The picturesque lakeside villa of Wannsee seems and unlikely

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					           The picturesque lakeside villa of Wannsee seems and unlikely setting for one of

the most sinister conferences in history. Yet it was to the idyllic Berlin house that

Reinhard Heydrich summoned Germany’s top civil servants to discuss the grisly “Final

Solution” of the so-called Jewish problem. Fifteen officials assembled on January 20,

1942, to settle the fate of European Jewry over a buffet breakfast. Whether or not

Wannsee served as a forum for the actual decision for the Final Solution or simply as a

meeting to outline the implementation of a preconceived goal is a subject of much debate

among Holocaust historians. The latter certainly has more hard evidence, though both

sides continue to be argued. Though the Wannsee Protocol uses euphemistic language to

cover up its true meaning, it appears most plausible that the decision for the Final

Solution had been made prior to the Conference, and the Wannsee Conference itself was

designed to set the particulars for its execution.

           The origin of the Final Solution is a point of much contention among Holocaust

historians. Intentionalists, like Gerald Fleming, believe it to have been a direct product of

Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism, forged in childhood. In this view, “the line that leads from

these earliest manifestations to the liquidation orders that Hitler personally issued during

the war…is a direct one.”1 On the other side of the interpretive spectrum are the

functionalists, who, like Hans Mommsen, believe that, “It was founded upon improvised

measures that were rooted in earlier stages of planning and also escalated them.”2

Somewhere in between is moderate functionalism, originated by Christopher Browning,

which cites the “euphoria of victory” in the Barbarossa campaign, brought about the




1
    Fleming, Gerald, “It is the Führer’s Wish.” Niewyk, Donald, ed. The Holocaust. Boston, 1997, p 12.
2
    Mommsen, Hans, “There Was No Fürhrer Order.” Ibid, p 9.
fateful process of mass murder.3 It is easy to see, then, how the Wannsee Conference

would be a topic for disputation, as well.

        The first invitation to the Wannsee Conference, sent by Adolf Eichmann on

November 29, 1941, referred to “a collective solution of the Jewish question in Europe,”

with the stated goal of consensus by the central authorities on the subject.4 For reasons of

protocol, the thirteen people invited were not the same who attended.5 The breakfast

conference was originally scheduled for December 9, 1941, and it is presumed to have

been pushed back to January 20 as a result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December

7 and Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States four days later.6 Present at the

meeting were several SS functionaries, representatives from the Party Chancellery, the

Ministry for the East, the Ministries of the Interior and Justice, and representatives sent

by Göring, the office of the General Government of Poland, the Foreign Office, and the

Reich Chancellery.7 Heydrich was the primary speaker for most of the conference, which

lasted about an hour and a half in a quite relaxed atmosphere.8

        According to the Wannsee Protocol:

                 “Heydrich opened the meeting by informing everyone that the Reich

                 Marshal (Göring) had placed him in charge of preparations for the final

                 solution of the Jewish question…The Reich Marshal’s wish to have a draft

                 submitted to him on the organizational, functional, and material

                 considerations of a final solution of the European Jewish question requires

                 that all of the central agencies, which are directly concerned with these


3
  Browning, Christopher, “A Product of Euphoria in Victory.” Ibid, p 39-49.
4
  Lehrer, Steven, Wannsee House and the Holocaust. Jefferson, 2000, p 69.
5
  Ibid, p 69.
6
  Ibid, p 69.
                 problems, first join together with a view to paralleling their lines of

                 action.”9

        Heydrich cited not only Göring’s authorization, but also “previous approval

through the Führer.”10 He proceeded to review the previous stages of the solution to the

Jewish question, including their exclusion from everyday life, and their removal from

German ‘living space’ by forced emigration.11The protocol goes on to say that “the

accelerated emigration of the Jews from Reich territory is regarded as a temporary

solution."12

        There was, as Heydrich said, “a further possible solution…the evacuation of Jews

to the East.”13Financial difficulties were placing a great burden on emigration efforts, and

Heydrich outlined his plan for bringing Jews “under appropriate leadership in a suitable

manner within the framework of the final solution. In large labor columns…the able

bodied Jews will be made to build roads as they are led into these territories. A large

percentage of them will undoubtedly be eliminated by natural diminution.”14 The

Wannsee Conference succeeded in reaching agreement on the form the evacuation of the

Jews of Europe would take, establishing the only exceptions as Jews over sixty-five years

of age, severely disabled ex-servicemen, and those holding high military honors from

World War I.15 Satisfied with the results of the discussion, and that none of the



7
  Deschner, Günther, Reinhard Heydrich: A Biography. New York, 1981, p 177
8
  Lehrer, p 70.
9
  Ibid, p 147
10
   Browning, Christopher, Fateful Months: Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution. New York,
1991, p 33.
11
   Deschner, p 178.
12
   Lehrer, p 147.
13
   Deschner, p 178.
14
   von Lang, Jochen, ed, Eichmann Interrogated. New York, 1983, p 91.
15
   Deschner, p 179.
representatives of the central authorities had raised significant objections, Heydrich “later

entertained the circle to a glass of schnapps,” according to Adolf Eichmann.16

        Eichmann, who claims to have written the much-scrutinized Wannsee Protocol,

remembers that participants spoke openly about mass murder, in contrast to the

euphemisms of the protocol.17 According to him, “Heydrich did not at the time of the

Wannsee Conference speak of killing. He spoke of putting Jews to work in the East.

That was his way of camouflaging it.”18 When asked if deaths resulting from forced

labor and imposed starvation fell under the definition of “natural diminution,” Eichmann

replied that such fatalities would “undoubtedly have been reported” as such.19 To further

sustain the image that Jews were being sent to work in the east, Heydrich also announced

his plan for a ghetto for the elderly at Theresienstadt.20 Eichmann admitted honestly that

this new plan was to be created “to preserve appearances for the other side.”21

        His interrogator, Avner Less pressed Eichmann further, asking about Heydrich’s

statement that, “Since the ultimate survivors will undoubtedly constitute the most

resistant group, they must be treated accordingly, since this natural elite, if released, must

be viewed as the potential germ cell of a new Jewish order.”22 Eichmann said that

“treated accordingly” was merely a euphemism for killing, as was Polish envoy Bühler’s

suggestion that the majority of the two and a half million Jews in the General

Government were “unfit for labor.”23




16
   Ibid, p 179.
17
   Lehrer, p 70.
18
   von Lang, p 93.
19
   Ibid, p 91.
20
   Browning, Christopher, Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers. Cambridge, 2000, p 54.
21
   Ibid, p 55.
22
   von Lang, p 91.
        Following the conference, Eichmann was able to enact on a much larger scale his

systematic combing of Europe, delivering victims to extermination camps, though such

actions can be recognized as early as autumn 1941.24 Notes from the deliberations make

no reference to gassings at Chelmno that had been taking place over the previous forty-

four days, during which time over forty thousand Jews and Gypsies were murdered.25 It

is unclear what became of nearly thirty copies of the Wannsee Protocol.26 Though a copy

was among tons of records recovered by the Allies in 1945, the Protocol was not

discovered immediately.27 The first allusion to the conference came from the diary of

Hans Frank, the Hitler-appointed governor of Poland, and the actual document was

finally discovered in 1947.28

        Revisionist theory has used the euphemisms of the Wannsee protocol to put a

positive spin on the conference and, in effect, attempt to rewrite history.29 Lehrer cites

Heydrich himself as the first revisionist, quoting from his wife’s memoirs,

                “ (The Wannsee Conference) dealt, as he said, with organizing the

                migration of the European Jews to central Russia…Siberia, Reinhard told

                me, had everything: fertile land, ore, minerals, and coal. When I asked

                him skeptically whether the Jews would be able to adapt to these new

                conditions, he said: ‘Certainly. They are intelligent, and they need a new

                beginning.”30


23
   Ibid, p 92.
24
   Deschner, p 180.
25
   Gilbert, Martin, The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War. New
York, 1985, p 280.
26
   Lehrer, p 76.
27
   Ibid, p 77.
28
   Ibid, p 78-79.
29
   Ibid, p 79.
30
   Ibid, p 79.
          Primary support for revisionist theory is derived from taking certain phrases from

the Wannsee Protocol out of context and then subjecting them to intense scrutiny. Self-

proclaimed “professor” Ernst Gauss alleged in a speech that the Protocol “speaks of Jews

transported to build roads in the east, where a natural reduction will occur because of the

harsh conditions. The hardy Jewish seed which survives will provide the nucleus for a

lively future Jewish state.”31 It seems ludicrous to suppose that the Nazis hoped for a

“lively future Jewish state” forged from the “hardy Jewish seed” that managed to survive

forced labor and starvation. Another revisionist quotes the statement from the protocol

that those who survive “must be handled accordingly,” saying, “The Protocol does not

state the nature of this appropriate handling. Is it the building of roads? This was

undoubtedly a central question for one more conference, at least, which would deal with

clarification, planning, and coordination.”32

          Other revisionists cite differences in translations of the protocol as evidence that

the document is a forgery.33 Right wing radicals go so far as to call into question the

grammar of the protocol, asserting that the phrase “Bezüglich der Frage der Auswirkung

der Judenevakuierung…” (With regard to the question of the carrying out of the Jewish

evacuation) is an “un-German multiply, consecutively used genitive.”34 They claim that

the use of the word “der” three times is an American grammatical construction; therefore,

the document must be an American forgery.35 Other similar evidence has been thusly

fabricated, but is seemingly without substance as well. Revisionists continue to attempt



31
   Ibid, p 80.
32
   Ibid, p 80.
33
   Ibid, p 80.
34
   Ibid, p 81.
35
   Ibid, p 81.
to present their extremist theses as serious historical research despite huge amounts of

written and photographic evidence proving their claims to be false.36

        In many instances during their time in power, the Nazis acted first, and later

summed up their actions analytically and accorded them official authorization.37 It is not

difficult to see how the Wannsee Conference fits into this generalization. Yahil states

that “It was only after varied experiences had been accumulated, after the practical

measures were already in full swing, and after certain difficulties had emerged to that

seemed liable to impede implementation in all the countries of Europe that the planners

of the vast operation felt the need to give it the official stamp of approval and to harness

all the relevant authorities of the Third Reich to ensure coordination among them.”38

Although deportations had begun in the fall of 1941, because systematic mass murder had

not previously been carried out, the Nazis experimented with various methods of setting

their goals in motion before calling the Wannsee Conference.39 It is unreasonable to

suppose that delegates to the Conference had no knowledge of such experiments and their

implications.

        Browning and others dispute claims by other historians that pushing masses of

Jews “to the east” was still an option for the Germans in summer 1941.40 No concrete

evidence of such deportation plans have been discovered. Nor is it logical that Göring’s

order to Heydrich to prepare a “total solution” could have referred to deportation, since

Heydrich had been expelling Jews on a smaller scale since 1939.41 Browning says that,



36
   Ibid, p 82.
37
   Ibid, p 312.
38
   Ibid, p 312.
39
   Ibid, p 311-312
40
   Marrus, Michael, The Holocaust in History. New York, 1987, p 44.
41
   Ibid, p 44.
by 1941, Nazi Jewish policy had reached an impasse.42 Territorial gains meant more

Jews fell under the German sphere of influence, which made temporary solutions of

resettlement and ideas for large scale emigration such as the Madagascar Plan

impractical.43 Functionalists take the position that Hitler decided to “break the cycle” at

some point between the spring and autumn of 1941.44 Therefore, by this point of view,

the decision for a Final Solution would have been made well in advance of the Wannsee

Conference, rendering revisionist theory even more implausible.

        Though the Wannsee Conference addressed them directly, deportations and mass

murder had begun well before the meeting. Functionalists would date the decision for the

Final Solution back to the summer of 1941. Beginning in September of that year,

Germans experimented with the “small” gas chamber at Auschwitz, killing about 850.45

The first fixed gassing establishment to become operational on more than an

experimental basis was at Chelmno, where which Germans began killing Jews from Lódz

in December, 1941 using gas vans.46 Systematic gassing of Jews began at Auschwitz-

Birkenau in March 1942, and other death camps followed suit soon after.47 This would

have been inconceivable without some sort of prior approval from the Führer.48

        Prior to the Conference, Polish State Secretary Bühler reported that Polish Jews

could not be deported; therefore, they would have to be liquidated.49Though he did not

know the particulars of its realization, he believed procedures should be enacted “in

connection with the great measures to be discussed in the Reich” to accomplish the goal


42
   Browning, Fateful Months, p 16.
43
   Ibid, p 16.
44
   Ibid, p 16.
45
   Goldhagen, Daniel, Hitler’s Willing Executioners. New York, 1996, p 157.
46
   Ibid, p 157.
47
   Ibid, p 157.
48
   Browning, Fateful Months, p 38.
of Judenfrei.50 His superior, Hans Frank, if unsure of the methods, had clear

understanding of the goal, stating, “Wir müssen die Juden vernichten.” (We must destroy

the Jews.)51

        Just ten days after the Wannsee Conference, in a speech at the Sports Palace in

Berlin, Hitler declared that the war could only end when the Jews were “uprooted from

Europe,” or with “the complete annihilation of the Jews.”52 Even as he spoke, new death

camps were being prepared at Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobibor, in accordance with

decisions reached at the Wannsee Conference.53 Conference officials agreed that the

Final Solution should be carried out in a coordinated effort by Heydrich’s “department

head,” Eichmann, and his representatives were subsequently sent to France, Belgium,

Holland, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia to

organize deportations.54

        In an after dinner speech in February, 1942, Hitler compared his war against the

Jews to the work of Louis Pasteur and Heinrich Koch against bacteria.55 He went on to

say that diseases were caused by the Jewish germ, but “We shall be cured if we dispose

of the Jew.”56 By this time, the extermination process was already in progress in Eastern

Europe, and the extensive plan for the final solution had been completed already.57

According to Leni Yahil, “It can be assumed that Hitler’s companions at that dinner knew




49
   Ibid, p 33.
50
   Ibid, p 33.
51
   Ibid, p 33.
52
   Gilbert, p 285.
53
   Ibid, p 285-286.
54
   Ibid, p 284.
55
   Yahill, Leni, The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945. New York, 1990, p 44.
56
   Ibid, p 44.
57
   Ibid, p 44.
that this was not idle talk but rather his explanation and justification of the

extermination.”58

            Euphemistic language cannot, as revisionists would like to think, serve as a cover-

up for the ultimate plan of the final solution. In the testimony of Eichmann, a delegate

present at the conference, the Nazi goals were clear. The decision for the final solution

had been made prior to January 20, 1942, and it was following the Wannsee Conference

that Nazi goals reached fulfillment. Plans that had been in the works were systematically

enacted for the most efficient system of mass execution.




58
     Ibid, p 44.

				
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