On this day: The Wannsee conference

January 20 1942: A meeting about how to exterminate Europe’s Jews

By Jennifer Lipman, January 20, 2011

A peaceful lakeside spot in a sleepy suburb of Berlin, an uninformed visitor to Wannsee might be quite charmed by the place.

But the villa there has a chilling history – it was there, 69 years ago, that 15 Nazi leaders coined the term “Final Solution” and coordinated the genocidal campaign it would involve.

Those gathered at the conference included the man who ran the Gestapo, Reinhard Heydrich, his deputy, Adolph Eichmann and Dr Joseph Bühler, secretary of state for the general government.

Over some 40 minutes, during which food and drink was served, the fifteen discussed the “final solution of the Jewish question in Europe”. They spoke of combing Europe of Jews and addressed the status of the Mischlinge [children of mixed marriages] and what to do about Jews married to Germans.

As the Wannsee Protocol, the minutes of the meeting, show, Heydrich told those assembled that the 11 million Jews of Europe would be rounded up. The numbers included Jews in countries the Nazis had not yet invaded, from the UK to Portugal.

He said: “Any final remnant that survives will consist of the most resistant elements. These will have to be dealt with appropriately, because otherwise, by natural selection, they would form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival.”

Nearly 70 years later, the house at Wannsee still stands, as a museum dedicated to the memory of this dark and appalling point in history.

What the JC said: The leading figures in Adolf Hitler’s circle met not to discuss the ways and means of war, but to plot the murder of civilians across Europe – civilians set apart by one face only. They were Jews. The “Final Solution” came terrifyingly close to succeeding. Its ultimate defeat was a tribute to many – would-be victims, foes of Nazism who risked their lives rather than abet Hitler’s evil.

See more from the JC archives here

Last updated: 8:46am, January 20 2011