In November 1940 Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Main Office, arranged for the Nordhav SS Foundation to buy an impressive lakeside villa at Wannsee, an affluent suburb of Berlin. It became a guest house for both SS officers and visiting police. The Wannsee Haus (pictured) is best known, however, for an important meeting that Heydrich convened there on January 20, 1942.
Mass shootings of Jews in the East had begun seven months earlier. At Chelmno, Poland, the gassing of Jews had started in early December. Thus, the Wannsee Conference did not initiate the "Final Solution"; rather, Heydrich used the meeting to orchestrate it.
High-ranking officials in the SS and key Reich ministries received Heydrich's invitations to the conference. Nearly all knew about the deportations and killings already in progress. Nevertheless, Heydrich expected objections to his agenda, which required eliminating European Jewry by murder or "extermination through work."
His worry was unnecessary. The participants stated their views about details--where the Final Solution should have priority, what to do with Mischlinge (part-Jewish offspring of mixed marriages), and whether to exempt skilled Jewish workers--but members were generally enthusiastic about Heydrich's basic plan.
Besides Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer who prepared the meeting records, 13 men attended the Wannsee Conference. Representing the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (primarily Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) were Dr. Alfred Meyer, who held a Ph.D. in political science, and Dr. Georg Leibbrandt, whose study of theology, philosophy, history, and economics had also given him a doctorate.
Six others had advanced degrees in law. Coauthor of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart represented the Ministry of the Interior. Dr. Roland Freisler came from the Ministry of Justice. He would later preside over the Volksgerichtshof (People's Court), whose show trials would condemn nearly 1200 German dissidents to death.
Dr. Josef Bühler would argue that the Generalgouvernement in Occupied Poland, the territory he represented, should be the Final Solution's priority target. Gerhard Klopfer worked under Martin Bormann as director of the Nazi Party Chancellery's legal division, where he was especially concerned with Nazi racial policies. Dr. Karl Eberhard Schöngarth and Dr. Rudolf Lange served security and police interests in Poland and other Nazi-occupied territories in Eastern Europe.
The conference's other participants included Martin Luther, Friedrich Kritzinger, Otto Hofmann, Erich Neumann, and Heinrich Müller. The men who planned, ate, and drank at the Wannsee Haus on January 20, 1942, were neither uneducated nor uninitiated as outlines for the Final Solution were put on the table. When Hitler's Berlin speech of January 30 proclaimed that "the results of this war will be the total annihilation of the Jews," these men could nod in well-founded agreement.