As of: 01/18/2022 06:01 p.m
80 years ago, officials and functionaries of the Nazi regime discussed the extermination of the Jews of Europe in a villa on Wannsee. On the occasion of the anniversary, Federal President Steinmeier recalled the “murder machine of National Socialism”.
On January 20, 1942, 15 men met in a villa on Berlin’s Wannsee to talk about the “final solution to the Jewish question”. The head of the Reich Security Main Office, Reinhard Heydrich, had invited to the so-called Wannsee Conference.
Even before the meeting, the National Socialist leadership around Adolf Hitler had decided to murder up to eleven million Jews in Europe. Deportations and shootings had already begun. However, the aim of the meeting was to speed up the implementation of the genocide. The conference is therefore considered an important landmark for the Holocaust set in motion by the Germans.
The only item on the agenda 80 years ago were organizational questions about the so-called “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. In sober bureaucratic language, those involved recorded how they intended to solve the “European Jewish question” for the National Socialist regime. Only a single copy of the 15-page record of the Wannsee Conference has survived.
Incredible cruelty packed in dry official language: The only surviving minutes of the Wannsee Conference.
Steinmeier reminds of individual responsibility
On the occasion of the 80th anniversary, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the historic site of the meeting. Today the conference venue in a villa on the Großer Wannsee is a memorial and educational site with a permanent exhibition. “The purpose of every commemoration of the crimes of the Nazi state is to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen again,” Steinmeier explained. In a democratic state everyone bears responsibility.
“It must not be forgotten what happened here 80 years ago, when a state apparatus, German administrative officials, planned the genocide of the Jews of Europe,” he also wrote in the guest book.
Steinmeier also commented on the premiere of the ZDF film “Die Wannseekonferenz”, which will be broadcast on television next Monday. In a pre-shared manuscript for an evening speech, the President called the film impressive but also disturbing.
“A smoothly functioning administrative machinery”
“What we see and experience is a smoothly functioning administrative machinery, departmental coordination, templates and processes that – apart from the content of the meeting – differ in no way from those that still exist in ministries and authorities today,” says Steinmeier. “It’s the ordinary, the familiar that jumps at us, horrifies and unsettles.”
The film shows the banality of evil. “How could the murder machine of National Socialism work so perfectly? And what does personal responsibility mean in a dictatorship?” asked Steinmeier, referring to the writer Hannah Arendt. Totalitarian systems are not only driven by demons and monsters. It is rather the case that “in these systems so many small cogs interlock until the responsibility of the individual has become unrecognizable and there is no longer any sense of wrongdoing. The banality of evil is the soulless bureaucracy of a dictatorship, the rule of nobodies.”
The film by Matti Geschonneck is based on the minutes of the conference. In doing so, he shows very clearly “how language itself becomes a murderous tool,” explained Steinmeier. They serve to abstract and cover up the genocide. This allowed officials, police officers or train drivers to take part in the deportation and murder of millions of Jews and at the same time relieved their conscience. Millions of Germans have become accomplices. “The protocol of the Wannsee Conference is a murder weapon,” declared the Federal President. “The gunshot residue she left behind is still detectable today.”