The Wannsee conference

Question:

The Wannsee Conference was, I recall, originally scheduled for December 1941, and I have read that it was postponed 'til 1/42 because of Pearl Harbor/entry of U.S into the war. Question: if correct that Wannsee was first scheduled for December 1941, when did that scheduling occur?--i.e., when were, e.g., invitations to attend the 12/41 meeting extended to the various ministries that did attend, finally, in January? ( Or, perhaps, the Conference was postponed because the extermination decision, if made in 12/41 as suggested by McFee's essay, changed the focus of the meeting from evacuation to elimination and necessitated a postponement to plan for that difference?)

Gordon McFee answers:

On the first point, you are right that the Wannsee Conference was originally scheduled for December 1941, December 9, 1941 to be precise. Reinhard Heydrich had sent the invitations to the Wannsee Conference on November 29 and had set the date of the conference for December 9. On December 8, he postponed it for an unspecified time. Only a month later, the new invitations went out -- for January 20, 1942.

There is not unanimity on why the date was changed, but it is starting to clarify itself. The common position is that the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war by Germany against the United States are the main reasons. But that does not satisfactorily explain why Wannsee would have been postponed. The invitees to Wannsee were second-level bureaucrats and it is hard to believe that the declaration of war would have prevented those people from attending a conference on a question as fundamental as the Jewish question. Gerald Fleming posits that one reason might have been that one of the invitees - SS-Sturmbannführer [Major] Dr Rudolf Lange was unable to attend because he was involved in the exterminations at Riga of December 8, 1941.

A German historian, Christian Gerlach, adds another element to this. He believes, and has convincing proof for the theory, that Wannsee was postponed because only on December 12, 1941 did Hitler announce his fundamental decision to exterminate all European Jews. He has found proof of a meeting in the Reich chancellery of December 12, 1941 in which the decision was announced. Diary entries from Goebbels and Hans Frank (Goebbels on December 12, Frank on December 16) report the decision. According to Goebbels:

In respect of the Jewish question, the Führer has decided to make a clean sweep. The world war is here, the annihilation of the Jews must be the necessary result. This question is to be regarded without sentimentalism. We are not here to have sympathy with the Jews, but rather with our German people. If the German people have sacrificed 160,000 dead in the eastern campaign, so the authors of this bloody conflict will have to pay for it with their lives.

Interesting that this follows on the declaration of war against the United States, at which time it can be argued that Germany now has the world war Hitler prophesied in his January 1939 speech to the Reichstag, where he said another world war would lead to the "annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe". Hope this is of use to you, and please be on the lookout for an article by German writer Götz Aly on this subject, soon to be posted on the Holocaust History Project.

-- Gord McFee

Question:

I am looking for a copy of the original document adopted by the Wannsee Conference, which lists different countries and the number of Jews in each and the total of 11 million Jews to be "exterminated". The document I am looking for is in German. I need a clean copy of it. Where can I find it?

Thanks for your help!

Andrew E. Mathis, PhD. responds:

Hello. I am a volunteer for the Holocaust History Project.

The Nizkor project (http://www.nizkor.org/) has the entire original document scanned and can be found in this directory:

http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/places/germany/wannsee/images/

Other volunteers may provide alternate sources of images of the document.

Best wishes,

Andrew E. Mathis, Ph.D.

back to the list of questions