It was a conference of 15 high ranking Nazis, lasting only an hour and a half. But it was a meeting that sealed the fate of millions of Jews in Europe who were enduring Nazi occupation. Reinhard Heydrich, second in command of the SS, convened the conference on January 20, 1942 at a palatial villa at 56-58 Am Grossen Wannsee (a suburb of Berlin).
The Nazis had been marking out Jews for special persecution and indescriminate killing since 1933. When they invaded Poland in 1939 they began cordoning off Jews into ghettos to starve them to death. Some Nazis were interested in deporting all of Europe’s Jews to a remote place, like Madagascar. However, with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941, the Nazis shifted from deportation to extermination.
On July 31, 1941, Herman Goring (second in command under Hitler) gave orders to Heydrich to draw up plans “for the final solution of the Jewish question”. The plan was to deport all 11 million of Europe’s Jews to special camps in Poland, and murder them all.
The German Wermacht in Russia had been systematically gunning down all Jews whenever they would overrun Jewish villages (look up the Nazi massacre at Baba Yar), but they had not yet turned their murder into a full scale, coordinated, industrialized mass murder. The extermination camp system set up by Heydrich insured that an industrial, highly technical , assembly-line form of murder would take over.
The Wannsee Conference did not bring up anything new. They plans had already been drawn up. The conference was merely to ensure that there would be the full cooperation of government and industry, run entirely by the SS.
At the close of the meeting, all the Nazis were served cognac and sherry. They sipped sherry while contemplating the murder of millions…