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On 20 January 1942, SS-Obergruppenführer - SS-Lt. General Reinhard Heydrich, second in command to Heinrich Himmler in the SS, convened the Wannsee Conference at this villa in Berlin with 14 top Nazi bureaucrats to coordinate the Endlösung - Final Solution in which the Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe, an estimated 11 million persons, and almost succeeded. The meeting was named after this villa on Grossen Wannsee 56/58 near Belin. The minutes of this conference, written by Adolf Eichmann, were found in 1947 in the files of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The evening prior to the conference, the Head of the RSHA, SS-Obergruppenführer - SS Lt. General Reinhard Heydrich, presented the following document to Reichsmarschall - Marshall Hermann Göring for his approval and signature:
On the evening of July 31, 1941, the head of the RSHA, SS-Gruppenführer - SS-Lt. General Reinhard Heydrich, presented the following document to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring for his signature:
Reichsmarschall of the Großdeutsches Reich Berlin, July 31, 1941 Plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan
Chairman of the Ministerial Council for Defense of the Reich
To the Head of the Security Police and SD,
SS-Gruppenführer SS-Major General Heydrich
Supplementary to the task entrusted to you by the decree of January 24, 1939, to solve the Jewish question under the prevailing circumstances by emigration or evacuation in the most favorable way possible, I herewith commission you to carry out all necessary preparations in regard to organizational, practical and material matters for a Gesamtlösung der Judenfrage - total solution of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence within Europe. Inasmuch as the competence of other central organizations will hereby be affected, they are to be included.
I further commission you to submit to my office in the near future an overall plan that shows the preliminary organizational, practical and material measures requisite for the implementation of the projected Endlösung der Judenfrage - final solution of the Jewish question.
(handwritten signature) Göring
Hermann Göring, the Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, President of the Reichstag, Prime Minister of Prussia, and last but not least the designated second in command in the National Socialist hierarchy. Adolf Hitler had granted him an extensive degree of power which included the coordination of all anti-Jewish measures. As a result, on January 20, 1942, a meeting took place which was attended by fifteen high-ranking Nazi party officials and German government leaders. They met in Berlin at a villa on lake Wannsee which gave this most appalling meeting the name, Wannsee Konferenze - Wannsee conference.
Reinhard Heydrich, who was SS chief Heinrich Himmler's head deputy, held the meeting for the purpose of discussing the "final solution to the Jewish question in Europe" with key non-SS government leaders, including the secretaries of the Foreign Ministry and Justice, whose cooperation was needed. Final Solution was the code name the Nazis gave to their carefully planned destruction of all European Jews, known as the Holocaust. The unclear term "final solution" was used to hide their intent of mass murder. But in fact, Heidrich and Eichmann talked about methods of killing, about liquidation, about extermination, while the others just listened. Most, but not all, understood. Yet all gave their consent.
It must be noted that mobile killing squads were already slaughtering Jews in the occupied Soviet Union by the hundreds of thousands. The Wannsee Conference was the place where the final solution was formally revealed to non-Nazi leaders who were expected to help, and arrange for Jews to be transported from all over German-occupied Europe to SS-operated "extermination" camps in Poland. This is the first time in the history of man that a modern state committed itself to the murder of an entire people.
Pictured are the 15 men who attended the Wannsee Conference. The Head of the Security Police and SD, SS Gruppenführer Heydrich, SS Obersturmbannführer Colonel Adolf Eichmann, Gauleiter Dr. Alfred Meyer, Reichsamtleiter Dr. Georg Leibbrandt, Secretary of State Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, Secretary of State Erich Neumann, Secretary of State Dr. Roland Freisler, Secretary of State Dr. Josef Bühler, Under Secretary of State Dr. Martin Luther, SS-Oberführer Gerhard Klopfer, Ministerialdirektor Friedrich Kritzinger, SS-Gruppenführer Otto Hofmann, SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Mueller, SS- Oberführer Dr. Karl Schoengarth and SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Rudolf Lange.
An earlier idea to have all the European Jews deported to the is- land of Madagascar was abandoned as impractical in wartime. Instead, the newly planned Final Solution would entail the rounding up of all Jews throughout Europe. They would be transported eastward and organized into labor gangs. Work and living conditions would be extremely harsh as to kill large numbers by natural reduction. Any survivors would be treated accordingly. Treated accordingly was euphemism for extermination. The final protocol of the Wannsee Conference never explicitly mentioned extermination, but within a few months after the meeting, the first gas chambers were installed in some of the extermination camps in Poland. These six camps, Belzec, Birkenau, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka were in operation in Poland. Responsibility for the entire project was placed in the hands of Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-SS, and head of the Gestapo and the Waffen-SS.