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Posted on 06/22/2011 4:43:22 AM PDT by Homer_J_Simpson
Roseman, Mark. The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: A Reconsideration. New York: Picador, 2002. 172pp. ISBN 0-312-42234-2.
It is always difficult for the common man to wrap their mind around the Holocaust. The thought of a government creating a national policy of destroying a singular sect of their own citizenry is almost inconceivable. Yet there are many examples of such genocidal policies throughout history. The Nazis policy of extermination of the Jews is the most prolific and well known of such government policies. However, the transition of the Nazis policy of exclusion to eventual extermination is not a clear one. There is no set list of orders that show clearly when Hitler and Himmler made the decision to embark on a quest of Jewish extermination. This has led to many studies that try and determine when the Final Solution, as it will be known, was decided upon.
One marker towards the Final Solution was a conference held in a lush section of Berlin on the shores of Lake Wannsee. This meeting was conducted by Heinrich Himmlers right hand man, Reinhard Heydrich. In this meeting he calls together not only members of the SS, but others from the civilian government side to coordinate details as to what the fate of Jews under German rule as well as those outside German borders. This conference, which will be called the Wannsee Conference, was held on January 20th, 1942. Clearly, this conference cannot be considered the beginning of a policy of mass murder since large scale killings had already begun long before this actual meeting. However, a look at this conference may show the effort to solidify national policy on Jewish extermination as well as put any dissenters to the policy on notice to fall in line.
In Mark Rosemans book, The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: A Reconsideration, another look at the significance of this conference is taken. Roseman takes an analytical approach to exploring the purpose of this conference from not only the players involved in the conference itself, but in general policy that would occur as a result of the conference. The author is quick to point out the fact that just knowing about this meeting at all is an exception instance in history. The Nazis went to great lengths to destroy as much of the evidence to the Holocaust as their position in the war became more desperate. Of course the scope of the Holocaust was so large that this was a largely impossible task and as a result much evidence was left behind. A copy of the minutes from the Wannsee Conference was one of these items that slipped through the cracks. Initially there were only 30 copies of this document made for a very limited distribution list. Of those 30, only one survived to be found by Allied prosecutors just as the Nuremberg Trials were underway.
An important aspect of Rosemans evaluation of the Wannsee Conference is in his evaluation of the individuals who were involved in the conference itself. From an overall perspective this could be broken into two groups; Hitlers government secretaries, and SS hierarchy. However, Roseman shows the importance of one section of the participants that almost places them in their own category. Representatives from the Generalgouvernement present at the meeting, including Hans Franks right hand man Josef Bühler had a particularly strong investment in the issue of the Jewish question. Roseman points to Franks desire to make the Generalgouvernement into a jewel of the German occupied areas. This desire would include ridding the land of the 2 million plus Jews that were already there or shipped to the region as a result of other efforts to relocate the Jews. As the policy of evacuation was discussed, which really was just a euphemism for extermination since there really was no set plan as to where to evacuate these Jews to, Bühler was quick to volunteer the Jews in the Generalgouvernement to be among the first evacuated pointing out the proximity of these Jews would make them easier to transport to wherever they were to be sent in the east.
Another primary issue of the Wannsee Conference that the author takes time to look at in detail is the fate of the Mischlinge. These were individuals who were only part Jewish, being either half-Jew (first degree Mischlinge), or a lesser percentage (second degree Mischlinge). These individuals were discussed in terms of who would be treated as full Jews and evacuated and who would be sent to the so-called old-age ghetto in Thereseinstadt. Roseman points out that this policy was only a temporary salvation since most of the occupants of Thereseinstadt would eventually end up in Auschwitz. However, he also shows the degree of detail in which this very grey area in the Nazi policy was addressed with the conference itself showing a clear shift against the Mischlinge in question.
This book is truly designed for the academic reader and not the casual history fan. The source material used for Rosemans work is extensive and mostly consisting of original Nazi documentation. Because of this, the individual who is seeking out his sources will find that the vast majority of them are in the German language. Included in Rosemans sources is the Wannsee Protocol itself, which he attaches in total at the end of his book to allow the reader to go over the primary source, used by the author and capture the context in which he refers to it. If you are a casual reader, this book may not be for you. It is an analysis of a single meeting held by the Nazis and is not designed to be gripping reading. However, for those who are just interested in obtaining a better understanding of the Nazi mindset that led to a national policy of murder, this book will provide a very revealing look at this progression. The Wannsee Conference shows an official jump from oppression to slaughter and Roseman does an extremely good job at analyzing the nuances of this progression.