The Wannsee Conference: The Meeting that Decided the Holocaust

On 20th January, 1942, on what must have been a bitterly cold and snowy day, fifteen men met in a grand house in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. Over the course of an hour, these men came up with “the Final Solution to the Jewish Question”, a plan to murder millions upon millions of Jews by herding them into gas chambers and killing thousands at a time. Murder had been industrialised. The minutes from this meeting, known as the Wannsee Conference, have survived, and I have reproduced them here in full. It is an English translation from German based upon the official translation made by the United States government in 1945 to use as evidence for the prosecution in the Nuremberg Trials that followed the conclusion of the Second World War. The document is now in the public domain.

 

Stamp: Top Secret

30 copies

16th copy

Minutes of discussion.

The following persons took part in the discussion about the Final Solution of the Jewish question which took place in Berlin, am Grossen Wannsee No. 56/58 on 20 January 1942.

 

reinhard heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich

SS-Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of Reich Security Main Office, Protector of Bohemia and Moravia*

 

Alfred Meyer
Alfred Meyer

 

Gauleiter Dr. Alfred Meyer, Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern territories

 

Georg Liebbrandt
Georg Liebbrandt

Secretary of State Dr. Georg Leibbrandt, Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories

 

Wilhelm Stuckart
Wilhelm Stuckart

Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, Reich Ministry for the Interior

 

Erich Neumann
Erich Neumann

Secretary of State Erich Neumann, Plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan

 

Roland Freisler
Roland Freisler

Secretary of State Dr. Roland Freisler, Reich Ministry of Justice

 

Josef Buhler.jpg
Josef Buhler

Secretary of State Dr. Josef Bühler, Office of the Government General**

 

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

Under Secretary of State Dr. Martin Luther, Foreign Office

 

Gerhard Klopfer
Gerhard Klopfer

SS-Brigadier General Gerhard Klopfer, Party Chancellery

 

Friedrich Kritzinger
Friedrich Kritzinger

Ministerial Director Dr. Friedrich Kritzinger, Reich Chancellery

 

Otto Hoffman
Otto Hofmann

SS-Lieutenant General Otto Hofmann, Race and Settlement Main Office

 

Heinrich Muller
Heinrich Muller

SS-Lieutenant General Heinrich Müller, Reich Main Security Office

 

Adolf Eichmann
Adolf Eichmann

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, Reich Security Main Office

 

Eberhard Schongarth
Karl Schongarth

SS-Brigadier General Dr. Karl Schöngarth, Security Police and SD***, Commander of the Security Police and the SD in the Government General

 

Rudolf Lange.jpg
Rudolf Lange

SS-Major Dr. Rudolf Lange, Security Police and SD, Commander of the Security Police and the SD for the General-District Latvia, as deputy of the Commander of the Security Police and the SD for the Reich Commissariat “Ostland”

 

At the beginning of the discussion Chief of the Security Police and of the SD, SS-Lieutenant General Heydrich, reported that Reich Marshal Goering had appointed him delegate for the preparations for the Final Solution of the Jewish question in Europe and pointed out that this discussion had been called for the purpose of clarifying fundamental questions. The wish of the Reich Marshal to have a draft sent to him concerning organisational, factual and material interests in relation to the Final Solution of the Jewish question in Europe makes necessary an initial common action of all central offices immediately concerned with these questions in order to bring their general activities into line. The Reichsführer-SS and the Chief of the German Police (Chief of the Security Police and the SD) was entrusted with the official central handling of the Final Solution of the Jewish question without regard to geographic borders. The Chief of the Security Police and the SD then gave a short report of the struggle which has been carried on thus far against this enemy, the essential points being the following:

a) The expulsion of the Jews from every sphere of life of the German people,

b) The expulsion of the Jews from the living space of the German people.

In carrying out these efforts, an increased and planned acceleration of the emigration of the Jews from Reich territory was started, as the only possible present solution.

By order of the Reich Marshal, a Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration was set up in January 1939 and the Chief of the Security Police and SD was entrusted with the management. Its most important tasks were

a) To make all necessary arrangements for the preparation for an increased emigration of the Jews,

b) To direct the flow of emigration,

c) To speed the procedure of emigration in each individual case.

The aim of all this was to cleanse German living space of Jews in a legal manner.

All the offices realised the drawbacks of such enforced accelerated emigration. For the time being they had, however, tolerated it on account of the lack of other possible solutions of the problem.

The work concerned with emigration was, later on, not only a German problem, but also a problem with which the authorities of the countries to which the flow of emigrants was being directed would have to deal. Financial difficulties, such as the demand by various foreign governments for increasing sums of money to be presented at the time of the landing, the lack of shipping space, increasing restriction of entry permits, or the cancelling of such, increased extraordinarily the difficulties of emigration. In spite of these difficulties, 537,000 Jews were sent out of the country between the takeover of power and the deadline of 31 October 1941.

 

Of these:

Approximately 360,000 were in Germany proper on 30 January 1933

Approximately 147,000 were in Austria (Ostmark) on 15 March 1939

Approximately 30,000 were in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia on 15 March 1939.

 

The Jews themselves, or their Jewish political organisations, financed the emigration. In order to avoid impoverished Jews’ remaining behind, the principle was followed that wealthy Jews have to finance the emigration of poor Jews; this was arranged by imposing a suitable tax, i.e., an emigration tax, which was used for financial arrangements in connection with the emigration of poor Jews and was imposed according to income.

Apart from the necessary Reichsmark exchange, foreign currency had to presented at the time of landing. In order to save foreign exchange held by Germany, the foreign Jewish financial organisations were – with the help of Jewish organisations in Germany – made responsible for arranging an adequate amount of foreign currency. Up to 30 October 1941, these foreign Jews donated a total of around 9,500,000 dollars.

In the meantime the Reichsführer-SS and Chief of the German Police had prohibited emigration of Jews due to the dangers of an emigration in wartime and due to the possibilities of the East.

Another possible solution of the problem has now taken the place of emigration, i.e. the evacuation of the Jews to the East, provided that the Führer gives the appropriate approval in advance.

These actions are, however, only to be considered provisional, but practical experience is already being collected which is of the greatest importance in relation to the future Final Solution of the Jewish question.

Approximately 11 million Jews will be involved in the Final Solution of the European Jewish question, distributed as follows among the individual countries:

Germany proper: 131,800

Austria: 43,700

Eastern territories: 420,000

General Government: 2,284,000

Bialystok: 400,000

Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia: 74,200

Estonia: “Free of Jews”

Latvia: 3,500

Lithuania: 34,000

Belgium: 43,000

Denmark: 5,600

France / occupied territory: 165,000

France / Vichy government: 700,000

Greece: 69,600

Netherlands: 160,800

Norway: 1,300

Bulgaria: 48,000

UK: 330,000

Finland: 2,300

Ireland: 4,000

Italy including Sardinia: 58,000

Albania: 200

Croatia: 40,000

Portugal: 3,000

Romania including Bessarabia: 342,000

Sweden: 8,000

Switzerland: 18,000

Serbia: 10,000

Slovakia: 88,000

Spain: 6,000

Turkey (European portion): 55,500

Hungary: 742,800

USSR: 5,000,000

Ukraine: 2,994,684

White Russia, excluding Bialystok: 446,484

Total: Over 11,000,000

 

The number of Jews given here for foreign countries includes, however, only those Jews who still adhere to the Jewish faith, since some countries still do not have a definition of the term “Jew” according to racial principles.

The handling of the problem in the individual countries will meet with difficulties due to the attitude and outlook of the people there, especially in Hungary and Romania. Thus, for example, even today the Jew can buy documents in Romania that will officially prove his foreign citizenship.

The influence of the Jews in all walks of life in the USSR is well known. Approximately five million Jews live in the European part of the USSR, in the Asian part scarcely 1/4 million.

 

The breakdown of Jews residing in the European part of the USSR according to trades was approximately as follows:

Agriculture: 9.1 %

Urban workers: 14.8 %

In trade: 20.0 %

Employed by the state: 23.4 %

In private occupations such as medical profession, press, theatre, etc.: 32. 7%

 

Under proper guidance, in the course of the Final Solution the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labour in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes.

The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as a the seed of a new Jewish revival (see the experience of history).

In the course of the practical execution of the Final Solution, Europe will be combed through from west to east. Germany proper, including the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, will have to be handled first due to the housing problem and additional social and political necessities.

The evacuated Jews will first be sent, group by group, to so-called transit ghettos, from which they will be transported to the East.

SS-Lieutenant General Heydrich went on to say that an important prerequisite for the evacuation as such is the exact definition of the persons involved.

It is not intended to evacuate Jews over 65 years old, but to send them to an old-age ghetto – Theresienstadt is being considered for this purpose.

In addition to these age groups – of the approximately 280,000 Jews in Germany proper and Austria on 31 October 1941, approximately 30% are over 65 years old – severely wounded veterans and Jews with war decorations (Iron Cross I) will be accepted in the old-age ghettos. With this expedient solution, in one fell swoop many interventions will be prevented.

The beginning of the individual larger evacuation actions will largely depend on military developments. Regarding the handling of the Final Solution in those European countries occupied and influenced by us, it was proposed that the appropriate expert of the Foreign Office discuss the matter with the responsible official of the Security Police and SD.

In Slovakia and Croatia the matter is no longer so difficult, since the most substantial problems in this respect have already been brought near a solution. In Romania the government has in the meantime also appointed a commissioner for Jewish affairs. In order to settle the question in Hungary, it will soon be necessary to force an adviser for Jewish questions onto the Hungarian government.

With regard to taking up preparations for dealing with the problem in Italy, SS-Lieutenant General Heydrich considers it opportune to contact the chief of police with a view to these problems.

In occupied and unoccupied France, the registration of Jews for evacuation will in all probability proceed without great difficulty.

Under Secretary of State Luther calls attention in this matter to the fact that in some countries, such as the Scandinavian states, difficulties will arise if this problem is dealt with thoroughly and that it will therefore be advisable to defer actions in these countries. Besides, in view of the small numbers of Jews affected, this deferral will not cause any substantial limitation.

The Foreign Office sees no great difficulties for southeast and western Europe.

SS-Lieutenant General Hofmann plans to send an expert to Hungary from the Race and Settlement Main Office for general orientation at the time when the Chief of the Security Police and SD takes up the matter there. It was decided to assign this expert from the Race and Settlement Main Office, who will not work actively, as an assistant to the police attaché.

In the course of the Final Solution plans, the Nuremberg Laws should provide a certain foundation, in which a prerequisite for the absolute solution of the problem is also the solution to the problem of mixed marriages and persons of mixed blood.

 

The Chief of the Security Police and the SD discusses the following points, at first theoretically, in regard to a letter from the chief of the Reich chancellery:

1) Treatment of Persons of Mixed Blood of the First Degree

Persons of mixed blood of the first degree will, as regards the Final Solution of the Jewish question, be treated as Jews.

From this treatment the following exceptions will be made:

  1. a) Persons of mixed blood of the first degree married to persons of German blood if their marriage has resulted in children (persons of mixed blood of the second degree). These persons of mixed blood of the second degree are to be treated essentially as Germans.
  2. b) Persons of mixed blood of the first degree, for whom the highest offices of the Party and State have already issued exemption permits in any sphere of life. Each individual case must be examined, and it is not ruled out that the decision may be made to the detriment of the person of mixed blood.

The prerequisite for any exemption must always be the personal merit of the person of mixed blood. (Not the merit of the parent or spouse of German blood.)

Persons of mixed blood of the first degree who are exempted from evacuation will be sterilised in order to prevent any offspring and to eliminate the problem of persons of mixed blood once and for all. Such sterilisation will be voluntary. But it is required to remain in the Reich. The sterilised “person of mixed blood” is thereafter free of all restrictions to which he was previously subjected.

 

2) Treatment of Persons of Mixed Blood of the Second Degree

Persons of mixed blood of the second degree will be treated fundamentally as persons of German blood, with the exception of the following cases, in which the persons of mixed blood of the second degree will be considered as Jews:

a) The person of mixed blood of the second degree was born of a marriage in which both parents are persons of mixed blood.

b) The person of mixed blood of the second degree has a racially especially undesirable appearance that marks him outwardly as a Jew.

c) The person of mixed blood of the second degree has a particularly bad police and political record that shows that he feels and behaves like a Jew.

Also in these cases exemptions should not be made if the person of mixed blood of the second degree has married a person of German blood.

 

3) Marriages between Full Jews and Persons of German Blood.

Here it must be decided from case to case whether the Jewish partner will be evacuated or whether, with regard to the effects of such a step on the German relatives, [this mixed marriage] should be sent to an old-age ghetto.

 

4) Marriages between Persons of Mixed Blood of the First Degree and Persons of German Blood.

a) Without Children.

If no children have resulted from the marriage, the person of mixed blood of the first degree will be evacuated or sent to an old-age ghetto (same treatment as in the case of marriages between full Jews and persons of German blood, point 3.)

b) With Children.

If children have resulted from the marriage (persons of mixed blood of the second degree), they will, if they are to be treated as Jews, be evacuated or sent to a ghetto along with the parent of mixed blood of the first degree. If these children are to be treated as Germans (regular cases), they are exempted from evacuation as is therefore the parent of mixed blood of the first degree.

 

5) Marriages between Persons of Mixed Blood of the First Degree and Persons of Mixed Blood of the First Degree or Jews.

In these marriages (including the children) all members of the family will be treated as Jews and therefore be evacuated or sent to an old-age ghetto.

 

6) Marriages between Persons of Mixed Blood of the First Degree and Persons of Mixed Blood of the Second Degree.

In these marriages both partners will be evacuated or sent to an old-age ghetto without consideration of whether the marriage has produced children, since possible children will as a rule have stronger Jewish blood than the Jewish person of mixed blood of the second degree.

 

SS-Lieutenant General Hofmann advocates the opinion that sterilisation will have to be widely used, since the person of mixed blood who is given the choice whether he will be evacuated or sterilised would rather undergo sterilisation.

State Secretary Dr. Stuckart maintains that carrying out in practice of the just mentioned possibilities for solving the problem of mixed marriages and persons of mixed blood will create endless administrative work. In the second place, as the biological facts cannot be disregarded in any case, State Secretary Dr. Stuckart proposed proceeding to forced sterilisation.

Furthermore, to simplify the problem of mixed marriages possibilities must be considered with the goal of the legislator saying something like: “These marriages have been dissolved.”

With regard to the issue of the effect of the evacuation of Jews on the economy, State Secretary Neumann stated that Jews who are working in industries vital to the war effort, provided that no replacements are available, cannot be evacuated.

SS-Lieutenant General Heydrich indicated that these Jews would not be evacuated according to the rules he had approved for carrying out the evacuations then underway.

State Secretary Dr. Bühler stated that the General Government would welcome it if the Final Solution of this problem could be begun in the General Government, since on the one hand transportation does not play such a large role here nor would problems of labour supply hamper this action. Jews must be removed from the territory of the General Government as quickly as possible, since it is especially here that the Jew as an epidemic carrier represents an extreme danger and on the other hand he is causing permanent chaos in the economic structure of the country through continued black market dealings. Moreover, of the approximately 2 1/2 million Jews concerned, the majority is unfit for work.

State Secretary Dr. Bühler stated further that the solution to the Jewish question in the General Government is the responsibility of the Chief of the Security Police and the SD and that his efforts would be supported by the officials of the General Government. He had only one request, to solve the Jewish question in this area as quickly as possible.

In conclusion the different types of possible solutions were discussed, during which discussion both Gauleiter Dr. Meyer and State Secretary Dr. Bühler took the position that certain preparatory activities for the Final Solution should be carried out immediately in the territories in question, in which process alarming the populace must be avoided.

The meeting was closed with the request of the Chief of the Security Police and the SD to the participants that they afford him appropriate support during the carrying out of the tasks involved in the solution.

 

*The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was a Czech satellite state of Germany. Heydrich, as Protector, served as head of state

**The General Government was the Nazi government of those parts of Poland not directly annexed by either Germany or the Soviet Union in 1939

***SD stands for Sicherheitsdienst. It was the intelligence wing of the SS during the Second World War.

Featured image: The villa at 56-58 Am Grossen Wannsee where the Conference was held. It is now a museum and memorial

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