued for the exemption of Jews who were working in industries vital to the war effort and for whom no replacements were available. Heydrich (keen not to offend Neumann's boss Hermann Göring) assured him that these Jews would not be killed.[h] There were questions about the Mischlings and those in mixed marriages, but the details of these complex questions were put off until a later meeting.[i]
Finally, Bühler of the General Government in occupied Poland stated that "the General Government would welcome it if the final solution of this problem could be begun in the General Government, since on the one hand transportation does not play such a large role here nor would problems of labor supply hamper this action. Jews must be removed from the territory of the General Government as quickly as possible, since it is especially here that the Jew as an epidemic carrier represents an extreme danger and on the other hand is causing permanent chaos in the economic structure of the country through continued black market dealings."
The conference concluded with the following policies:
- Immigration: "An accelerated emigration of the Jews from the territory of the Reich...to purge German living space of Jews by legal means. 537,000 Jews were compelled to emigrate...[by] 1941"
- Evacuation to Labor Camps: "In the course of the final solution...Jews are to be utilized for work in the East in a suitable manner. In large labor columns and separated by sexes, Jews capable of working will be dispatched to these regions to build roads, and in the process a large number of them will undoubtedly drop out by way of natural attrition. Those who ultimately should possibly get by will have to be given suitable treatment because they unquestionably represent the most resistant segments and therefore constitute a natural elite that, if allowed to go free, would turn into a germ cell of renewed Jewish revival." "Jews now working in essential war industries cannot be evacuated as long as there are no replacements for them."
- Old People's Ghettos: "The intention is not to evacuate Jews over the age of 65 but to send them to an old people’s ghetto Theresienstadt has been earmarked for this purpose. In addition to these age groups – and of the 280,000 Jews who lived in the Altreich [Germany] and the Ostmark [Austria] on October 1, 1941, some 30% are over 65 – the old people’s ghetto will also receive Jews with war injuries and Jews with war decorations (EK I) [Iron Cross First Class]. With this convenient solution the many intercessions [for exemptions from deportation to the East] will be eliminated at one blow."
- Classification of Mixed Jews: "During the implementation of the plan for the final solution its basis, as it were, should be the Nuremberg Laws, whereby the solution of the problem of mixed marriages [Mischehen] and mixed parentage [Mischlinge] must likewise be a prerequisite for the definitive settlement of the questions."
- Sterilization to Remain in Reich: "Any first-degree Mischling to be exempted from evacuation will be sterilized in order to prevent any progeny and to settle the Mischling problem once and for all. Sterilization will be voluntary, but it is the precondition for remaining in the Reich. The sterilized Mischling will henceforth be exempt from all restrictive regulations to which he was previously subjected." "State Secretary Stuckart suggested that forced sterilization be embarked upon."
The above account is based on the minutes taken by Eichmann, copies of which were sent by Eichmann to all the participants after the meeting. Most of these copies were destroyed at the end of the war as participants and other officials sought to cover their tracks. It was not until 1947 that a copy of the minutes (known from the German word for "minutes" as the "Wannsee Protocol"[j]) was found by Robert Kempner, lead U.S. prosecutor before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, in the papers of Undersecretary Martin Luther, who had died in May 1945. By this time the more important participants in the meeting were dead or missing (Heydrich, Müller, Eichmann), and most of the others denied knowledge of the meeting or claimed that they could not remember what had occurred there. Only Kritzinger ever showed any genuine remorse for his role in preparing the Final Solution.
The minutes of the Wannsee Conference, however, do not mention killing. These omissions were not fully elucidated until the interrogation and trial of Eichmann in Israel in 1962. Eichmann told his questioners that towards the end of the meeting cognac was served, and that after that the conversation became less restrained. "The gentlemen were standing together, or sitting together", he said, "and were discussing the subject quite bluntly, quite differently from the language which I had to use later in the record. During the conversation they minced no words about it at all ... they spoke about methods of killing, about liquidation, about extermination".
Eichmann recorded that Heydrich was pleased with the course of the meeting. He "gave expression to his great satisfaction", and allowed himself a glass of cognac, although he rarely drank. He "had expected considerable stumbling blocks and difficulties", Eichmann recalled, but instead he had found "an atmosphere not only of agreement on the part of the participants, but more than that, one could feel an agreement which had assumed a form which had not been expected". At the conclusion of the meeting Heydrich gave Eichmann firm instructions about what was to appear in the minutes. They were not to be verbatim: Eichmann would "clean them up" so that nothing too explicit appeared in them. He said at his trial: "How shall I put it — certain over-plain talk and jargon expressions had to be rendered into office language by me". As a result, the last twenty minutes of the meeting, in which, as Eichmann recalled, words like "liquidation" and "extermination" were freely used, were summed up in one bland sentence: "In conclusion the different types of possible solutions were discussed". Thus the minutes must be read in conjunction with Eichmann's testimony to get as near as is possible to a full account of what took place.
The Wannsee Conference lasted only about ninety minutes, and for most of its participants it was one meeting among many in a busy week. The enormous importance which has been attached to the conference by postwar writers was not evident to most of its participants at the time. Heydrich did not call the meeting to make fundamental new decisions on the Jewish question. Massive killings of Jews in the conquered territories in the Soviet Union and Poland (e.g. at Chelmno) were ongoing and new extermination camps were in preparation at the time of the conference. They knew that in this case the decision had already been made, and that Heydrich was there as Himmler's emissary to tell them about it. Nor did the conference engage in detailed logistical planning. It could hardly do so in the absence of a representative of the Transport Ministry or the German Railways.
German historian Peter Longerich has written that one motive for Heydrich's calling the conference was to ensure that all the leading ministries were accomplices in his plan.
From Heydrich’s point of view", he writes, "the main purposes of the conference were, firstly, to establish the overall control of the deportation programme by the RSHA over a number of important Reich authorities and thereby, secondly, to make the top representatives of the ministerial bureaucracy into accomplices and accessories to, and co-responsible for, the plan he was pursuing. To reiterate: the plan was to exile all Jews in the present and future areas under German rule to Eastern Europe, where they were to be exposed to extraordinarily harsh living conditions and fatally exhausted or murdered. Heydrich had pursued this deportation plan since the beginning of 1941; in July 1941, Göring had given him the authority to execute it; and with the first deportation of Jews from central Europe in October, the first stage in that pan-European design had been realized. With his first invitation to the conference, Heydrich had waited until the second wave of deportations to Riga, Minsk and Kovno had already begun. He clearly wanted to present the representatives of the supreme Reich authorities with a fait accompli.
Longerich further argued,
As we do not know the exact words used in the conference, and since Eichmann's statements incriminating third parties can only be trusted with certain reservations, the minutes should not be used as a basis for speculations about what was 'actually' said... Instead it should be read as a guideline authorized by Heydrich and revealed to representatives of a number of authorities by the RSHA, which had been commissioned to deal with the final solution of the Jewish question... On 20 January 1942, Heydrich had two chief concerns: the deportations had to be accepted (everything that happened after the deportations was an internal SS matter, and no longer had to be agreed with other institutions). Secondly, the category of those to be evacuated had to be established: the status of Mischlinge and those married to non-Jews had to be clarified... However, by being included in the detailed discussion of the problems surrounding Mischlinge and 'mixed marriages', the representatives of the ministerial bureaucracy came to share knowledge of and responsibility for the 'Final Solution'. For, with the concerns they raised against the inclusion of the marginal groups in the deportations, the representatives of the ministerial bureaucracy had made it plain that they had no concerns about the principle of deportation per se. This was indeed the crucial result of the meeting and the main reason why Heydrich had detailed minutes prepared and widely circulated.
Eichmann's biographer David Cesarani agrees with Longerich's interpretation, that Heydrich's main purpose was to impose his own authority on the various ministries and agencies involved in Jewish policy matters, to avoid any repetition of the disputes that had arisen over the killing of the German Jews at Riga in late November. "The simplest, most decisive way that Heydrich could ensure the smooth flow of deportations", he writes, "was by asserting his total control over the fate of the Jews in the Reich and the east, and [by] cow[ing] other interested parties into toeing the line of the RSHA". This would explain why most of the meeting was taken up with a long speech by Heydrich, the contents of which would not have been news to most of those present, and why so little time was spent discussing practical questions. It was also important to obtain the consent of the Foreign Ministry and the Four Year Plan, the ministries most likely to object (on diplomatic and economic grounds) to the mass killing of the Jews.
Fates of the attendees 
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In order of death:
- Reinhard Heydrich died in Prague on 4 June 1942 as a result of injuries sustained during a May 27 attack by Czech and Slovak resistance fighters parachuted in from England.
- Roland Freisler was killed in a USAAF air-raid in Berlin in February 1945.
- Rudolf Lange was said to have been killed in action in Poland in February 1945 but his exact fate remains unclear.
- Alfred Meyer killed himself in April 1945.
- Heinrich Müller was last seen in Berlin on 29 April 1945. His fate is unknown, but he probably died in Berlin in the next few days.
- Martin Luther finished the war in a German concentration camp after falling out with Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1943. After being freed by the Soviets, Luther died in Berlin in May 1945.
- Karl Eberhard Schöngarth was executed for war crimes (killing British prisoners of war) in May 1946.
- Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger was acquitted of war crimes and died in October 1947.
- Josef Bühler was tried in Poland for war crimes and executed in Kraków in July 1948.
- Erich Neumann was briefly imprisoned and died in mid-1948.
- Wilhelm Stuckart was imprisoned for four years before being released for lack of evidence in 1949. He was killed in a car accident in November, 1953.
- Adolf Eichmann managed to escape to Argentina where he lived under a false identity. In 1960 he was captured by the Mossad, imprisoned in Israel, tried, convicted and sentenced to death, being finally executed in May 1962.
- Georg Leibbrandt was charged with war crimes but the case against him was dismissed in 1950. He died in June 1982.
- Otto Hofmann was sentenced to 25 years in prison for war crimes, but was pardoned in 1954. He died in December 1982.
- Gerhard Klopfer was charged with war crimes but was released for lack of evidence. He became a tax advisor, later dying in January 1987.
Wannsee House Holocaust Memorial 
In 1965, historian Joseph Wulf tried to have the Wannsee House made into a Holocaust memorial and document centre. But the Senate of Berlin did not want Holocaust memorials and spurned Joseph Wulf. In his last letter to his son David, 2 August 1974, Wulf wrote, "I have published 18 books about the Third Reich and they have had no effect. You can document everything to death for the Germans. There is a democratic regime in Bonn. Yet the mass murderers walk around free, live in their little houses, and grow flowers." Deeply despondent over the death of his wife and the collapse of his plans for a document centre, Wulf committed suicide, age 61, by jumping from the fifth floor window of his Berlin apartment, Giesebrechtstraße 12, Charlottenburg. In 1992 the Wannsee House became a Holocaust memorial. The Joseph Wulf Bibliothek/Mediothek on the second floor holds thousands of books on Nazism, anti-Semitism, and the Jewish genocide, along with many videos, microfilm texts and original Nazi era documents. Wulf's last letter is on display in Berlin’s Jewish Museum.
See also 
- Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (Allen Lane 2006), 538–549, discusses the economic imperatives that lay behind the extermination of the Jews. During 1941 an acute labor shortage in the German armaments industry developed, requiring the importing of millions of workers from the occupied territories. If these workers, as well as the German people and the people of the more privileged western occupied countries such as France and the Netherlands, were to be adequately fed, there must be a sharp reduction in the number of "useless mouths", of whom the millions of Jews under German rule were, in the light of Nazi ideology, the most obvious example.
- Browning 2004, p. 370. Browning cites Werner Jochmann (ed), Monologe im Führer-Hauptquartier 1941-1944 (A. Knaus, 1980), p. 96–99. These records of Hitler's mealtime monologues at his headquarters were published in English translation as Hitler's Table Talk, 1941–1944 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1953). Although the accuracy of the translation has been criticised, the gist of the statements by Hitler has been known since the English publication.
- The German historian Christian Gerlach has claimed that Hitler made his approval of a policy of extermination clear in a speech to senior officials in Berlin on 12 December (Christian Gerlach, "The Wannsee Conference, the Fate of German Jews, and Hitler's Decision in Principle to Exterminate All European Jews", Journal of Modern History, December 1998, 759–812). This is not universally accepted, but it seems likely that a decision was made at around this time. On December 18, Himmler met with Hitler and noted in his appointment book "Jewish question – to be exterminated as partisans".Browning 2004, p. 410. On 19 December, Wilhelm Stuckert, State Secretary at the Interior Ministry, told one of his officials: "The proceedings against the evacuated Jews are based on a decision from the highest authority. You must come to terms with it." Browning 2004, p. 405.
- This figure includes, however, the entire estimated five million Soviet Jews. In fact a large number of these either lived in areas not under German control or had been evacuated already. It is likely that about three million Soviet Jews were actually in German-occupied areas in 1942, although many had already been killed by the Einsatzgruppen. The figure of 700,000 Jews in "unoccupied France" included Jews living in the French territories of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
- For example, see the Holocaust denialist website The Zundelseit.
- In the event the exemption for Jews over 65 was only sporadically observed. In any case the food situation at Theresienstadt was such that many people sent there rapidly died. In addition, many people were later shipped from Theresienstadt to their deaths at Auschwitz.
- In practice, these rules were enforced in a haphazard and capricious way according to the decisions of local Nazi leaders. In some places, even "full Jews" with non-Jewish spouses were not killed (the Dresden writer Victor Klemperer was an example). In other places, everyone with Jewish connections was killed regardless of official exemptions. Conflict over the fate of Jews in mixed marriages eventually led to the Rosenstrasse protest of 1943.
- Göring and his subordinates made persistent efforts to prevent skilled Jewish workers whose labor was an important part of the war effort from being killed. But by 1943 Himmler was a much more powerful figure in the regime than Göring, and all categories of skilled Jews eventually lost their exemptions. This is discussed by Tooze, The Wages of Destruction, 522–29.
- A meeting of 17 ministerial representatives was held at the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories on 29 January. It decided that in the eastern territories all Mischlings were to be classed as Jews, while in western Europe the relatively more lenient German standard would be applied.Browning 2004, p. 414.
- The minutes are headed "Besprechungsprotokoll", translated as "Discussion minutes".
- Roseman 2002, p. 112.
- Browning 2004, p. 309.
- Browning 2004, p. 315.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 564, 624.
- Breitman 1991, p. 169.
- Cesarani 2005, p. 110.
- Browning 2004, p. 406.
- Aly 1997.
- Roseman 2002, p. 66.
- Roseman 2002, pp. 111–112.
- Longerich 2010, pp. 237, 239.
- Roseman 2002, p. 110.
- Cesarani 2005, p. 112.
- Roseman 2002, pp. 110–111.
- Roseman 2002, p. 113.
- Longerich 2010, p. 307.
- Browning 2004, p. 411.
- Roseman 2002, p. 115.
- Roseman 2002, pp. 115–116.
- Browning 2004, p. 414.
- Roseman 2002, p. 114.
- Marrus & Paxton 1981, pp. 343–344.
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website
- Cesarani 2005, pp. 151–155.
- Cesarani 2005, pp. 159–195.
- Browning 2004, p. 413.
- Roseman 2002, p. 117.
- Cesarani 2005, pp. 117–118..
- Cesarani 2005, p. 113.
- Cesarani 2005, p. 114.
- Breitman 1991, pp. 229–233.
- Longerich 2000, p. [page needed].
- Longerich 2010, pp. 306, 310.
- Cesarani 2005, p. 111.
- Lehrer 2000, p. 134.
- Aly, Götz (13 December 1997). "December 21, 1941". Berliner Zeitung (Berliner Verlag). Archived from the original on 24 April 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Breitman, Richard (1991). The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press.
- Browning, Christopher R. (2004). The Origins of the Final Solution : The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942. Comprehensive History of the Holocaust. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1327-1.
- Cesarani, David (2005). Eichmann: His Life and Crimes. Vintage.
- Kershaw, Ian (2008). Hitler: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-06757-6.
- Lehrer, Steven (2000). Wannsee House and the Holocaust. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-7864-9144-5.
- Longerich, Peter (2000). "The Wannsee Conference in the Development of the 'Final Solution'" (PDF). Holocaust Educational Trust Research Papers (London: The Holocaust Educational Trust) 1 (2). ISBN 0-9516166-5-X.
- Longerich, Peter (2010). Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280436-5.
- Longerich, Peter (2012). Heinrich Himmler: A Life. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-959232-6.
- Marrus, Michael R.; Paxton, Robert O. (1981). Vichy France and the Jews. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2499-7.
- Roseman, Mark (2002). The Villa, The Lake, The Meeting: Wannsee and the Final Solution. London; New York: Allen Lane. ISBN 0-71-399570-X.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Wannsee Conference|
- The Wannsee Conference on the Yad Vashem website
- House of the Wannsee Conference: Memorial and Educational Site
- Adolf Eichmann testifies about the Wannsee Conference (in German with Japanese subtitles)
- Minutes from the Wannsee conference, archived by the Progressive Review