IBDP History IA: The Wannsee Conference

  The Wannsee Conference was convened on 20 January 1942 by the second-highest ranking ϟϟ leader Reinhard Heydrich in a luxurious villa taken over by the 
ϟϟ in the wealthy Berlin suburb of Wannsee. Its purpose was to announce the launching of the “final solution” of the Jewish question in Europe to leading government and party bureaucrats and to secure their cooperation in this project. Historians have not been able to determine with absolute certainty just when Hitler made the decision for systematic genocide. On 31 July 1941, six weeks after the ϟϟ Einsatzgruppen began murdering Soviet Jews in coordination with “Operation Barbarossa,” Heydrich was delegated the task of drawing up plans for “a total solution of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe”. It seems almost certain that he was given the green light to implement these plans by October 1941, when Jewish emigration was prohibited throughout Europe and preparations for the deportation of German Jews were put into place. Euthanasia “experts” had already been transferred to occupied Poland to set up the facilities for mass killings by poison gas. The ruthless racial and ideological war against the Soviet Union provided the conditions under which a systematic extermination program could be launched without generating wide publicity.
The Conference had originally been called for December 8, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the launching of the Soviet offensive against the German siege of Moscow forced a postponement. The minutes do not openly describe the killing programme, but none of the high-ranking participants from the various government ministries could have been in any doubt what Heydrich meant when he said that the remnant of Jews who survived forced labour would have to be “appropriately dealt with.” Adolf Eichmann, the specialist on the “Jewish question” in the Reich Security Main Office run by Heydrich, provided the population statistics, which overstated the number of Jews in Europe by some two million. Much of the conference was taken up by the question of whether Jews of mixed ancestry (Mischlinge) and Jews in mixed marriages were to be included in the “final solution.” The ϟϟ was forced by considerations of public morale to respect these distinctions in Germany itself. In the occupied areas, however, the Nazis made no exceptions for part-Jews or Jews in mixed marriages.

Site of the Wannsee Conference, a meeting of senior Nazi officials of the Nazi German regime, held on 20 January 1942 to inform senior Nazis and senior Governmental administrators of plans for the "Final solution to the Jewish question."
In the rear, alongside the lake in 1922 and standing in front now
Of the fourteen participants invited and sat around this table discussing the logistics of mass murder, eight held doctorates or comparable university degrees.
A tour of the house, left, and scene from the BBC / HBO television film Conspiracy which dramatises the 1942 Wannsee Conference which features Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich, Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann, and Colin Firth as Wilhelm Stuckart.
The start of the 1984 German television production Die Wannseekonferenz which presents the conference in real time. Directed by Heinz Schirk with a disturbing performance of charm and calculation by Dietrich Mattausch as Heydrich, the film is based on records and minutes kept of the conference, spoken by unnervingly convincing actors in carefully reconstructed surroundings and wearing meticulously authentic uniforms. Wannseekonferenz appears the better movie with Conspiracy coming across as a flashy imitation, although watching both films is instructive. Both have the same people attending the conference, but how each attendee is portrayed at the conference is strikingly different. Most of the attendees in Conspiracy (except for Dr. Klopfer) are viewed as flawed intellectuals, but full of grace, charm and manners (which makes a nice stark comparison with what they are discussing). Almost all of the attendees in Die Wannseekonferenz (except for the female secretary) are shown as crude, corrupt pigs that differ with each other only as to how to divide their 'power'. It would be interesting to research the 'real' Major Lange. The crude drunken Major Lange of Die Wannseekonferenz seems more likely to be butchering the Jews of Riga than the soft spoken, charming, well-mannered Major Lange of Conspiracy.


IB History Internal Assessment

A. Plan of investigation

How Significant was the Wannsee Conference to the Final Solution? Significance shall be defined as factors that both determined and were causal to the development of the Final Solution.

The Wannsee protocol itself will be evaluated as the only available primary source of the events and decisions made that day. Furthermore, Eichmann’s testimony is crucial to this analysis, revealing what the coordinator of the Final solution personally experienced as the secretary of Wannsee and conceived of its significance. However, historians such as Rees, Overy and Roseman are used to test Eichmann’s claims as he stood on trial for his life. This investigation will not focus on the development of the Final Solution as a whole, nor on its victims, but rather on assessing the significance of Wannsee to the Final Solution within the context of the decision making continuum on methodology and coordination of exterminating Europe’s Jews.

Wannsee Conference

On January 20th 1941, four days after the first transport of Łódź ghetto Jews to Chelmno,[9] a meeting was held in an SS villa on the shores of Wannsee Lake. Reichsmarschall Göring, (successor and deputy to Hitler in all his offices[10]) authorized Reinhard Heydrich “to carry out all necessary preparations with regard to organisational, practical and material matters for a total solution of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe” with affected “central organisations.”[11] Initially the invitations were for December 9,[12] postponed due to Pearl Harbour bombing.[13] 

   B. Summary of Evidence   

Mass murder and gassing prior to Wannsee  On June 22 1941, killing squads (Einsatzgruppen) accompanied Germany’s invasion of the USSR, killing half a million Jews by January 1942.[1] Experiments of gassing Jews occurred in Mogilev and Minsk September 3-18. Preparations for gassing at Chelmno began October 1941.[2] In November Jews of Kalisch district were murdered in mobile gas vans in Warthegau.[3] Eyewitness evidence suggests some Auschwitz prisoners were gassed in autumn 1941.[4] On December 8th 1941, the first Nazi killing centre employing Ziclon B began to operate in Chelmno, Poland and the first transport of Jews deliberately gassed occurred the month thereafter.[5] Hitler held discussions with Himmler December 1941 regarding the “Jewish Question”[6] as destinations for transporting Jews were demanded; Łódź, Minsk and Riga all full.[7] Göbbels wrote in his diary after Hitler’s speech on December 12th, “[a]s regards to the Jewish question the Führer has decided to sweep the floor clean… The world war is upon us; the extermination of Jews is the necessary consequence”.[8]   


Heydrich, SS-Obergruppenführer and Chief of the Reich Main Security Office, and Eichmann, his assistant, commissioned a meeting “in the interest of achieving a common view among central agencies involved…”[14] The twelve attendees were senior officials of the Staatssekretäre. Most represented ministries with responsibilities for the Jewish question: Interior Minister; Justice; Four Year Plan; Reich Chancellery and Foreign Office.[15] Further representatives were from the Ministry for Occupied Eastern Territories; Generalgouvernment; RSHA, Party and SS officials involved in race questions.[16]

Wannsee Protocol

 The Protocol is mainly Heydrich’s presentation, beginning with the aim, as ordered by Göring, “of clarifying fundamental questions…. concerning organisational policy, and technical prerequisites for the final solution…” ensuring “central organisations involved be brought together and their policies coordinated.”[17] Thereafter, previous “solutions” for Jews are deemed “temporary relief”,[18] and a plan to “evacuate” 11 million Jews remaining in Axis, occupied, neutral and enemy Europe “to the East” is presented.[19] Subsequently, participants debate measures dealing with Jews married to Gentiles and war-decorated Jews, Mischlinge (to be sterilised), quarter Jews (to be vetted) and full Jews (to be “evacuated”).[20] There were two follow up meetings with subordinates of Wannsee’s attendees, where mass-sterilisation was considered impractical and the issue of the Reich’s Mischlinge remained unresolved.[21]

Final Solution after Wannsee

At the end of January Eichmann served notice that deportations were to be resumed as soon as transport bottlenecks allowed.[22] Nine days after Wannsee, ministers for the occupied Eastern Territories began treating Soviet Mischlinge as Jews.[23]  At Auschwitz, the Birkenau building plans were not altered post-Wannsee to allow for new gas chambers and there were no operational differences.[24] There was also no methodological change at Iaski, Izbica, Zamosc and Warsaw, conforming to the pattern of “clearing operations” to make room for deportations, (only changing May-July 1942 when the killing program was greatly expanded).[25] A year after Wannsee the Generalgouvernment preparations for the deportation of Lublin Jews to Belzec gathered momentum.[26]  Documents suggest Himmler’s continual intervention in decisions on the retainment of Jewish manpower was significant to the expansion of murder in 1942.[27] Before 1942 less than 10% of all Holocaust victims died, though between March 1942 and February 1943, half of all Jews killed by the Nazis died.[28] 

Words: 609

 C. Evaluation of Sources    

Source I: The Wannsee Protocol[29]   
When Robert Kempner, in charge of prosecuting the German ministries at Nuremberg, unearthed the last copy of the Minutes in 1947, he deemed it “perhaps the most shameful document of modern history.”[30] As the only available record of the Conference, the protocol is valuable in revealing the meeting’s occurrences, its significance to the final solution and widespread state complicity in the bureaucratic planning of genocide.[31] It originated as notes, written by a stenotypist and was heavily edited by Eichmann and Heydrich to produce a document written in euphemisms and camouflage language. [32] It is “deliberately opaque,”[33] seen for example through the word “evacuation” a euphemism for elimination, serving the purpose of informing those with contextual knowledge and not shocking the unintended who could have come across this widely distributed Protocol. Such intentionally ambiguous terminology limits understanding of the meeting’s precise purpose and role in the Final Solution, creating controversy on whether genocide was even discussed.[34] Considering the purpose of the conference was to establish clarity on fundamental questions,[35] the purpose of the protocol was to record what Heydrich wanted of the meeting which, whilst valuable in reflecting Heydrich’s agenda for the implementation of the Solution, is limited by not specifying the individual roles of attendees.

Source II: Testimony in Jerusalem about the Wannsee Conference, Session 78, 79, 107 (June 23, 26, July 24 1961,) (testimony of Albert Eichmann).

 Eichmann, “the chief architect of the Final Solution”[36], was convicted of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity and hanged in Jerusalem in 1962.[37]  Eichmann was actively involved at Wannsee, writing Heydrich’s speech and overseeing the stenographer's record of the meeting, which Eichmann then edited. Wannsee’s spirit, not reflected in the protocol, is revealed by Eichmann’s first-hand description of “an atmosphere of agreement” and even “boundless enthusiasm” despite the “usually hesitating” Bühler and Stuckart. However, his reliability is questionable, considering he sought to “portray himself as dutiful errand boy, with neither initiative nor knowledge” [38] and focussing on supposed enthusiasm of the law-abiding state secretaries helps build Eichmann’s case of conformity and obedience. A further limitation is the testimony’s erratic organization[39] and incoherent answers, (e.g. discussion of the means of killing at Wannsee)[40] making it difficult to follow. Taking place almost two decades after the Holocaust, his specific recollections of Wannsee are sometimes lacking or flawed, as when he supposes that Kreuger, not even present, spoke about technical details of genocide. Nonetheless, Eichmann gives crucial insight into Wannsee’s significance in ensuring widespread state complicity to genocide: “nail down the Secretaries of State, to commit them most bindingly, to catch them by their words.”

Words: 202

D. Analysis

            The Wannsee Conference is often regarded as the determining factor for the development of the Final Solution, reflected in Longerich’s argument that the scope of deportation, (i.e. defining “who was Jewish, who was Mischling,”) was a prerequisite for determining “who (if anybody) should be spared.”[41] Thus Wannsee significantly broadened the scope of genocide involving Mischlinge, particularly in occupied territories,[42] de jure bearing historical responsibility. Additionally, both Heydrich’s invitation letter and the protocol's opening convey the message of “a genocidal program only now taking shape”.[43] Wannsee's controversial purpose leaves room for interpretation on its overall. Lannahan argues genocide had been decided earlier and the concept of a “coming Final Solution” part of Heydrich’s self-aggrandisement plan and “love of the political limelight”.[44] Eichmann’s testimony supports the argument that Heydrich’s focus was “to extend the scope of his influence.”[45] Eichmann’s testimony does serve to mitigate his personal role and portray Heydrich as the authority figure. Rees however, considers Wannsee a larger attempt on behalf of the SS to establish their “control of the whole deportation process.”[46] The difficulty in understanding Wannsee's purpose frames the greater debate on its significance, though the protocol and invitation suggest that Himmler and his emissary considered it significant in determining the Holocaust.              Wannsee’s significance to the development of the Final Solution is based on its role of coordinating both prior killing initiatives and government organs. The necessity to coordinate the “variety of killing initiatives that had emerged from a number of sources within the Nazi state” in the autumn of 1941 is what Rees regards as Wannsee’s purpose,[47] supported by Eichmann who says a “coordinated solution” was necessary.[48] Hence, Wannsee’s importance can be seen as administrative, “…to ensure the cooperation of the various departments in conducting the deportations,”[49] further supported by attendees being of the Staatsekretare, the Reich’s “essential medium of policy coordination.”[50]  However, if Wannsee was an administrative meeting for planning the coordination of previous initiatives and government cooperation, why ignore the pressing issues of finding destinations for transport? Claims that Wannsee significantly shaped deportation arraignments,[51] can be effectively disregarded when studying the list of attendees and the lack of any transport specialist or member of the Financial Ministry. Hence, Wannsee was not fully significant in determining the practical aspects of committing genocide but rather to the development of the Final Solution, by determining the scope of deportation, and planning government and policy cooperation for the Final Solution.              Whilst Wannsee has been described as “the single most important event in the history of the Nazis’ ‘Final Solution’,” this is, Rees argues, an epithet “it does not quite merit”[52] given that the bureaucracy of genocide was “decided elsewhere,”[53] though precisely where, when and by whom is subject to debate. Rees, taking a quasi-intentionalist stance, asserts Hitler’s discussions in December 1941 were most significant to the decision making process given Hitler’s agentive control “made all this suffering enter the world.”[54] Göbbels’ diary supports the intentionalist argument.[55] However, Overy and Roseman have examined Wannsee’s role in the wider context of genocide, limiting it to “one of many stepping stones in the middle of a long messy process of turning vicious anti-Semitic discrimination into stark mass murder.”[56] Nevertheless, Eichmann’s testimony in which he claims the preparatory work (prior decisions and genocidal activity and gassing) were already “known to the participants of the Wannsee Conference”, support the conclusion that genocide and its means were conceptualised elsewhere.              Rees goes on to argue that in terms of Wannsee’s role in developing the final solution, it did not catalyse genocide and was not fully causal to the great expansion of murder in 1942 by questioning why “the discussions at Wannsee had no immediate effect upon Auschwitz.”[57] Browning insists that before killings became truly comprehensive, a further decision must have taken place, interpreting Wannsee as less significant to developments of the “Solution”.[58] Roseman argues that “after Wannsee the operation didn’t run like clockwork,” demonstrating the lack of subsequent 'progress'; Eichmann’s testimony crucially emphasizes that Himmler kept issuing orders.”[59] The close relationship between Himmler’s visits and development of extermination support Eichmann’s claims.

Words: 67

E. Conclusion

The Wannsee conference was an important step in determining the scope of deportation for Eastern Europe, ensuring government and policy cooperation for the Final Solution. It did not cause the transition in policy but captured the already occurring transition of murderous deportations into full-scale genocide.

Nevertheless, Wannsee was insignificant in determining and inconsequential in engendering developments to the Final Solution. With neither a methodological break-through, nor a direct effect on the expansion of extermination, Wannsee’s role remains simply administrative for the coordination of policy and cooperation of agencies. The path to genocide was overdetermined as Overy asserts, building on Eichmann’s unreliable case and the ambiguities of the protocol. To better comprehend Wannsee in its context one should investigate further the origins of the Final Solution and how mass murder developed into the genocide that the twelve men at Wannsee gave their assent to.

Words: 143

F. Bibliography

Auron, Yair. The Pain of Knowledge: Holocaust and Genocide Issues in Education. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2005.

Browning, Christopher R., and Jürgen Matthäus. The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

Browning, Christopher R. "A Final Hitler Decision for the “Final Solution”? The Riegner Telegram Reconsidered." Holocaust and Genocide Studies 10, no. 1 (1996): 3-10. Accessed January 26, 2016. doi:10.1093/hgs/10.1.3.

Büttner, Ursula, Werner Johe, Angelika Voss, and Werner Jochmann. Ideologie-Herrschaftssystem-Wirkung in Europa. Hamburg: Christians, 1986.

Gilbert, Martin. Holocaust Journey: Travelling in Search of the past. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Goñi, Uki. The Real Odessa: How Perón Brought the Nazi War Criminals to Argentina. London: Granta, 2002.

Kempner, Robert Max Wassili. Eichmann Und Komplizen. Zurich: Europa Verlag, 1961.

Lannahan, Mack. "The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: How the Nazi Meeting Shaped Plans for the Jewish Extermination." Mack Lannahan Wordpress Articles. December 09, 2009. Accessed January 26, 2016. https://macklannahan.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/the-wannsee-conference-and-the-final-solution-how-the-nazi-meeting-shaped-plans-for-the-jewish-extermination/.

Lehrer, Steven. Wannsee House and the Holocaust. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.

Longerich, Peter. Politik Der Vernichtung: Eine Gesamtdarstellung Der Nationalsozialistischen Judenverfolgung. München: Piper, 1998.

Overy, R. J., and R. J. Overy. Goering: Hitler's Iron Knight. London: I.B. Tauris, 2012.

Overy, Richard. "Brandy, Cigars and Genocide." The Telegraph. January 13, 2002. Accessed January 26, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/4727247/Brandy-cigars-and-genocide.html.

Pätzold, Kurt, and Erika Schwarz. Tagesordnung: Judenmord: Die Wannsee-Konferenz Am 20. Januar 1942: Eine Dokumentation Zur Organisation Der "Endlösung" Berlin: Metropol, 1998.

Rees, Laurence. Auschwitz: The Nazis & the 'final Solution' London: BBC Books, 2005.

Roseman, Mark. The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: A Reconsideration. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002.

G. Appendix

Appendix 1: Glossary

Einsatzgruppen- (deployment groups): Mobile killing units used in the Eastern territories

Reichsmarshall- (Marshall of the Reich): highest rank in German Wehrmacht

SS-Obergruppenführer- (SS-Senior Group Leader): a Nazi paramilitary rank

Staatssekretäre- Secretaries of State

Generalgouvernement- (General Government): administrative unit consisting of those parts of Poland established by the Nazis on October 26, 1939

Mischling- (mixed blood): an individual with both Aryan and Jewish ancestry

  [1]. Steven Lehrer, Wannsee House and the Holocaust (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000), 67.  [2]. Mark Roseman, The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: A Reconsideration (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002), 59.   [3]. Peter Longerich, Politik Der Vernichtung: Eine Gesamtdarstellung Der Nationalsozialistischen Judenverfolgung (München: Piper, 1998), 210.  [4]. Laurence Rees, Auschwitz: The Nazis & the 'final Solution' (London: BBC Books, 2005), 96.  [5]. Roseman, Wannsee, 66.  [6]. Rees, Auschwitz, 95.  [7]. Roseman, Wannsee, 83.  [8].  Roseman, Wannsee, 87.  [9]. Rees, Auschwitz, 92.  [10]. R. J. Overy, Goering: Hitler's Iron Knight (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012), 6.  [11]. Christopher R. Browning and Jürgen Matthäus, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), 315.  [12]. Roseman, Wannsee, 57.  [13]. Rees, Auschwitz, 93.  [14]. Kurt Pätzold and Erika Scharz, Tagesordnung: Judenmord die Wannsee Conference am 20. Januar 1942 (Berlin: Hentrich, 1995), 89.  [15]. Roseman, Wannsee, 95.  [16]. Ibid., 96.  [17]. “The Wannsee Protocol” found in: Roseman, Wannsee, 95.  [18]. Ibid., 152.  [19]. Ibid,, 158-159.   [20]. Roseman, Wannsee, 4.  [21]. Complete Minutes of the March and October meetings available in: Robert Max Wassili Kempner, Eichmann Und Komplizen (Zurich: Europa Verlag, 1961), 165-180 and 255-267.  [22]. Roseman, Wannsee Conference, 109.  [23]. Gerlach, “Wannsee Conference,” p.119; Beate Meyer, “Jüdische Mischlinge,” Tassenpolitik und Vervolgungserfahrung, 1933-1945 (Hamburg: Dölling und Galitz Verlag, 1999), 90.  [24]. Rees, Auschwitz, 95.  [25]. Longerich, Politik der Vernichtigung, 448. Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sibor, Treblinka; The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987),75, 81, 322. Christopher Browning, “A final Hitler Decision for the ‘Final Solution’? The Reigner Telegram Reconsidered,” Holocaust and Genocide studies 10 (1996), 3-10  [26]. Pol, Judenpolitik, 109.  [27]. Roseman, Wannsee, 155.  [28]. Roseman, Wannsee, 148.  [29] “The Wannsee Protocol” found in: Roseman, Wannsee, 157-172.  [30]. Ursula Büttner et al., Ideologie-Herrschaftssystem-Wirkung in Europa (Hamburg: Christians, 1986), 108.  [31]. Roseman, Wannsee Conference, 3.  [32]. Ibid., 98.  [33]. Rees, Auschwitz, 95.  [34]. See ROSEMAN  [35]. Roseman, Wannsee Conference, 99.  [36]. Yair Auron, The Pain of Knowledge: Holocaust and Genocide Issues in Education (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2005), 20.  [37]. Eichmann’s specific role was facilitating and managing the logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in German-occupied Eastern Europe during the Second World War.  [38]. Roseman, Wannsee, 97.  [39]. One of Dr. Servatius’ comments: “Which two little huts in the Lublin area? I'm asking you this question about the Conference.”  [40]. Eichmann, asked the systems of killing at Wannsee, stated: “they spoke about methods for killing, about liquidation, about extermination. I was busy with my records.” After another ten questions on the topic of the means of extermination, Eichmann realizes that this is the subject of discussion: “Ah! the means of killing....” Dr. Servatius replies, “Q: That is what we are speaking about the means of killing.” And later the plural “methods” was replaced by only one example: “they spoke about this; they spoke about shooting, but not about gas.”  [41]. Longerich, Politik Der Vernichtung , 14.  [42]. Roseman, Wannsee Conference, 146.  [43]. Roseman, Wannsee Conference, 107.  [44]. Mack Lannahan, "The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: How the Nazi Meeting Shaped Plans for the Jewish Extermination," Mack Lannahan Wordpress Articles, December 09, 2009, section goes here, accessed January 26, 2016.  [45]. Testimony in Jerusalem about the Wannsee Conference, Session 78, 79, 107 (June 23, 1961,) (testimony of Albert Eichmann).     [46]. Rees, Auschwitz, 93.  [47]. Ibid.  [48]. Testimony in Jerusalem about the Wannsee Conference, Session 78, 79, 107 (June 23, 1961,) (testimony of Albert Eichmann).  [49]. Longerich, Politik Der Vernichtung, 310.  [50]. Roseman, Wannsee conference, 82.  [51].  Martin Gilbert, Holocaust Journey (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 43.  [52]. Rees, Auschwitz, 92.  [53]. Longerich, Politik Der Vernichtung, 310.  [54]. Rees, Auschwitz, 95.  [55]. Roseman, Wannsee, 87.  [56]. Richard Overy, "Brandy, Cigars and Genocide," The Telegraph, January 13, 2002, section goes here, accessed January 26, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/4727247/Brandy-cigars-and-genocide.html.  [57]. Rees, Auschwitz, 95.  [58]. Christopher R. Browning, "A Final Hitler Decision for the “Final Solution”? The Riegner Telegram Reconsidered," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 10, no. 1 (1996): 6, accessed January 26, 2016, doi:10.1093/hgs/10.1.3.  [59]. Roseman, Wannsee, 154.