Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: A Reconsideration
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Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: A Reconsideration

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by Mark Roseman

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On January 20, 1942, in a grand villa on the shore of Berlin's Lake Wannsee, a conference of Nazi officers produced a paper known as the "Wannsee Protocol," which laid the groundwork for a "final solution to the Jewish Question." This Protocol has always mystified us. How should we understand this calm, business-like discussion of holocaust? And why was the meeting


On January 20, 1942, in a grand villa on the shore of Berlin's Lake Wannsee, a conference of Nazi officers produced a paper known as the "Wannsee Protocol," which laid the groundwork for a "final solution to the Jewish Question." This Protocol has always mystified us. How should we understand this calm, business-like discussion of holocaust? And why was the meeting necessary? Hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been shot by squads in Russia or gassed in the camp at Chelmno. Mark Roseman seeks to unravel this double mystery and explain how it was that on a snowy day, fifteen well-educated young men met to talk murder.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Disturbing and thought-provoking...A riveting picture of genocide as afterthought, a bureaucratic codification that made up German minds predisposed to accept the decision.” —The News Journal (Delaware)

“Roseman sets out not to solve this mystery [of the Conference] so much as to anatomize it, to dissect the thinking of the key players and to present the central themes, ideas, and intentions of the day. He does so with the same determination and respect that he brought to A Past in Hiding.” —Los Angeles Times

“A cool, judicious, and well-informed guide to the meeting whose minutes were described by the war crimes prosecutors at Nuremberg as ‘perhaps the most shameful document in modern history.'” —Richard J. Evans, author of Lying About Hitler

Publishers Weekly
Although the publisher promises a "groundbreaking investigation," little if any new light is shed on the overture to the Holocaust by English historian Roseman (A Past in Hiding). The notorious 1942 meeting, in a villa in a posh Berlin suburb overlooking Lake Wannsee, reviewed, rather than approved, the "final solution of the Jewish question." Assent was a given. Heinrich Himmler's chief deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, chaired and dominated the conference, which dealt in coded euphemisms with the genocide already underway in occupied Poland and Russia. The protocol, or minutes, printed here as an appendix the most valuable part of this small book makes clear in a single sentence who bore authoritative responsibility: "Instead of emigration, the F hrer has now given his approval for a new kind of solution, the evacuation of the Jews to the East." All 15 participants understood what "evacuation" meant, says Roseman. Working Jews to death would not eliminate "the most resistant elements" in the "final remnant," Heydrich coldly told those present, for by "natural selection" these would "form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival." That line more than any other, Roseman feels, mandated the murders without exception. Beyond that, he wanders, page after page and often repetitiously, through the bureaucratic Nazi pseudo-legal arguments about how many Jewish grandparents made one a Jew and how to deal with mixed marriages. Even the absolutist Himmler complained, "We tie our hands with all these stupid definitions." As ultimate Nazi racial policy, the Wannsee minutes, despite chilling ambiguities, were a "rhetorical canopy" behind which Roseman sees Hitler's "licensing." (May 7) Forecast: Because the Wannsee conference has attained iconic status since the protocol was discovered in 1947, a book with Wannsee as its focus may draw many curious readers beyond history specialists. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In January 1942 a group of top Nazi officials met in a villa on the shore of Lake Wannsee, near Berlin, for the purpose of planning the "final solution" of the "Jewish question." This Wannsee Conference and the document emanating from it, the Wannsee Protocol, are usually regarded as the moment when German policy toward the Jews departed irretrievably from systematic persecution and deportation and turned toward a deliberate policy of genocide. Holocaust deniers and others sometimes contend that, because Hitler was not present at this meeting and because the genocidal nature of the Final Solution was not spelled out explicitly, somehow this means that there was no deliberate policy from the top of genocide against the Jews. In this short, well-reasoned book, Roseman (contemporary history, Univ. of Southampton; A Past in Hiding: Memory and Survival in Nazi Germany) presents a very clear exposition of the reasons behind the Wannsee meeting, what happened there, and its significance in the destruction of the Jews of Europe. Roseman's is the first thorough treatment in English devoted solely to this pivotal event. It should be in all four-year academic and larger public libraries. Libraries may also want to consider a chilling video reenactment, Heinz Schirk's The Wannsee Conference. Barbara Walden, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The historical roots of policies that led to the deaths of millions are traced in this thoughtful examination of the Nazis' businesslike planning of genocide at the notorious 1942 conference. But the path to Wannsee may have been less direct than is commonly thought, argues Roseman (History/Univ. of Southampton; A Past in Hiding, 2001). Although Adolf Hitler's violent anti-Semitic outpourings in Mein Kampf (1924) might suggest that the Nazi destruction of European Jewry was the culmination of a methodically blueprinted plan conceived long before the start of WWII, Roseman dismisses the book's talk of Jewish "extermination" as overheated rhetoric. Initially, he points out, Hitler encouraged Jewish emigration through terror and viciously discriminatory legal measures; later, the Führer discussed a possible Jewish colony in Africa. After the war began, the Nazis pursued a program of deporting German, Polish, and Soviet Jews that turned increasingly murderous and gradually widened under the pressures of total war into a policy of mass murder. By January 20, 1942, when police chief Reinhard Heydrich and his colleagues from a variety of Nazi agencies gathered at Wannsee, the decision had already been made, either by Hitler himself or by others with his knowledge, to pursue a "final solution" to "the Jewish question." The role of conference participants, Roseman speculates, was essentially "to listen and to nod" as Heydrich described a macabre plan to work Jews to death and kill off any survivors. Heydrich's principal goal, Roseman asserts, was to establish the primacy of his secret police over the Reich's Jewish policies and to ensure the complicity of other bureaucrats. Heydrich got much ofwhat he wanted; after the meeting he commenced implementing the horrific policy outlined at Wannsee, confident that other Nazis would give his agency a free hand. "Wannsee itself was not the moment of decision," Roseman concludes, but it "cleared the way for genocide." A chilling keyhole glimpse of Nazi evil's bureaucratic banality

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Meet the Author

Author of A Past in Hiding and winner of the Fraenkel Prize in contemporary history, Mark Roseman teaches at the University of Southampton and has published widely on German history. He lives in Southampton, England.

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The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: A Reconsideration 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This compelling, chilling study reveals how the SS, Nazi Party officials and top Civil Servants of the Third Reich, calmly sat down together to plan the Final Solution - the systematic genocide of the Jewish people from Europe. Read how these representatives of the Nazi regime, sat drinking cognac & smoking cigars, while calmly and in a businesslike manner, discussing & arranging the ethnic cleansing and genocide of an entire people. The cold blooded efficiency of the Nazi plan, described here as the Wannsee Protocol, will shock many readers who will see the apparatus of genocide being planned to run like a well machine. A machine that would even proceed to see the commercial utilisation of the victims through their hair, body-fat, teeth etc.. Shocking! The cruelty and indifference of these officials in debating the forthcoming slaughter is likely to send chills down the spines of many whenever the Jewish people are discussed behind closed doors. This extraordinary book looks in detail at the effective procedures decided upon which aimed to murder every single Jew from Ireland to the Urals & from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. A total of some eleven million Jews. Six million of whom would fall victim to the horrific agenda before the war's end. The author discusses how the rhetoric and propaganda against the Jews throughout the Third Reich provided a fertile ground to facilitate the operation of the machinery of death which the Nazis chose to implement. The political and social climate having been made ready for when the murder of Jews was regarded as a legitimate means of `political struggle' to further the Reich. The book also discusses why this meeting was in itself necessary, with the slaughter of the Jews having already started. Recommended read on the Holocaust.