The Wannsee Conference Room

Dining room where Final Solution was discussed

The photograph above shows the large dining room of a villa on the Grossen Wannsee, a lake in the Wannsee suburb of Berlin, where the Conference on "The Final Solution of the Jewish Question" was held on January 20, 1942. This is the room where the plans for the genocide of the Jews were discussed. The villa is now a Holocaust Museum.

Note the oak doors which open into the dining room and the oak parquet floors. On the wall to the right are photographs of the 15 men at the conference, including Reinhard Heydrich, who led the meeting, and Adolf Eichmann who wrote the minutes. In the middle of the room is a glass-topped table with documents displayed under the glass. The windows on the left overlook the lake, as shown in the photograph below.

Windows in dining room overlook the lake called Grossen Wannsee

Extending from the rear of the dining room, shown at the top of this page, is the Wintergarten, a small alcove with a wall of windows which Americans would call a sun room. In the photo at the top of this page, a group of students are gathered there with their teacher for a seminar on the Holocaust.

The windows of the Wintergarten overlook a formal rose garden, which is shown in the photo below.

View of the formal rose garden from Wintergarten windows

The Wannsee Conference convened at 11 a.m. on January 20, 1942. The men who attended the Conference included representatives from Rosenberg's East Ministry, Göring's Four-Year Plan agency, the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Foreign Office and the Gestapo's Jewish Evacuation Office.

In the conference room there is now a high glass-topped table with some documents in German on display, but there was no English translation printed in the guidebook which I purchased. The minutes of the Wannsee conference are available on the Internet at this website.

The minutes start off by pointing out that SS Lt. General Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Security Police and the SD, was in charge of the preparation of the Final Solution of the European Jewish Question, and that his orders came from Hermann Göring. During the proceedings of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1946, Göring denied any knowledge of the planned genocide of the Jews. When a film of the concentration camps and the Dachau gas chamber were shown, Göring laughed and called it propaganda, saying that the Nazis had made a few propaganda films themselves.

In the minutes, it is mentioned that, on Göring's orders, a central federal office for Jewish emigration had been opened in January 1939 with Reinhard Heydrich in charge. The goal was "to clean out the Jews from German living space in a legal manner."

In this passage, the minutes mention that funds were needed to make this possible:

Other than funds from the government, monies were also needed from the foreign exchange in order to pay for preliminary and embarkation costs. In order to preserve the German foreign currency deposits the Jewish financial institutions in foreign countries were strongly urged by Jewish organizations in Germany to take care of any foreign currency needed. In this way 9,500,000 Marks were endorsed by the foreign Jews by October 30, 1941.

In the meantime, Himmler prohibited any further emigration of Jews in view of the dangers of emigration in wartime and the future use of the lands in the East. Upon permission from the Führer, evacuation of the Jews to the East took place, which was now another possible way to solve the problem.

Then the minutes list all the countries of Europe with the number of Jews in the population. The highest number was in the Soviet Uinion with 5 million, which included 2,994,684 in the Ukraine, then Poland with 2,284,000 and Hungary with 742,000.

By the time of the Conference, there were only 131,800 Jews left in Germany and 43,700 in Austria, since they had been encouraged to emigrate, beginning in 1933.

The document mentions that approximately 537,000 Jews were deported from the time Hitler came to power in 1933 until October 31, 1941, which included 360,000 from Germany, 147,000 from Austria and 30,000 from the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which is now the Czech Republic.

The document then states:

Under proper leadership the Jews shall now be put to work in the framework of the final solution.

The plan for the Final Solution was stated as follows:

The evacuated Jews will be brought at first without delay to transitional camps in order to be transported further to the East.

[...]

It is intended not to evacuate Jews over sixty-five, but to transfer them to an old-age ghetto for which Theresienstadt was earmarked.

Added to these Jews who were to be sent to the old-age ghetto in Theresienstadt were the Jewish disabled veterans and Jews decorated with the Iron Cross First Class. Of the 280,000 Jews in Germany and Austria, there were approximately 30 percent over sixty-five years old as of October 1941.

The so-called "transitional camps" were the Aktion Reinhard camps: Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec. We now know that these three camps were actually extermination camps where the Jews were immediately gassed upon arrival.

Soon after the Wannsee Conference, the three Aktion Reinhard camps were set up in remote villages near the Bug river which separated occupied Poland from the eastern part of Poland that had been given to the Soviet Union after the joint conquest of Poland by the Germans and the Russians in September 1939. By the time that the Conference started, the former Soviet section of Poland was in German hands and the German Army had advanced 1,000 kilometers into Russia, so that the Jews could have been "transported further to the East" if the plan had not been to kill all the Jews in Europe.

There is a lengthy discussion in the minutes about persons of mixed race, followed by the following discussion of the problems in individual countries:

State Secretary Dr. Bühler declared that the government of Occupied Poland would welcome it if the final solution to this question would be started in Occupied Poland. His reason: transport plays no important role here and the deployment of workers during the operation would not cause any problems. Jews have to be removed as quickly as possible from Occupied Poland because here especially the Jew is a danger as a carrier of epidemics. The Jews also present a danger as black market dealers who constantly upset the economic structure of a country. Of those in question the majority of approximately 2.5 million are unable to work anyway.

The house at Wannsee, where the Conference took place, was designed so that it is only two rooms deep, but 7 rooms wide, including the Wintergarten or sun room, on the ground floor. All the rooms in the rear have windows overlooking the lake.

The entrance foyer is circular with a curved staircase leading to the second floor on the right as you enter. Just inside the large reception hall off the foyer, a hallway extends along the width of the house and has doors leading to all the rooms.

View from room at north end through all the rooms

The seven rooms across the width of the house in the rear have double doors lined up so that you can look straight through all the rooms. The photograph above shows the view from the last room on the north end of the house all the way through the other rooms to the Wintergarten at the south end of the house. The photographs on the wall in the foreground are part of the museum display.

The Conference at Wannsee was originally scheduled for December 10, 1941 but it had to be postponed because of the crisis when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, resulting in America declaring war on Japan, a country that was Germany's ally. Honoring a treaty with Japan, the Germans declared war on America on December 11, 1941.

In a speech to the Reichstag, Hitler declared that Roosevelt was as "mad" as Woodrow Wilson, who was the American president that declared war on Germany during World War I. In his speech, Hitler equated International Jewry with Bolshevik Russia and Roosevelt's presidency.

Regarding Roosevelt, Hitler said the following in his speech to the Reichstag:

First he incites war, then falsifies the causes, then odiously wraps himself in a cloak of Christian hypocrisy and slowly but surely leads mankind to war, not without calling God to witness the honesty of his attack.

After the Wannsee conference was postponed for 6 weeks, Hans Frank, the head of the General Government, as occupied Poland was called, became so impatient that he called a conference of his own in Krakow. Philipp Bühler, who was Frank's deputy, later attended the Wannsee Conference on January 20th.

At his conference in Krakow, Frank said:

I want to say to you quite openly, that we shall have to finish the Jews, one way or another. [...] Certainly the major migration is about to start. But what is to happen to the Jews? We were told in Berlin, "Why all this fuss? We can't use them in the Ostland either; let the dead bury their dead!"

With regard to feeling sympathy for the Jews, Hans Frank then said:

We have to annihilate the Jews wherever we find them and wherever it is at all possible.

Estimating that there were at least 3.5 million Jews in Poland alone, Frank said:

We can't shoot these 3,500,000 Jews, we can't poison them, but we can take steps which, one way or another, will lead to an annihilation success, and I am referring to the measures under discussion in the Reich. The General Government will have to become just as free of Jews as the Reich itself. Where and how this is going to happen is the task for the agencies which we will have to create and establish here, and I am going to tell you how they will work when the time comes.

John Toland, in his book "Adolf Hitler," maintains that some of the participants in the conference did not know that there were plans to kill all the Jews because the Conference was conducted using euphemisms such as "deportation to the East," which was a veiled reference to murder.

Toland wrote the following in "Adolf Hitler":

After the Wannsee conference he (Eichmann) sat "cozily around a fireplace" with Gestapo Chief Müller and Heydrich, drinking and singing songs. "After a while we climbed onto the chairs and drank a toast; then onto the table and traipsed round and round - on the chairs and on the table again." Eichmann joined in this celebration with no qualms. "At that moment," he later testified, "I sensed a kind of Pontius Pilate feeling, for I was free of guilt... Who was I to judge? Who was I to have my own thoughts in this matter?" He, Müller and Heydrich were only carrying out the laws of the land as prescribed by the Führer himself.

Ten days after the conference, on the 9th anniversary of his appointment as Chancellor of Germany, in a speech at the Sportpalast, Hitler said, regarding the Jews:

They are simply our old enemies, their plans have suffered shipwreck through us, and they rightly hate us, just as we hate them. We realize that this war can only end either in the wiping out of the Germanic nations, or by the disappearance of Jewry from Europe."

Referring to a similar speech on January 30, 1939 in which he had made the prophecy that the Jews would be destroyed in the event of another World War, he continued:

For the first time, it will not be the others who will bleed to death, but for the first time the genuine ancient Jewish law, 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,' is being applied. The more this struggle spreads, the more anti-Semitism will spread - and world Jewry may rely on this. It will find nourishment in every prison camp, it will find nourishment in every family which is being enlightened as to why it is being called upon to make such sacrifices, and the hour will come when the worst enemy in the world will have finished his part for at least a thousand years to come.

Less than a month after the conference, on February 14, 1942, Hitler's propaganda Minister Josef Göbbels wrote in his private diary:

The sufferings of the Russian people under Bolshevism are indescribable. This Jewish terrorism must be radically eliminated from all of Europe. That is our historic task. World Jewry will suffer a great catastrophe at the same time as Bolshevism. The Führer (Hitler) once more expressed his determination to clean up the Jews in Europe pitilessly. There must be no squeamish sentimentalism about it. The Jews have deserved the catastrophe that has now overtaken them. Their destruction will go hand in hand with the destruction of our enemies. We must hasten this process with cold ruthlessness.

The prophecies of Hitler and Göbbels came true. What began as a routine conference, attended by 15 educated, cultured leaders of the world's greatest military power, on a cold January day in a lovely villa beside a sparkling lake, ended in the planned systematic extermination of 6 million European Jews.

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History of the Wannsee villa

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This page was last updated on March 17, 2009