Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: A Reconsideration / Edition 1

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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 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.

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Editorial Reviews

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
From the Publisher
"Roseman's book is a lively contribution to work on a terrifying period in history. It is no simplistic account—chaos and uncertainty are the very 'stuff' of history—but, throughout the book, we are forced to recognise the very ordinariness of these men as we follow, step by step, the diverse routes they followed in their will to destroy."—Joanna Bourke, author of The Second World War: A People's History, The New Statesman

"There is, to my knowledge, no book that brings together more masterfully in less than 200 pages the daunting problems and massive research on the Holocaust than Mark Roseman's account of the notorious Wannsee Conference. Concise and very accessible, yet also comprehensive in its contextualization of the 'Final Solution of the Jewish Question' and its origins, I found this a most illuminating study of the cold-blooded planning and execution of the most horrific crime of the twentieth century."—V.R. Berghahn, Seth Low Professor of History, Columbia University

"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 of modern history.'"—Richard J. Evans, author of Lying About Hitler

"This is the best analysis in existence of the fateful Wannsee Conference and its place in the fateful events that culminated in 'The Final Solution.'"

—Ian Kershaw, author of Hitler

"Roseman's account is an excellent introduction to this immensely complex story . . . A highly-readable, concise and thorough account not only of the conference itself—about which very little documentation ever survived—but of the whole debate on the timing and nature of the Holocaust. Convincing."—Richard Overy, author of Interrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, in The Sunday Telegraph (London)

"Well-researched and subtly argued . . . Roseman's grasp of every detail of the Wannsee Conference is impressive . . . Equally important is the document translated here in full: the minutes of the meeting, known as the Wannsee Protocol . . . Roseman's book is also a contribution to the question of how far Hitler was personally responsible for the extermination program."—Hyam Maccoby, The Evening Standard (London)

"An up-to-date analysis . . . Succinct, closely argued, free of academic jargon. Engrossing and chilling, it helps our understanding of Wannsee's place on the twisted path to genocide."—Theo Richmond, author of Konin: A Quest, in The Sunday Times (London)

"Mark Roseman has succeeded in a brief 150 pages to write not one, but two standard works: one on Wannsee itself, the other on Germany's road to the Holocaust."—Berlin Tagespiegel

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312422349
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 7/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 228
  • Sales rank: 366,248
  • Product dimensions: 5.47 (w) x 8.21 (h) x 0.60 (d)

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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Table of Contents

1. "Perhaps the Most Shameful Document" 1
2. Mein Kampf to Mass Murder, 1919-41 9
3. Mass Murder to Genocide 48
4. The Meeting 79
5. A Largely Successful Day 141
Appendix The Protocol 157
Notes 173
Acknowledgments 202
Index 204
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