Final Solution

Final Solution

I refer to the meeting that took place today in Berlin and want to point out once again that the overall measures planned (thus, the final objective) must be kept strictly secret.

Distinctions must be drawn between: (1) the final objective (which will require more extensive time periods), and (2) the phases towards fulfillment of the final objective (which will be carried out on a short-term basis).

It is obvious that the task ahead cannot be determined from here in every detail. The following instructions and guidelines will simultaneously serve the purpose of prompting the commanders of Special Units to do some practical thinking.

I. The first prerequisite for the final objective will be, for one, the concentration of Jews from the countryside into larger cities. This must be carried out expeditiously. Attention must be paid to the requirement that only such cities may be designated as areas of concentration which are either railway junctions or are at least situated on a railway line. One prevailing basic rule will be that Jewish congregations of less than 500 members will be dissolved and moved to the nearest city of concentration

II. Jewish Council of Elders.

(1) Each Jewish congregation must set up a Jewish Council of Elders it will be fully responsible, in the truest sense of the word, for an exact and prompt execution of all past or future directives.

(2) In case of sabotage of such directives, the councils will be advised that most severe measures will be taken.

(3) Deadlines given to the Jews for departure into the cities.

One day I was instructed to drive my truck outside the town. I was accompanied by a Ukrainian. It must have been about ten o'clock. On the way there we overtook Jews carrying luggage marching on foot in the same direction that we were traveling. There were whole families. The farther we got out of town the denser the columns became. Piles of clothing lay in a large open field. These piles of clothing were my destination. The Ukrainian showed me how to get in there.

After we had stopped in the area near the piles of clothes the truck was immediately loaded up with clothing. This was carried out by Ukrainians. I watched what happened when the Jews - men, women and children - arrived. The Ukrainians led them past a number of different places where one after the other they had to remove their luggage, then their coats,

shoes and overgarments and also underwear. They also had to leave their valuables in a designated place. There was a special pile for each article of clothing. It all happened very quickly and anyone who hesitated was kicked or pushed by the Ukrainians to keep them moving. I don't think it was even a minute from the time each Jew took off his coat before he was standing there completely naked. No distinction was made between men, women and children. One would have thought that the Jews that came later would have had a chance to turn back when they saw the others in front of them having to undress. It still surprises me today that this did not happen.

Once undressed, the Jews were led into a ravine which was about 150 meters long, 30 meters wide and a good 15 meters deep. Two or three narrow entrances led to this ravine through which the Jews were channeled. When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot. This all happened very quickly The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun at the spot where he was lying. When the Jews reached the ravine they were so shocked by the horrifying scene that they completely lost their will. It may even have been that the Jews themselves lay down in rows to wait to be shot.

There were only two marksmen carrying out the executions. One of them was working at one end of the ravine, the other at the other end. I saw these marksmen stand on the layers of corpses and shoot one after the other. The moment one Jew had been killed, the marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew, who had meanwhile lain down, and shoot him. It went on in this way uninterruptedly, with no distinction being made between men, women and children. The children were kept with their mothers and shot with them.

In the months that have gone by since we met in June 1942 many of our comrades were killed, giving their lives for Germany and the Fuhrer. In the first rank - and I ask you to rise in his honor and in honor of all our dead SS men, soldiers, men, and women - in the first rank our old comrade and friend from our ranks, SS Lieutenant General Eicke. [The SS Gruppenfiihrers have risen from their seats.] Please be seated.

One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the SS men - we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and to nobody else. What happens to a Russian or to a Czech does not interest me in the

slightest. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us. Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only so far as we need them as slaves for our culture; otherwise, it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an antitank ditch interests me only so far as the antitank ditch for Germany is finished. We shall never be rough and heartless when it is not necessary, that is clear. We Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude toward animals, will also assume a decent attitude toward these human animals.

I also want to talk to you, quite frankly, on a very grave matter. Among ourselves it should be mentioned quite frankly, and we will never speak of it publicly. Just as we did not hesitate on 30 June 1934 to do the duty we were bidden and stand comrades who had lapsed up against the wall and shoot them, so we have never spoken about it and will never speak of it. It was that tact which is a matter of course and which I am glad to say, inherent in us, that made us never discuss it among ourselves, nor speak of it. It appalled everyone, and yet everyone was certain that he would do it the next time if such orders are issued and if it is necessary.

I mean the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish race. It's one of those things it is easy to talk about, "The Jewish race is being exterminated," says one party member, "that's quite clear, it's in our program-elimination of the Jews and we're doing it, exterminating them" And then they come to me, eighty million worthy Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. Of course the others are vermin, but this one is an A-1 Jew. Not one of all those who talk this way has watched it, not one of them has gone through it. Most of you must know what it means when one hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred, or one thousand. To have stuck it out and at the same time - apart from exceptions caused by human weakness - to have remained decent fellows, that is what has made us hard. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written, for we know how difficult we should have made it for ourselves, if with the bombing raids, the burdens and the deprivations of war we still had Jews today in

every town as secret saboteurs, agitators, and troublemakers. We would now probably have reached the 1916-1917 stage when the Jews were still in the German national body.

The doctors of the hospital were sent for. The sight which greeted us "when we entered Block VII is one never to be forgotten. From the cages along the walls about six hundred panic-stricken, trembling young women were looking at us with silent pleading in their eyes. The other hundred were lying on the ground, pale, faint, bleeding. Their pulse was almost inaudible, their breathing strained and deep rivers of blood were flowing around their bodies. Big, strong SS men were going from one to the other sticking tremendous needles into their veins and robbing their undernourished, emaciated bodies of their last drop of blood. The German army needed blood plasma! The guinea pigs of Auschwitz were just the people to furnish that plasma. Rassenschande or contamination with "inferior Jewish blood" was forgotten. We were too "inferior" to live, but not too inferior to keep the German army alive with our blood. Besides, nobody would know. The blood donors, along with the other prisoners of Auschwitz would never live to tell their tale. By the end of the war fat wheat would grow out of their ashes and the soap made of their bodies would be used to wash the laundry of the returning German heroes.

We were ordered to put these women back on their feet before they returned to camp so as to make place for others. What could we do without disinfectants, medicines, liquids? How could we replace the brutally stolen blood? All we had were words, encouragement, tenderness. And yet, under our care, these unfortunate creatures slowly returned to life and they even smiled when saying: "This is still better than the crematory."

Block VII was always full. Once it was the women with beautiful eyes who were told to come forward, once the women with beautiful hands. And the poor wretches always believed the stories they were told, came forward, and to the amusement of the SS henchmen gave their last drops of precious blood for the German soldiers who used the strength robbed from us to murder our friends, our relatives, our allies.

One of the basic Nazi aims was to demoralize, humiliate, ruin us, not only physically but also spiritually. They did everything in their power to push us into the bottomless depths of degradation. Their spies were constantly among us to keep them informed about every thought, every feeling, every reaction we had, and one never knew who was one of their agents.

There was only one law in Auschwitz - the law of the jungle- the law of self-preservation. Women who in their former lives were decent self-respecting human beings now stole, lied, spied, beat the others and - if necessary - killed them, in order to save their miserable lives. Stealing became an art, a virtue, something to be proud of. We called it "organization." Those who were working near the crematories had an opportunity to "organize" an occasional can of food, a pair of shoes, a dress, a cooking pot, a comb, which they then sold on the black market operating in the latrine for food, for special favors, and - if the buyers were men - for "love."

But among those who had no connections among the crematory workers there were many who "organized" the piece of bread of their neighbor, regardless of whether she might starve to death as a consequence, or "organized" their bedfellow's shoes, no matter if her bleeding feet would condemn her to be cremated. By stealing bread, shoes, water, you stole a life for yourself, even if it was at the expense of other lives. Only the strong, the cruel, the merciless survived. The SS were, of course, greatly amused by these practices and encouraged them by showing special favors to some, so as to awaken the jealousy, the hatred, the greed of the others.

The gassing was carried out in the detention cells of Block II. Protected by a gas-mask, I watched the killing myself. The Russians were ordered to undress in the anteroom; they then quietly entered the mortuary, for they had been told they were to be deloused. The doors were then sealed and the gas shaken down through the holes in the roof. I do not know how long this killing took. For a little while a humming sound could be heard. When the powder was thrown in, there were cries of "Gas!," then a great bellowing, and the trapped prisoners hurled themselves against both the doors. But the doors held. They were opened several hours later, so that the place might be aired. It was then that I saw, for the first time, gassed bodies in the mass.

The killing of these Russian prisoners-of-war did not cause me much concern at the time. The order had been given, and I had to carry it out. I must even admit that this gassing set my mind at rest, for the mass extermination of the Jews was to start soon and at that time neither Eichmann nor I was certain how these mass killings were to be carried out.

In the spring of 1942 the first transports of Jews, all earmarked for extermination, arrived from Upper Silesia.

It was most important that the whole business of arriving and undressing should take place in an atmosphere of the greatest possible calm. People reluctant to take off their clothes had to be helped by those of their companions who had already undressed, or by men of the Special Detachment.

Many of the women hid their babies among the piles of clothing. The men of the Special Detachment were particularly on the look-out for this, and would speak words of encouragement to the woman until they had persuaded her to take the child with her.

I noticed that women who either guessed or knew what awaited them nevertheless found the courage to joke with the children to encourage them, despite the mortal terror visible in their own eyes.

One woman approached me as she walked past and, pointing to her four children who were manfully helping the smallest ones over the rough ground, whispered: "How can you bring yourself to kill such beautiful, darling children? Have you no heart at all?"

One old man, as he passed me, hissed: "Germany will pay a heavy penance for this mass murder of the Jews." His eyes glowed with hatred as he said this. Nevertheless he walked calmly into the gas-chamber.

Mr. Speaker, nations have declared war on Germany, and their high-ranking officials have issued pious protestations against the Nazi massacre of Jewish victims, but not one of those countries thus far has said they would be willing to accept these refugees either permanently or as visitors, or any of the minority peoples trying to escape the Hitler prison and slaughterhouse.

Goebbels says: "The United Nations won't take any Jews. We don't want them. Let's kill them." And so he and

Hitler are making Europe Judenrein.

Without any change in the immigration statutes we could receive a reasonable number of those who are fortunate enough to escape the Nazi hellhole, receive them as visitors, the immigration quotas notwithstanding. They could be placed in camps or cantonments and held there in such havens until after the war. Private charitable agencies would be willing to pay the entire cost thereof. They would be no expense to the government whatsoever. These agencies would even pay for transportation by ships to and from this country.

We house and maintain Nazi prisoners, many of them undoubtedly responsible for Nazi atrocities. We should do no less for the victims of the rage of the Huns.

In the sterilization experiments conducted by the defendants at Auschwitz, Ravensbrueck, and other concentration camps, the destructive nature of the Nazi medical program comes out most forcibly. The Nazis were searching for methods of extermination, both by murder and sterilization, of large population groups by the most scientific and least conspicuous means. They were developing a new branch of medical science which would give them the scientific tools for the planning and practice of genocide. The primary purpose was to discover an inexpensive, unobtrusive, and rapid method of sterilization which could be used to wipe out Russians, Poles, Jews, and other people. Surgical sterilization was thought to be too slow and expensive to be used on a mass scale A method to bring about an unnoticed sterilization was thought desirable.

If, on the basis of this research, it were possible to produce a drug which, after a relatively short time, effects an imperceptible sterilization on human beings, then we would have a powerful new weapon at our disposal. The thought alone that the three million Bolsheviks, who are at present German prisoners, could be sterilized so that they could be used as laborers but be prevented from reproduction, opens the most far-reaching perspectives.

"Would it be true to say that you got used to the liquidations?"

He thought for a moment. "To tell the truth," be then said, slowly and thoughtfully, "one did become used to it."

"In days? Weeks? Months?"

"Months. It was months before I could look one of them in the eye. I repressed it all by trying to create a special place: gardens, new barracks, new kitchens, new everything; barbers, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters. There were hundreds of ways to take one's mind off it; I used them all."

"Even so, if you felt that strongly, there had to be times, perhaps at night, in the dark, when you couldn't avoid thinking about it?"

"In the end, the only way to deal with it was to drink. I took a large glass of brandy to bed with me each night and I drank."

"I think you are evading my question."

"No, I don't mean to; of course, thoughts came. But I forced them away. I made myself concentrate on work, work and again work."

"Would it be true to say that you finally felt they weren't really human beings?"

"When I was on a trip once, years later in Brazil," be said, his face deeply concentrated, and obviously reliving the experience, "my train stopped next to a slaughterhouse. The cattle in the pens hearing the noise of the train, trotted up to the fence and stared at the train. They were very close to my window, one crowding the other, looking at me through that fence. I thought then, 'Look at this, this reminds me of Poland; that's just how the people looked, trustingly, just before they went into the tins..."'

"You said tins," I interrupted. "What do you mean?" But he went on without hearing or answering me.

"... I couldn't eat tinned meat after that. Those big eyes which looked at me not knowing that in no time at all they'd all be dead." He paused. His face was drawn. At this moment he looked old and worn and real.

"So you didn't feel they were human beings?"

"Cargo," he said tonelessly. "They were cargo." He raised and dropped his hand in a gesture of despair. Both our voices had dropped. It was one of the few times in those weeks of talks that he made no effort to cloak his despair, and his hopeless grief allowed a moment of sympathy.

"When do you think you began to think of them as cargo? The way you spoke earlier, of the day when you first came to Treblinka, the horror you felt seeing the dead bodies everywhere - they weren't 'cargo' to you then, were they?"

"I think it started the day I first saw the Totenlager in Treblinka. I remember Wirth standing there, next to the pits full of blue-black corpses. It had nothing to do with humanity, it couldn't have; it was a mass - a mass of rotting flesh. Wirth said, 'What shall we do with this garbage?' I think unconsciously that started me thinking of them as cargo."

"There were so many children, did they ever make you think of your children, of how you would feel in the position of those parents?"

"No," he said slowly, "I can't say I ever thought that way." He paused. "You see," he then continued, still speaking with this extreme seriousness and obviously intent on finding a new truth within himself, "I rarely saw them as individuals. It was always a huge mass. I sometimes stood on the wall and saw them in the tube. Bu t- how can I explain it - they were naked, packed together, running, being driven with whips like ..." the sentence trailed off.

"Could you not have changed that?" I asked. "In your position, could you not have stopped the nakedness, the whips, the horror of the cattle pens?"

"No, no, no. This was the system. Wirth had invented it. It worked and because it worked, it was irreversible."

The Final Solution

It is not known when Hitler formed the intention of the &ldquofinal solution of the Jewish question&rdquo on the scale of the European continent. The conference in Wannsee on January 20, 1942 considered only the details of the undertaking: the methods for organizing the deportation and ensuring the cooperation of the civilian administration. Overall, the plans called for the murder of 11 million Jews living in Germany, the occupied territory, the states opposed to the Third Reich, and the allied and neutral countries.

The first killing center set up in occupied Polish lands was the camp at Chełmno on the Ner Jews brought in from the ghettos in the Wartheland were being killed there from December 1941. Three more camps, somewhat larger, were opened at Bełżec, Sobibor, and Treblinka (in what was known as &ldquoAktion Reinhard&rdquo) somewhat later, between March and July 1942.

In Auschwitz, the murdering of prisoners in gas chambers began even earlier, when 575 sick and disabled prisoners were sent to their deaths at the euthanasia center in Germany at the end of June 1941. At the beginning of September, the SS used Zyklon B gas in the cellars of block 11 to kill about 600 Soviet POWs and another group of patients from the camp hospital. Soviet POWs and Jews brought from Upper Silesia were killed in the gas chamber in crematorium I over the following months. It was probably at the end of March or in April 1942 that the Germans began killing sick prisoners and Jews in a provisional gas chamber in Birkenau (the so-called &ldquolittle red house&rdquo). The tempo of atrocities increased in June and July 1942, with transports of Jews sent to Auschwitz being subjected to systematic &ldquoselections&rdquo during which SS doctors sentenced people classified as unfit for labor to death.

At the same time, the Germans set about liquidating the ghettos in occupied Poland. July 22, 1942, when the deportation of Jews from Warsaw to the death camp in Treblinka began, is regarded as a symbolic date. A decided majority of the Polish Jews were killed in a little over half a year, after which the SS began liquidating the Aktion Reinhard camps. However, the last great death camp&mdashAuschwitz&mdashremained in existence until the beginning of 1945. It was mainly Jews from Western and Southern Europe, from the liquidated labor camps, and the ghettos in Sosnowiec and Łódź, who died in the gas chambers there.

Anti-Jewish Policy Escalates

After the September 1939 German invasion of Poland (the beginning of World War II), anti-Jewish policy escalated to the imprisonment and eventual murder of European Jewry. The Nazis first established ghettos (enclosed areas designed to isolate and control the Jews) in the Generalgouvernement (a territory in central and eastern Poland overseen by a German civilian government) and the Warthegau (an area of western Poland annexed to Germany). Polish and western European Jews were deported to these ghettos where they lived in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions with inadequate food.

Final Solution

Assorted References

On the evening of November 9, 1938, carefully orchestrated anti-Jewish violence “erupted” throughout the Reich, which since March had included Austria. Over the next 48 hours rioters burned or damaged more than 1,000 synagogues and ransacked and broke the windows of more than 7,500…

…the German people—sought the “final solution to the Jewish question,” the murder of all Jews— men, women, and children—and their eradication from the human race. In Nazi ideology that perceived Jewishness to be biological, the elimination of the Jews was essential to the purification and even the salvation of…

…upon carrying out the “final solution,” the mass extermination of Europe’s Jewish population (see Holocaust). In the two technically independent states of Bulgaria and Romania, however, local governments refused to apply these measures in areas that they had controlled before expansion. After the war most of the surviving Jews…

…Berlin to organize the “final solution to the Jewish question.” Around the table were 15 men representing government agencies necessary to implement so bold and sweeping a policy. The language of the meeting was clear, but the meeting notes were circumspect:

…Wannsee to plan the “final solution” (Endlösung) to the so-called “Jewish question” (Judenfrage). On July 31, 1941, Nazi leader Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring had issued orders to Reinhard Heydrich, SS (Nazi paramilitary corps) leader and Gestapo (Secret Police) chief, to prepare a comprehensive plan for this

…opportunity to seek a “final solution.” In 1939–40 the Nazis considered using Poland or Madagascar as dumping grounds for Jews. But the invasion of the U.S.S.R. emboldened Hitler, Göring, and SS leaders Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich to decide instead on mass extermination in camps at Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor,…

…all, however, there was the Final Solution of the “Jewish question” as ordered by Hitler, which meant the physical extermination of the Jewish people throughout Europe wherever German rule was in force or where German influence was decisive.

…key element of the “final solution” proposed by SS official Reinhard Heydrich at Wannsee on January 20, 1942:

Role of

…the Nazis called the “final solution to the Jewish question.” Eichmann was to coordinate the details thus, although it was not yet generally known that the “final solution” was mass execution, Eichmann had in effect been named chief executioner. Thereupon he organized the identification, assembly, and transportation of Jews…

…a key role in the Final Solution and the Nazi racial war of extermination in eastern Europe.

…to carry out a “final solution to the Jewish question,” authorizing him to take all organizational and administrative steps necessary for the extermination of the Jews. Heydrich chaired the notorious Wannsee Conference (January 20, 1942), whose participants discussed the logistics of the “final solution.”

The "Final Solution": The Wannsee Conference

The &ldquoWannsee Conference&rdquo was a high-level meeting of Nazi officials that took place in Berlin on January 20, 1942, to discuss the Final Solution of the Jewish Question.

Called by Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Reich Security Main Office which controlled both the Gestapo and the SD, the conference was originally called for December 9, 1941, but fallout from the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor and a temporary worsening of the situation on the Eastern Front led to its postponement. The gathering of 14 senior SS officers, Nazi Party officials and civil servants finally convened on January 20 at a splendid villa on the shores of Berlin&rsquos Lake Wannsee.

At his war crimes trial Adolf Eichmann, one of Heydrich&rsquos subordinates, said the meeting was divided into two parts. During the first, everyone sat and listened. In the second part &ldquoeveryone spoke out of turn and people would go around, butler, adjutants, and would give out liquor.&rdquo After the meeting, Heydrich stayed around, according to Eichmann, and &ldquogave expression to his great satisfaction&rdquo and drank cognac to celebrate because the meeting did not have the &ldquostumbling blocks and difficulties&rdquo he expected.

Eichmann took minutes, thirty copies of which were evidently distributed among the participants and other interested parties in the following weeks. The only surviving copy, marked No. 16 out of 30, was found in March 1947 among German Foreign Office files by American War Crimes investigators. After that discovery, the minutes, or Wannsee Protocol, rapidly attained postwar notoriety.

The document&rsquos resonance derived above all from the coldly bureaucratic clarity with which it articulated a pan-European plan of genocide. The minutes are summary rather than verbatim, so we cannot be sure of all that was said, but the principal element of the conference was evidently Heydrich&rsquos lengthy exposition of past, present, and future policies. Some parts of the minutes were shrouded in euphemism, as when Heydrich discussed what the Protocol refers to as new possibilities in the East. A table slated 11 million European Jews, listed by country, for inclusion in these possibilities. Because of such euphemisms, Holocaust deniers among others have claimed that murder was not on the agenda, but elsewhere the Protocol is unequivocal:

In large, single-sex labor columns, Jews fit to work will work their way eastwards constructing roads. Doubtless the large majority will be eliminated by natural causes. Any final remnant that survives will doubtless consist of the most resistant elements. They will have to be dealt with appropriately, because otherwise, by natural selection, they would form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival.

As far as we can tell from the minutes, other contemporary sources, and postwar testimony, none of the participants, many coming from dignified, well-established ministries that had long predated the Nazi state &ndash the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Ministry, and the Reich Chancellery &ndash protested. For the U.S. investigators after the war, a leading member of whom was Robert Kempner, formerly a high-flying (Jewish) civil servant in the pre-1933 Prussian Justice Ministry, it was almost incredible that such educated and apparently civilized men, eight of them holding doctorates, had concurred with such a plan. As a symbol of the calm and orderly governance of genocide, the Protocol remains without parallel.

For all the minutes&rsquo shocking clarity, historians have found it hard to reach agreement over the Wannsee Conference&rsquos function and significance. Some copies of the invitations to the meeting survive, and both their wording and Heydrich&rsquos opening remarks suggest that the Wannsee gathering was needed to clarify fundamental issues before the full solution was inaugurated. For early postwar observers, credence was lent to the idea of Wannsee&rsquos centrality in planning the Final Solution by wartime statements of the governor general of German-occupied Poland, Hans Frank, which had already come to light before the Wannsee Protocol itself was found.

Around the time the Wannsee meeting had originally been scheduled to take place, Frank had alluded to fundamental discussions on the Jewish question concurrently taking place in Berlin. When coupled with the Protocol&rsquos systematic listing of all European Jews slated for solution, many postwar observers believed it was at the Wannsee Conference that genocide had been decided upon. Yet what made this unlikely was the fact that mass killings of Jews had begun on the territory of the Soviet Union six months before the meeting, and that by the time Heydrich and his guests convened in Wannsee preparations for the Belzec camp were well underway, and the Chelmno death camp was murdering at full tilt. Moreover, there was the question of who had the power to make such decisions in Nazi Germany. Neither Heydrich nor his guests were able to unleash the Final Solution. Historians tend to believe those decisions lay with Hitler and Heinrich Himmler.

Historians have therefore long debated how to interpret a meeting that claimed fundamental significance yet came so late in the day. The absence of any record of a clear Fuehrer order to kill Europe&rsquos Jews, and the rather ragged process by which killings expanded from shootings in the Soviet Union to a pan-European shooting and gassing program, have led historians to a variety of interpretations of the Holocaust&rsquos origins. Thus, their conclusions about Wannsee&rsquos function have differed in line with their broader understanding of the Final Solution.

Those who believe a fundamental command to kill Europe&rsquos Jews was given in July 1941 or indeed earlier, for example, see the Wannsee meeting as at best of secondary interest and sometimes as an almost entirely symbolic affair. For those scholars, by contrast, who believe that a decision to murder all European Jews &ndash as opposed to the Soviet killings &ndash crystallized piecemeal over the second half of 1941, the meeting&rsquos timing makes more sense as a response to an emerging consensus among Nazi leadership about the way to go forward. Something that may also have affected the timing of the meeting was the negative reaction among some Berlin officials to the rapidly disseminated news that Berlin Jews had been included in mass shootings in the Soviet Union toward the end of November 1941. These shootings in Kovno and Riga in November signaled the first mass executions of German Jews, something that had a different psychological significance than the already familiar content of reports about the murder of Russian and East European Jews. Wannsee may thus have been convened partly to ensure that the Reich&rsquos ministries were on board with the program.

What we can say with certainty is that Heydrich had invited many of the agencies with whom he and his RSHA staff had regularly clashed over lines of authority. Indeed, representatives of Hans Frank&rsquos civilian authority in the Polish General Government were, along with their SS counterparts, added only as an afterthought after an SS representative from Poland visiting Himmler in Berlin complained about Frank&rsquos resistance to the SS mandate. Heydrich&rsquos aim was clearly to impose the SS&rsquo and specifically his leadership on the Jewish question. To suppress any latent opposition to the deportation of more German Jews, he wanted to obtain agreement on any special categories to be exempted &ndash highly decorated Jewish veterans from World War I and so forth. A substantial element of the Protocol consists of detailed discussion of how to deal with special and borderline categories. Echoing proposals long articulated by Party radicals, Heydrich sought to overturn most of the special exemptions for the so-called Mischlinge (half-Jews and quarter-Jews) and also for Jews in mixed marriages that the Ministry of the Interior and the Reich Chancellery had thus far managed to maintain. This was the one significant area in which the Protocol records any counter-proposals to Heydrich&rsquos own suggestions, although in advocating the compromise of sterilizing all half-Jews, the Interior Ministry&rsquos Wilhelm Stuckart went much further in Heydrich&rsquos direction than had previously been the case.

Historians disagree too about the Conference&rsquos impact. Some contemporary documents as well as postwar testimony suggest that Reinhard Heydrich was very pleased with the meeting&rsquos outcome. It is certainly the case that both the deportation of German Jews, and the killing rate of Polish Jews rapidly accelerated in the spring, though how far this had been facilitated by the meeting itself is unclear. On the matter of the Mischlinge, follow-up meetings showed that considerable resistance to their being equated with full Jews remained and, in this regard, Heydrich did not achieve the breakthrough he had hoped for.


C. Gerlach, &ldquoThe Wannsee Conference, the Fate of German Jews and Hitler&rsquos Decision in Principle to Exterminate All European Jews,&rdquo in: O. Bartov (ed.), The Holocaust. Origins, Implementation, Aftermath (2000), 106&ndash61 H.R. Huttenbach, &ldquoThe Wannsee Conference Reconsidered 50 Years After: SS Strategy and Racial Politics in the Third Reich,&rdquo in: H. Locke and M. Littell (eds.), Remembrance and Recollection. Essays on the Centennial Year of Martin Niemoeller and Reinhold Niebuehr and the 50 th Year of the Wannsee Conference (1996), 58&ndash79 J. Eberhard, &ldquoOn the Purpose of the Wannsee Conference,&rdquo in: J. Pacy and A.P. Wertheimer (eds.), Perspectives on the Holocaust. Essays in Honor of Raul Hilberg (1995), 39&ndash50 M. Roseman, The Villa, the Lake, the Meeting: Wannsee and the Final Solution (2000).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved
Israel Gutman, Ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol. 3, (NY: Macmillan, 1990), pp. 1593-1594

“The Final Solution”

View paintings by survivor Jan Komski.

by Geoffrey Laurence

a fate beheld

Remember. Zachor. Sich Erinnern.

What You Can Do to Help

History Channel
One World Live
New York Times

The "Final Solution": The Wannsee Protocol

This English text of the original German Wannsee Protocol is based on the official U.S. government translation prepared for evidence in the Nuremberg trials. Revisions to the Nuremberg text were made for clarification and correction. The revisions were made by Dan Rogers of the University of South Alabama. This document is in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.

The "Wannsee Conference" was not a name its participants would have given to their meeting it is simply the most convenient description available for historians of the Holocaust. At a villa owned by the SS on the shores of a suburban Berlin lake called the Wannsee, mid­level bureaucrats from a number of Nazi agencies, all named in the introduction to the text, assembled at the request of Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Reich Main Security Office and head of the German secret police apparatus. Heydrich and his boss, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, were in the process of assuming leadership in the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question." This meeting was a part of that process, as bureaucratic coordination would be required for the massive efforts to be undertaken throughout Europe to kill the 11,000,000 Jews described in the document. The minutes were taken by Heydrich's subordinate, Adolf Eichmann, and edited by Heydrich who substituted Nazi euphemisms for references to actions planned against the Jews.

The first significant use of ɿinal solution' was in July 1941, roughly two years into World War II

Andrew Bonnell, Associate Professor in History at the University of Queensland, says that's when Hitler's lieutenant Hermann Goering wrote to another high-ranking Nazi, Heinrich Himmler's deputy Reinhard Heydrich, and commissioned him with carrying out what the Nazis called "the final solution of the Jewish question".

"That was in a sense the commencement of what we today refer to most commonly as the Holocaust," Dr Bonnell explained.

The following January, the notorious Wannsee Conference was convened by the leaders of Nazi and German state agencies.

There, they discussed how to implement the final solution and coordinate their efforts towards the mass deportation of Jews to extermination camps and killing fields.

It's estimated that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949 by David Cesarani – review

Jan Karski, a courier for the Polish underground, was among the first to reach London and Washington after observing the mass killing of Polish Jews. In an interview for Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 film Shoah, Karski, still astonished after so many years, gets to his feet as he recalls the reaction of Felix Frankfurter, Franklin Roosevelt’s confidant. “I don’t believe you,” he recalls Frankfurter saying. “I know you are not a liar, but I don’t believe you.”

Similar sentiments will occur to the half-attentive reader throughout almost every page of David Cesarani’s account of the Final Solution. How many Jews were killed? How were they killed? Did the Hitler project really imply the extermination of every single Jew in Europe? And what sort of person could be relied on to kill one human being after another – women and children, the old, the young – day after blood-drenched day?

Cesarani’s justification for another book about the Holocaust is that a generation of new research has failed to find its way into public consciousness. “The nomenclature itself is increasingly self-defeating,” he begins. Terms such as “the Holocaust” or “Shoah”, even “genocide”, in the legitimate course of memorialising Jewish sufferings, have walled off mass killings from the events surrounding them. To that end Cesarani treats the subject in a stripped-down factual idiom, avoiding any pervasive explanation of motives. What we get in this context are facts, and these facts consist largely of killings.

This is a book as hard to read as a set of Human Rights Watch reports. But it’s difficult not to be first moved and then overwhelmed by the mere listing of what happened, and in this respect Cesarani, who died in October, has fulfilled his ambition of reclaiming the killings of Jews for another generation.

For Cesarani, what the German-Jewish writer Victor Klemperer calls “the war on Jews” really begins with the trauma of the first world war. Hitler was a core (and demented) antisemite, but for the most part antisemitism appears here as a default position of the Nazis. They were not always, as has been suggested, exterminationists. The Nazis talked of killing off European Jews, as an act of revenge for what they saw as the betrayal of Germany by Jews in 1919, or because they could be represented as a Judeo-Bolshevik peril. But they also wanted to work Jews to death as slave labour if that seemed appropriate.

Cesarani’s freshest pages come with insights into how the Nazi bureaucracy veered between these two self-contradictory positions, encompassing the need to exploit and the desire to murder. Those tasked with Judenpolitik would empty ghettoes, massacring their inhabitants, only to fill them again when the Wehrmacht required uniforms. They were still shipping Jews to slave labour somewhere in Germany as late as 1945. Killings followed the rhythm of war, and Cesarani is correct in his conclusion that fewer would have died if the war had finished earlier. But I think he underestimates the significance of the 1942 rampage in Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Estonia, horrifyingly described in Timothy Snyder’s recent Black Earth. Surely there was among Nazis (and their Latvian, Estonian and Ukrainian proxies) a desire ultimately to dispose of Jews. No real calculations lay behind these slaughters, and for Hitler and those around him, none was needed.

Not so long ago, historians wrote about the ingenuity displayed by Nazis. Cesarani is at odds with the notion that there was anything hi-tech or innovative about the killings. The camps took long to build, and the killingapparatus didn’t work. Railway voyages for the victims were badly coordinated.

He also dismisses Hannah Arendt’s theories about the “banality of evil”. Many people were involved in the killings, and not all of them were banal or evil. Arendt treated the councils of elders as collaborationists, judging them almost as harshly as their persecutors. To his great credit, Cesarani doesn’t skimp when it comes to describing how poverty and the shadow of death caused many Jews to exploit one another. But Jewish functionaries were given no choice when it came to deciding to send people to their deaths. If they sometimes tried to save associates of family members we should not be surprised. And of course the idea, prevalent some years ago, that Germans somehow didn’t know what was going on must be given short shrift. They were told what was going to happen, and then encouraged neither entirely to forget nor wholly to remember. Hitler told them that they might be punished by the allies for what they had done to Jews, and it appears from Nazi reports that this was widely believed.

There’s more than enough ground for outrage in these pages, and readers can take their pick. I was most pained by the apathetic response outside Germany to the killings. After Kristallnacht in 1938, when the shops, synagogues and homes of German Jews were looted, NGOs of the time were eloquent and, in the short term, effective in arranging a boycott. It was hard to get information out of Poland in 1940, but people who wanted to find out what was going on could easily do so.

But the behaviour of the Foreign Office and the US State Department still seems scandalous. Was so much indifference a consequence of antisemitism among bureaucrats? It would appear that elite Washington and London didn’t really think that Jews were important enough to merit any radical alteration of war plans. It was enough for the House of Commons to stand in silence, and for Roosevelt to receive deputations of American Jews. Later, of course, tears could be shed. We can all of us argue whether anything has really changed.

I’d been reading Cesarani’s account of the failed efforts of inmates to break out of Treblinka when I went to see the Hungarian film Son of Saul. For those still unaware of this masterpiece, directed by László Nemes and released in the UK in April, it’s a filmed account of the life of a Hungarian Jew whose job is to clean up the detritus of murdered Jews and run errands for bestial German and Ukrainian supervisors. It’s set within 24 hours at Auschwitz, and the film rarely leaves the face of its protagonist as he heaps corpses or shovels them into furnaces. But the film has an odd, wholly redemptive quality. Something will happen to us, it states boldly, if we look at things long enough. The most appalling aspects of reality can be reclaimed, even transfigured if we pay due attention to them. It would be an exaggeration to say that killings are life-enhancing, but they can be useful.

In a very different way, this radical perception is what drives Cesarani’s painstaking narrative. I don’t think he’s wholly successful, but this isn’t really a criticism because, without the empathetic inspiration of art, it may be impossible truly to understand what happened.


In the end, Hitler did not succeed in his plan to completely eliminate the Jews. He succeeded however in murdering over one third of the world's Jewish population &ndash and teaching the world the meaning of evil.

When the Allied armies (Russians from the east and the Americans and British from the west) liberated the camps at the close of the war, they were met with scenes of unspeakable horror.

The films made by the Allied forces upon entering the camps were so horrible that they were not publicly shown for many years.

Liberation did not end the deaths of Jews.

In spite of Allied efforts to save them, many victims perished after liberation from weakness and illness. In the Belsen camp, 13,000 died after the British liberators arrived.

Some who did survive met death at the hands of non-Jewish partisans or peasants when they left the camps. Some tried to reach their old homes, but found nothing left or that they now had new tenants who were very opposed to the return of the original owners.

The worst example was the pogrom in the town of Kielce in Poland on July 4th, 1946. When the 200 surviving Jews returned to their village, the local Poles who were upset to see that any had survived instigated a blood libel &ndash accusing the Jews of the kidnap and ritual murder of Polish child. In the ensuing violence 40 of the Jews, all Holocaust survivors, were murdered by the Polish towns people.

The post-Holocaust death total in Europe was unimaginable.

Intentionally using minimum figures and probable underestimates, Sir Martin Gilbert (in his work The Holocaust) finds that at least 5,950,000 Jews were murdered between 1939 and 1945.

This figure represents 69 percent of the entire Jewish population of Europe. Hundreds of communities, some of which were a thousand years old were completely obliterated.

Eastern European Jewry had been virtually wiped out.

But while the Holocaust brought an end to the Jewish community of Eastern Europe, it brought about &ndash in an indirect way &ndash the rebirth of the Land of Israel, as a Jewish state for the first time in 2,000 years. How it became the great refuge for the Jews in the modern period we will take up in the next installment.

Watch the video: New Research on the Final Solution (November 2021).