Our Say

80 years since Wannsee

It is 80 years since the Wannsee Conference and as history (and present day) has shown, the toxin hasn't vanished completely.

The villa at Wannsee in Berlin where plans for the Final Solution were drawn up.
The villa at Wannsee in Berlin where plans for the Final Solution were drawn up.

On a winter’s day 80 years ago, a gathering of grey Nazi officialdom assembled at a villa in Wannsee, an opulent suburb in Berlin’s west, to plan dispassionately and meticulously the annihilation of European Jewry.

Had such lines been written any time before January 20, 1942, the date of the demonic Wannsee Conference, they would have been dismissed as the blather of a third-rate horror fiction writer.

What warped mind could conceive of a blueprint devoting the full spectrum of a modern industrial nation’s resources to the mass-extermination of a people?

But on that dark day, with hundreds of thousands of Jews in countries under Nazi occupation already shot to death or gassed in mobile units, the stuff of the ultimate nightmare – industrialised genocide – became a 15-page strategic plan, the Wannsee Protocol, the “final solution to the Jewish question in Europe”, devised over dinner and cognac.

The senior Nazis who took part in the Wannsee Conference. Photo: Twitter

By January 27, 1945, when the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau were finally flung open, with other death camps later liberated, and mountains of corpses featuring on cinema newsreels, the Wannsee Protocol had been almost two thirds implemented.

Some six million Jews had been murdered.

For eight decades, religious leaders, philosophers, sociologists and historians have grappled with this statistic. Its shadow darkens our horizons. Some of us were driven to madness by it. None will ever really understand it.

But we do know Hitler and his thugs did not arrive in a spaceship. They were very much of this world. Nor was Wannsee their opening gambit. By the time the 15 high officials at Wannsee had hatched their Final Solution, the corrosive propaganda portraying Jews as pernicious and less than human had been circulating for almost a decade. Overlaid on two millennia of festering European antisemitism, the Nazi message had carefully taught Germans the modern iteration of racial and religious hatred.

From there, it was only a few years to segregation laws, the wholesale theft of Jewish assets, then mass-deportation and finally extermination.

We know the toxin hasn’t vanished completely.

From the Munich Massacre to Buenos Aires, from Pittsburgh to Colleyville only last Shabbat, antisemitic terror – perpetrated against Jews in Israel, in Texas or in Paris – is an ever-present peril.

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