Back in January 1942, leaders of the Nazi Party got together in a house next to the Wannsee Lake in Berlin. The goal for this meet-up was dedicated to the genocide of European Jews.
Something that was later called the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
On a sunny day in June 2017, I walked the streets of Wannsee on my way to a house that was such an evil place in history. While I was walking down the road, I could hear people having fun in the lake nearby. There were other people having barbecues in the backyards of the houses.
But, as I walked closer to the House of the Wannsee Conference, I felt this wasn’t the right moment to enjoy myself.
The house where the Wannsee Conference happened during the Second World War belonged to Reinhard Heydrich, who used the house as an entertainment center for those who belonged to the SS and their families. And Reinhard Heydrich was an essential man inside the Nazi Party. Above him, only Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, and Heinrich Himmler.
He used the house as a meeting place for 15 other officials who got together to decide something that was described in a bureaucratic way. But, without any euphemistic terminology, those people had lunch while discussing how the Holocaust would happen.
Among those 15 people, you could find representatives from several government ministries, including state secretaries from the Justice, Interior, Foreign Office, and State Ministries and representatives from the SS.
All these people got together around noon, and two hours later, without any formal document, they organized what was called the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. But this name was just a bureaucratic way to describe genocide.
The goal of the Wannsee Conference was to ensure the cooperation of various government departments. This way, the deportation of Jewish people from Nazi-occupied Europe would happen without problems. Jews would be rounded up and sent to extermination camps in Poland, where they would be killed.
But there wasn’t much to be decided during the Wannsee Conference. The murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Soviet Union was already happening, and it felt like this meeting was just a formal agreement on what would be done with all these people.
According to the documents that can be seen inside the Holocaust Memorial, the House of the Wannsee Conference, very little was discussed in this meeting. The main point was how to qualify somebody as Jewish. Are half-Jews part of these? How can you handle mixed marriages?
In the end, everything was decided and documented informally. The 15 participants even agreed on the number of potential victims: 11 million Jews would be a part of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
Inside the House of the Wannsee Conference
My first impression of going to the House of the Wannsee Conference could be described as deceptive. The buildings look like any other fancy house around Wannsee Lake; it could be a mansion built in the Italian countryside. But this is something else.
When you go inside, the rooms seem drenched in sunlight, and nothing hints at what happened there. But everything changes once you reach the first exhibition room, where you start being informed about the people who were part of the Wannsee Conference.
There are documents about the campaign of anti-semitism that was happening in Nazi Germany at that time and racism in the 1920s.
Once you go further, posters promote the ideology of the Third Reich, and further along, there are rooms where you can learn about Nazi Leaders and what they meant for Jewish People around Europe.
The permanent exhibition is called The Wannsee Conference and the Genocide of the European Jews and documents the history of the persecution of Jews by the Nazi party. The process of social exclusion and deportation can be seen there, as well as the murder of the Jewish People in the Eastern Countries.
If you want to learn more about Jews and Nazi Germany, the House of the Wannsee Conference is the right place for you. The exhibition is open daily from 10 in the morning to 6 in the evening. The entrance to the house is free, and the information inside is printed in German and English, but audio guides and tour guides are available in German.
And since you are around Wannsee, maybe you should take a long walk and explore where some of the scenes from the Netflix’s series Dark were filmed.
The Wannsee Conference in Berlin
Am Großen Wannsee 56-58
14109 – Berlin