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1942: The "Final Solution"
 pg. 294 
  Uncertainty, if not disbelief or indifference, made it difficult for governments and individuals outside of Nazi-occupied Europe to grasp fully what Adolf Hitler and his followers intended for European Jewry in 1942. In Nazi offices, in Jewish ghettos, and at the killing centers that were becoming operational in Poland, the situation became much less ambiguous as it turned ever more deadly. In late November 1941, for example, Reinhard Heydrich issued invitations to important German government and SS officials for a meeting to be held on December 9. Heydrich's invitations contained copies of the document he had received from Hermann Göring on July 31, 1941, which authorized Heydrich to plan the "Final Solution" to the "Jewish question." The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II forced the postponement of the December meeting. But on January 20, 1942, Heydrich convened the Wannsee Conference at Am Grossen Wannsee 5-6/58, a comfortable lakeside villa in an affluent Berlin suburb.

Fifteen men, many with doctorates from German universities, attended the meeting. By this time, the slaughter of Jews at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen and, more recently, at the Chelmno death camp was already far along. Heydrich's invitees were not the uninitiated. Most knew that mass murder of Jews had become state policy. Thus, the purpose of the Wannsee Conference was not to launch the Final Solution but to coordinate full implementation. Heydrich's meeting would ensure that all of the leaders in attendance, and the bureaucracies they supervised, were on the same page.

SS Lieutenant-Colonel Adolf Eichmann, head of the office of Jewish Affairs and Evacuation, prepared the meeting's final record, which Heydrich and Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller carefully edited before approving the text for the 30 copies that were made. Only one of those copies, the 16th, survived the war. Containing another of the Holocaust's most alarming reports, its fatal points included Heydrich's announcement that through the "final settlement" of the Jewish problem, "Europe will be cleaned up from the West to the East." According to his calculations, some 11 million Jews--"from Ireland to the Urals and from the Arctic to the Mediterranean," as historian Christopher Browning puts the point--would be "involved in this Final Solution of the European problem." Group by group, Jews would be sent to transit ghettos and then "to the East." Elderly Jews would go to "an old-age ghetto." The able-bodied, "separated according to sexes," would be selected for hard labor, which would eliminate many by "natural causes." The survivors would "have to be treated accordingly" to prevent "a Jewish reconstruction."

Euphemistic though it was, the language of the Wannsee Conference report sanctioned the industrialization of death. Given what they previously knew, the participants in Heydrich's meeting could scarcely doubt that Nazi Germany's policy now entailed that every European Jew was sentenced to die, either by attrition, extermination through work, or outright murder.

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A walkway through the electric fences of Auschwitz, where more than one million Jews were gassed.
Photo: SYddeutscher Verlag Bilderdienst

1942: The "Final Solution"
 pg. 294 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.