The conference was convened and organized by Chief of the Security Police Reinhard Heydrich, who invited 15 top Nazi bureaucrats and Schutzstaffel (SS) officers to plan for the concentration of Jews and their execution. It took place in the Wannsee villa in suburban Berlin on 20 January 1942.
The German invasion and occupation of much of eastern Europe, especially Poland and the Soviet Union, presented a demographic challenge to the German government because of the large Jewish populations in those areas, especially in Poland and the western Soviet Union. By the end of 1941, the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, recognized that deportation and emigration were no longer adequate for the task of eliminating the Jewish population. He authorized Heydrich to create the bureaucracy and arrangements for a "final solution to the Jewish question." The Wannsee Conference dealt with these matters. Jews were to be "evacuated" to the east, with the "Jewish question" to be resolved first in the General Government.
The organizational challenges of identifying, transporting, housing, and eventually eliminating what the conferees overestimated as a population of 11 million European Jews (this number included those in neutral nations, such as Ireland and Switzerland) demanded that the Nazi government establish an infrastructure and clear procedures for implementing the goals of the regime. Although much of the discussion focused on forced emigration and deportation to eastern Europe, the underlying objective of the conference was initiating the "final solution," the systematic murder of the Jewish population in Europe. Specific topics discussed at the conference included estimating the size of Europe's Jewish population, organizing a systematic sweep of Europe to eliminate all Jewish remnants, and confronting local resistance in occupied countries.
Using the Nazi racial laws (the Nuremberg Laws), those attending the Wannsee Conference established criteria for dealing with mixed-blood Jews and mixed marriages. Mixed-blooded individuals were divided into a complex classification system based on "Mixed Blood of First Degree" and "Mixed Blood of Second Degree." This juridical understanding of race was designed to bring about the complete extermination of Jews in Europe.
Stenographers carefully documented the day's events in a complete record of the conversations. In 1984, a German documentary about the Wannsee Conference appeared, based on this source and letters written by Hermann Göring and Adolf Eichmann.
James T. Carroll
Bartov, Omer, ed. The Holocaust: Origins, Implementations, Aftermath. New York: Routledge, 2000.; Roseman, Mark. The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: A Reconsideration. London: Metropolitan Books, 2002.