Review of Wannsee: The Road to the Final Solution

      German historian Dr. Peter Longerich’s latest book Wannsee: The Road to the Final Solution documents the alleged importance of the Wannsee Conference held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on January 20, 1942. Longerich writes:

      Today the minutes of the Wannsee Conference are seen as synonymous with the coldblooded, bureaucratically organized, and industrialized mass murder of the European Jews, as an almost unfathomable document capturing how the Nazi system’s ideologically driven impulse to destroy was translated on the orders of the regime’s highest authority into state action and mercilessly executed…The minutes are unique because, more than any other document, they demonstrate with total clarity the decision-making process that led to the murder of the European Jews.[1]   

      This article discusses whether these minutes actually document “with total clarity” the decision-making process that led to the so-called Holocaust.

Historical Background

1961 edition

      Originally the Holocaust story assumed that Germany had a plan or program for exterminating European Jewry. In the 1961 edition of his book The Destruction of European Jews, Raul Hilberg wrote that in 1941 Hitler issued two orders for the extermination of the Jews.[2] However, even though the Allies captured most of Germany’s government and concentration camp records intact, no order or plan has ever been found to exterminate European Jewry.

      In the revised 1985 edition of Hilberg’s book, all references to such extermination orders from Hitler were removed. American historian Christopher Browning, in a review of the revised edition of The Destruction of European Jews, wrote: “In the new edition, all references in the text to a Hitler decision or Hitler order for the ‘Final Solution’ have been systematically excised. Buried at the bottom of a single footnote stands the solitary reference: ‘Chronology and circumstances point to a Hitler decision before the summer ended.’ In Hilberg’s new edition, decisions and orders from Hitler are not documented.”[3]

1985 edition

      When asked in 1983 how the extermination of European Jewry took place without an order, Hilberg replied:

      What began in 1941 was a process of destruction not planned in advance, not organized centrally by any agency. There was no blueprint and there was no budget for destructive measures. They were taken step by step, one step at a time. Thus, came about not so much a plan being carried out, but an incredible meeting of minds, a consensus–mind reading by a far-flung bureaucracy.[4]

      On January 16, 1985, under cross-examination at the first Ernst Zündel trial in Toronto, Raul Hilberg confirmed that he said these words.[5] Thus, Hilberg stated that the genocide of European Jewry was not carried out by a plan or order, but rather by an incredible mind reading among far-flung German bureaucrats.

      Other historians have acknowledged that no document of a plan by Germany to exterminate European Jewry has ever been found. In his well-known book on the Holocaust, French-Jewish historian Leon Poliakov stated that “…the campaign to exterminate the Jews, as regards its conception as well as many other essential aspects, remains shrouded in darkness.” Poliakov added that no documents of a plan for exterminating the Jews have ever been found because “perhaps none ever existed.”[6] British historian Ian Kershaw states that when the Soviet archives were opened in the early 1990s: “Predictably, a written order by Hitler for the ‘Final Solution’ was not found. The presumption that a single, explicit written order had ever been given had long been dismissed by most historians.”[7]

      Many defenders of the Holocaust story claim that the Wannsee Conference was the start of a program to systematically exterminate Europe’s Jews. Especially since there is no explicit written order to exterminate European Jewry, the Wannsee Conference has become extremely important in the attempt by establishment historians to document a German program of genocide against Europe’s Jews.

      However, even many Jewish historians acknowledge that this conference does not prove that an extermination program existed. Instead, the German policy was to evacuate the Jews to the East. For example, Israeli “Holocaust” historian Yehuda Bauer has declared, “The public still repeats, time after time, the silly story that at Wannsee the extermination of the Jews was arrived at.” Bauer further said that Wannsee was a meeting but “hardly a conference,” and “little of what was said there was executed in detail.”[8]

      Likewise, Israeli “Holocaust” historian Leni Yahil has stated in regard to the Wannsee Conference, “It is often assumed that the decision to launch the Final Solution was taken on this occasion, but this is not so.”[9]

The Wannsee Conference

      Reinhard Heydrich sent an invitation on November 29, 1941, to various German leaders to attend a meeting designed to make all necessary organizational, practical and material preparations for a total solution to the Jewish question in Europe. The meeting was originally intended to take place on December 9, 1941. However, events in the war forced Heydrich to postpone this meeting on short notice to January 20, 1942.[10]

      The 15 men who attended the Wannsee Conference included 10 university graduates, nine of them qualified lawyers, eight of whom had a doctorate.[11] Longerich divides the participants in the Wannsee Conference into three categories: 1) representatives of the (mostly state) “central authorities” in the Reich; 2) representatives of the civil occupation authorities (General Government and Ministry for the East); and 3) SS functionaries representing either SS head offices or branch offices in the occupied territories.[12]

      The members of this first group—the representatives of the “central authorities”—were mainly both highly qualified top civil servants and longstanding and active National Socialists.                    

This group included Martin Luther, the undersecretary and head of the Germany desk at the Foreign Ministry; State Secretary Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, who represented the Ministry of the Interior; Erich Neumann, state secretary in the office for the Four-Year Plan; State Secretary Dr. Roland Freisler of the Justice Ministry; and Ministerial Director Friedrich Kritzinger of the Reich Chancellery.[13]

      The second group of institutions represented at the Wannsee Conference consisted of representatives of the civil occupation authorities in Poland and the Soviet Union. The Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories under Alfred Rosenberg was responsible for the Soviet Union. It was represented at the conference by Rosenberg’s permanent deputy, Dr. Alfred Meyer, and by Dr. Georg Leibbrandt, head of the Main Department I (Political) in the Ministry for the East. State Secretary Dr. Josef Bühler represented the General Government of Poland at the conference.[14]

      The third group at the Wannsee Conference consisted mostly of a series of high-ranking SS men. This group included Reinhard Heydrich, who had called the meeting and was head of the RSHA, which brought together the Gestapo, the Criminal Police, foreign espionage and the Security Service. Also included were Otto Hofmann, head of the Race and Settlement Main Office; Adolf Eichmann and Heinrich Müller as representatives of the RSHA; Dr. Karl Georg Eberhard Schöngarth, commander of the Security Police in the General Government; Dr. Rudolf Lange, commander of the Security Police and Security Service in Latvia, and Dr. Gerhard Klopher, State Secretary from the Party Chancellery.[15]    

      Heydrich informed Heinrich Himmler by telephone the day after the Wannsee Conference of the meeting’s most important outcomes. He also sent letters a few days later to various German officials emphasizing his commitment to carrying out the tasks assigned to him without further delay.[16]

The Minutes

      Adolf Eichmann allegedly took minutes of the meeting at the Wannsee Conference which were later approved by Reinhard Heydrich. Of the original 30 copies of these minutes, only copy number 16 has been found. This copy, which was discovered by the Allies in March 1947 during their search of German documents, was submitted into evidence at the so-called Wilhelmstrasse Trial. The minutes of this meeting consist of 15 pages summarizing what was said at the conference and, therefore, are not a transcript. According to Eichmann, the meeting lasted only an hour to an hour and a half.[17]

      Longerich writes: “We should base our reading of the ‘minutes’ on the assumption that they are not a direct reproduction of what was said but a document summarizing the main lines of discussion and decisions reached from the standpoint of the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA).” He also states that it is unclear whether the underlinings visible in the typescript are the work of the recipient of the minutes, or were added after 1945.[18]  

      The minutes of the Wannsee Conference do not mention anything about an extermination program against Jews. Instead, the objective was to exclude Jews from a) every sphere of German life and b) from the German nation’s living space. The minutes state: “As the only feasible temporary measure to achieve these goals, Jewish emigration from the Reich territory was being further accelerated and pursued methodically.”[19] The German policy was to evacuate Jews to the East—not to exterminate them.

      Nowhere in the Wannsee minutes is the genocide of Jews discussed or planned. There is no talk of establishing extermination camps or allocating financial resources and construction material to build the extermination camps. The Wannsee minutes never mention gas chambers, gas vans, shootings or any of the other similar genocidal claims made after the war. The Wannsee minutes also make allowance for specific exceptions to Jewish evacuation. These exceptions included severely disabled Jewish German World War I veterans, Jews with war decorations (Iron Cross First Class), and all Jews over the age of 65. These Jews were to be sent to Jewish old people’s ghettos such as Theresienstadt.[20]

      British historian David Irving was asked by the prosecuting attorney at the 1988 Ernst Zündel trial if he thought the Wannsee Conference was a conference to discuss the extermination of European Jews. Irving testified:

      There is no explicit reference to extermination of the Jews of Europe in the Wannsee Conference and more important, not in any of the other documents in that file. We cannot take documents out of context…In my opinion, it has been inflated to that importance by irresponsible historians who probably haven’t read the document.[21]

      German judge Dr. Wilhelm Stäglich also questioned the authenticity of the minutes to the Wannsee Conference. Stäglich noted that these minutes bear no official imprint, no date, no signature, and were written with an ordinary typewriter on small sheets of paper. Stäglich wrote:

      What strikes one first about the document, as reproduced there, is indeed that it does not bear the name of an agency, nor the serial number under which an official record of the proceedings would have been kept by the agency that initiated them. That is totally out of keeping with official usage, and is all the more incomprehensible because it is stamped “Geheime Reichssache” (“Top Secret”). One can only say that any “official record” of governmental business without a file number or even administrative identification—especially a document classified “Top Secret”—must be regarded with the utmost skepticism

      While it remains to be seen whether the document is entirely a forgery, I am convinced that segments of certain paragraphs were either subsequently added, deleted, or altered to suit the purposes of the Nuremberg trials and the kind of “historiography” that followed in their footsteps.[22]

Extermination Through Work  

      Longerich uses the following two paragraphs from the Wannsee minutes to attempt to prove a German program of extermination against European Jewry:

      As part of the final solution the Jews are now to be deployed for labor in the East in an appropriate manner and under suitable supervision. Jews fit for work will be taken to these territories in large work gangs. Men and women will be segregated and made to construct roads, in the course of which the majority will doubtless succumb to natural wastage.

      The remaining Jews who survive, doubtless the toughest among them, will have to be dealt with accordingly, for, being a natural selection, they would, if released, be the germ cell for a new Jewish regeneration (see the experience of history).[23]

      Longerich writes that the term “natural wastage” in this passage means death on a massive scale as a result of inhumane working conditions. He writes that not only would those who survived forced labor be murdered in an unspecified manner, but the rest of the Jews not fit for work—in other words, the women and children—would not escape this mass murder. Longerich further states that the segregation of men and women was designed to prevent any future progeny.[24]

      These are the only two ambivalent paragraphs in the Wannsee minutes, which orthodox historians such as Longerich cling to. Germar Rudolf writes about these two paragraphs:

      But read it thoroughly once more: the remnant is the result of a “natural” selection at the end of this forced-labor project during the course of this forced migration to the east. Nothing is said here about any murder during that process. Only when this project is over, and possibly after the end of the war, the question of some kind of “special treatment” arises. How that would look is not dealt with in that Protocol, for that was obviously an issue of the distant future.[25]

      Rudolf writes that it is not true that the National-Socialist regime was fundamentally opposed to a Jewish revival. In fact, prior to the outbreak of war with the Soviet Union, numerous projects existed in Germany which were designed to facilitate a new beginning for Jews after they had emigrated from the German sphere of influence. Documents also exist which indicate that it was planned after the war to get the Jews out of Europe for a new beginning. This makes sense only if the Jews who survived forced labor were still alive at war’s end.[26]

      Dr. Wilhelm Stäglich questioned the authenticity of these two paragraphs in the Wannsee minutes. Stäglich wrote:

      With the exception of the initial sentence of the first paragraph, these two paragraphs do not fit into the framework of the document, and that quite apart from the obscurity of the second paragraph, which for the record of such an important conference is unusual, to say the least…

      [T]here can be no mistaking the incompatibility of these two paragraphs with the rest of the document. Hence it is not at all surprising that they should be quoted out of context. Only by means of such devices can critical readers be deceived about the actual content of the “Wannsee Protocol.” The need for them bespeaks great laxity on the part of the forgers. They simply were not careful enough to bring their forgeries in line with the rest of the text.[27]

Conclusion

      Peter Longerich writes that the surviving Wannsee minutes record that the aim of the conference was to discuss precisely who was to be targeted and how to deport a total of 11 million people, subject them to extremely harsh forced labor, and kill anyone who survived or was no longer capable of work by some other method.[28] In reality, the genocide of European Jewry was not discussed at the Wannsee Conference. Longerich’s book Wannsee: The Road to the Final Solution adds no new information concerning the Wannsee Conference, and fails to document a German program of genocide against European Jewry.                                                

Endnotes


[1] Longerich, Peter, Wannsee: The Road to the Final Solution, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2021, p. 2.

[2] Hilberg, Raul, The Destruction of European Jews, New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

[3] The Revised Hilberg, Simon Wiesenthal Annual, Vol. 3, 1986, p. 294.

[4] De Wan, George, “The Holocaust in Perspective,” Newsday: Long Island, N.Y., Feb. 23, 1983, Part II, p. 3.

[5] See trial transcript, pp. 846-848. Also, Kulaszka, Barbara, (ed.), Did Six Million Really Die: Report of Evidence in the Canadian “False News” Trial of Ernst Zündel, Toronto: Samisdat Publishers Ltd., 1992, p. 24.

[6] Poliakov, Leon, Harvest of Hate, New York: Holocaust Library, 1979, p. 108.

[7] Kershaw, Ian, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2008, p. 96.

[8] The Canadian Jewish News, Toronto, Jan. 30, 1992, p. 8. See also https://www.jta.org/archive/nazi-scheme-not-born-at-wannsee-israeli-holocaust-scholar-claims.

[9] Yahil, Leni, The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 312.

[10] Longerich, Peter, Wannsee: The Road to the Final Solution, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2021, pp. 8-9, 35.

[11] Ibid., p. 2.

[12] Ibid., p. 39.

[13] Ibid., pp. 39-45.

[14] Ibid., pp. 48-51.

[15] Ibid., pp. 52-55, 103.

[16] Ibid., p. 85.

[17] Ibid., p. 59.

[18] Ibid., pp. 59, 61.

[19] Ibid., p. 62.

[20] Ibid., pp. 58-84.

[21] Kulaszka, Barbara, (ed.), Did Six Million Really Die: Report of Evidence in the Canadian “False News” Trial of Ernst Zündel, Toronto: Samisdat Publishers Ltd., 1992, p. 381.

[22] Stäglich, Wilhelm, Auschwitz: A Judge Looks at the Evidence, Institute for Historical Review, 1990, pp. 33-34.

[23] Longerich, Peter, Wannsee: The Road to the Final Solution, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2021, pp. 70, 72.

[24] Ibid., p. 69.

[25] Rudolf, Germar, Lectures on the Holocaust: Controversial Issues Cross-Examined, Uckfield, UK: Castle Hill Publishers, 2017, p. 128.

[26] Ibid., p. 129.

[27] Stäglich, Wilhelm, Auschwitz: A Judge Looks at the Evidence, Institute for Historical Review, 1990, pp. 36-37.

[28] Longerich, Peter, Wannsee: The Road to the Final Solution, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2021, p. 1.

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