In the shadow of Wannsee
The Holocaust is the most documented of genocides, yet the most covered up by its perpetrators and denied and distorted by its contemporary detractors.
All genocides have been couched in euphemism and their memory, after the fact, subject to political and mendacious assault. The victims are thus twice murdered, first physically and again as their name is erased from history – a phenomenon I have called “memoricide”.
Documents are a weapon in the battle for memory and in drawing its lessons. Thus in 1989 to 1991, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Soviet Communism, the opening of the KGB, the STASI and other archives were a shock to established collective memory. An ineluctable wave towards transparency shattered the national myths of World War II combatants and neutrals alike: Austria (“the first victim of Hitler”), France (“resistance or collaboration”), Switzerland and Sweden (the meaning of “neutrality”).
The archives of the Holocaust - even audiovisual - have had limited effect in containing denial or sensitivity to resurgent antisemitism. The 70th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference provides a valuable opportunity to reengage the battle for memory, for – unlike any other genocide – it provides, in the Wannsee Protocol, a clear and horrifyingly dispassionate roadmap to mass murder. Albeit marked “Top Secret”, the 16th duplicate of 30 copies survived the war.
On 20 January 1942, fifteen Nazi officials, led by Heydrich and Eichmann, met in a lakeside mansion in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. Representatives of government ministries, the railways and the military mapped out the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. There they signed the Protocol, and effectively broadened the racial definition of the Jew in the widest sense, to include mixed marriages and their issue (“mischlinge”).
33 countries and jurisdictions were listed with a total target of “over 11 million”.
The list does not spare the neutrals: Ireland (4,000), Portugal (3,000), Spain (6,000), Sweden (8,000), Switzerland (18,000), Turkey (55,500).
No community is missed: from the USSR (5,000,000) to Albania (200).
Figures are up to date for 1942: Estonia (“Judenrein” – cleansed of Jews), Lithuania (34,000 i.e. a quarter million were already murdered).
Moreover, the six million victims – or eleven million intended victims – of Europe were only part of the plan. The ultimate objective was every Jew on the planet.
The Jews of North Africa then under Vichy France, and of Fascist Italy (Libya), were in line, as, indeed, deportations began from Tunisia. Had Rommel not been checked at El Alamein, the “Yishuv” of 560,000 Jews of British Mandatory Palestine would have been doomed.
At a House of Commons roundtable marking Wannsee – organized by the Henry Jackson Society and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre – German historian, Matthias Kuentzel, showed a document on the Jews of Persia signed by Eichmann. Then occupied by Britain and the Soviet Union, Hitler planned an invasion to take the oil fields. Race theorists were debating whether Persians Jews were Aryans or Semites. The Eichmann document settled the question. They were placed under the dark penumbra of Wannsee.
Timothy Ryback, retained in the U.S. , was due to present a recently discovered 137 page report, “ Statistik, Presse und Organisationen des Judentums in den Vereinigten Staten
und Kanada” (Statistics, Media and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada) compiled in 1944 by Heinz Kloss, marked on the cover, “Ex Libris Adolf Hitler”, “For Official Use Only” with an eagle clutching a swastika.
In the International Herald Tribune of 8 December, Ryback – author of “Hitler’s Private Library: The Books that Shaped his Life – calls the report “ a city-by-city, state-by-state guide to the location of America’s Jewish population… from Peabody and Brookline, Mass to Arkansas…” He continues, “In light of the Holocaust, it is a disquieting compendium”. We are checking into the volume’s authenticity before drawing further conclusions.
Born in the UK, even after the War, does not lessen my immense respect for the power of water. Thirty miles of Channel saved my family and the 330,000 British Jews on the list.
3000 miles of Atlantic is as much a safeguard today as those 30 miles. They provide no immunity.
The shadow of Wannsee’s reach was global and its contemporary implications terrifying. The Wannsee Protocol should be an early warning system to sensitize the ears of public opinion to impending danger.
Shimon Samuels is director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.