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April 8, 2018

Notes for students who are studying Elie Wiesel’s book entitled “Night”

Filed under: Holocaust — furtherglory @ 3:56 pm

Notes for “Night,” a book written by Elie Wiesel

Night Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1: Wiesel grew up in Sighet, a small town in Translyvania. He is a strict Orthodox Jew who is tutored by Moshe the Beadle. When all foreign Jews are expelled, Moshe is deported. He returns to Sighet with horrific tales. Nobody believes him.

Fascists gain control in Hungary and allow the Nazis to come. The Jews of Sighet remain in denial that anything bad will happen to them. Days later, the town is ordered to evacuate. Eliezer’s family is part of the last group. Their former Gentile servant, Martha, warns them of impending danger and offers them a place of refuge. They refuse.

Chapter 2: Eliezer and his townsmen are packed into cattle cars and suffer terribly. One woman, Madame Schacter, continually screams of a fire. She is silenced by her fellow prisoners. As the train arrives at Birkenau, they see smoke rising from chimneys and are inundated with the horrific smell of burning flesh.

Chapter 3: The first selection occurs. Eliezer and his father lie about their age and avoid the crematorium. As they walk to Auschwitz they pass a pit of burning babies. When they arrive in their barracks they are disinfected with gasoline, receive a tattoo, and are dressed in prison clothes. Eliezer’s father asks to go to the bathroom and is clobbered by a kapo. The prisoners are then escorted to Buna, a work camp four hours away.

Analysis: Wiesel emphasizes the human failure to comprehend just how evil humans can be. He and his family are warned several times to flee, yet they and the town find the truth impossible. Wiesel’s primary goal in publishing Night is to prevent another Holocaust from happening. He emphasizes the need to be aware of evil in the world and to believe first hand accounts of it.

His recounting of the miserable conditions on the cattle cars and the horrific events he witnesses at Birkenau are examples of first hand accounts that must be taken seriously in order to prevent something as horrible from happening again.

Chapter 4: At Buna Eliezer is summoned by the dentist to have his gold crown removed. He feigns illness. The dentist, he discovers, is hanged. Eliezer’s only focus is to eat and stay alive. He is savagely beaten by the kapo, Idek and is consoled by a French worker, whom he meets years after the war. The prison foreman, Franek, notices Eliezer’s gold crown and demands it. He refuses. Franek beats Eliezer’s father and he gives up the crown.

Eliezer catches Idek having sex with a female French worker. Idek whips him mercilessly and warns him that one word of what he saw will result in more severe punishment. During an air raid two cauldrons of soup are left unattended. A prisoner crawls to them and is shot right before eating some. The Nazis erect a gallows at camp and hang three prisoners, the last one, a boy loved by all, causes even the most jaded of prisoners to weep.

Chapter 5: It is late summer 1944 and another selection occurs. This time Eliezer’s father is on the wrong side. He gives his spoon and knife to his son. Eliezer rejoices as he returns and discovers there was another selection and his father still lives. Eliezer hurts his foot and is sent to the infirmary. He hears rumors of Russians approaching. The Nazis evacuate the camp. Eliezer assumes infirmary patients will be killed so he leaves. He discovers later that the patients were liberated the next day.

Chapter 6: The prisoners are forced to run 42 miles in one night during a blizzard. Those unable to keep up are shot. The refugees stop in a small village where Eliezer and his father keep each other awake to avoid freezing to death. Rabbi Eliahu enters a small shack occupied by Eliezer, looking for his son. Eliezer recalls–after Eliahu’s departure–seeing his son desert his father, something he prays for strength never to do. Another selection occurs. Eliezer’s father is sent to the death side. A diversion is created and his father switches lines.

Chapter 7: The survivors are packed into cattle cars and sent to Germany. The train stops frequently to remove dead bodies. Eliezer recounts how German workers throw bread into the cattle cars to witness the prisoners kill each other. Eliezer is nearly killed.

Analysis: Wiesel attributes his survival to luck and coincidence, two ideas that play a prominent role in the novel. Each selection is a matter of luck and coincidence; being assigned to easier jobs is a matter of luck and coincidence; leaving the infirmary is a matter of luck and coincidence. Wiesel honestly portrays his feelings toward his father. He recognizes that his father gives him strength to continue; he acknowledges also that his father at times becomes a burden.

Chapter 8: Upon their arrival at Buchenwald, Eliezer’s father is unable to move. Eliezer brings him soup and coffee, against the advice of other prisoners who counsel him to keep it for himself. Eliezer’s father, suffering from dysentery, begs for water. An SS guard becomes annoyed and knocks him in the head. Eliezer wakes up the next morning and discovers his father’s empty bed. He is more relieved than sad.

Chapter 9: Eliezer is only concerned with food during his remaining months at Buchenwald. On April 5, the evacuation of Buchenwald is ordered. Nazis murder thousands daily. On April 10, Eliezer’s block is ordered to evacuate, but it is cut short by air raid sirens. The next day the camp is liberated. Wiesel nearly dies from food poisoning. He recovers, looks in a mirror, and is shocked by his appearance.

Analysis: Eliezer’s reflection that he resembled a corpse ends the novel with a sense of hopelessness. Despite this hopelessness Wiesel dedicates his life to human rights.

Read more: http://www.brighthub.com/education/homework-tips/articles/45193.aspx?p=2#ixzz0T56HUqDU

Read more: http://www.brighthub.com/education/homework-tips/articles/45193.aspx#ixzz0T569ugFg

Characters in the book entitled Night written by Elie Wiesel

When reviewing characters in Night by Elie Wiesel, keep in mind that these Night characters are actual human beings and that Night is a memoir of Wiesel’s actual experience in a concentration camp.

Eliezer – Wiesel gives a first person psychological account of life in a concentration camp. It is important not to confuse the narrator with the author, even though they are the same person. Eliezer’s experiences cause him to question his faith and the existence of a loving, merciful God. Eliezer’s (the narrator’s) account leaves the reader with a sense of hopelessness, that humanity is irredeemable, that God has abandoned his creation.

Eliezer’s assertions are not that of the author. Elie Wiesel, the older version of Eliezer, the death camp survivor, has dedicated his life to serving mankind and to prevent human rights atrocities, showing that something wonderful can result from incomprehensible suffering. For more on Wiesel’s life after his liberation, check out his website.

Chlomo – Eliezer’s father is the only other character who appears consistently. He is a respected member in Sighet before being deported. Eliezer and Chlomo remain together throughout the ordeal. The narrator is honest and frank in his assessment of his father. He needs his father to keep going, but resents having to take care of him at times. He acknowledges a sense of relief when Chlomo finally dies. One of the more powerful scenes occur towards the end of the novel when Rabbi Eliahou searches for his son during the forced evacuation of Buna. Eliezer recalls seeing Eliahou’s son, recalling that he had abandoned his father. Eliezer then utters a prayer, asking for the strength never to do such a thing to his own father.

Moshe the Beadle – Moshe is Eliezer’s teacher who is deported along with other foreign Jews in Hungary. He escapes, returns, and warns the town about atrocities he witnessed. Nobody believes him.

Madame Shachter – She is deported in the same cattle car as Eliezer. She screams of fires the entire time. The passengers mistake her for a mad woman only to discover she is a prophetess as they see the furnaces of Birkenau and the pit of burning babies.

Juliek – Eliezer first meets Juliek, a young musician, at Auschwitz. He hears him play his violin at Gleiwitz toward the end of the narrative.

Idek – Idek is a kapo at the electrical parts plant at Buna where Eliezer works. Eliezer catches him having intercourse with a French woman. Idek whips Eliezer as punishment.

Franek – Eliezer’s foreman at Buna who steels Eliezer’s gold crown with the help of a dentist and a rusty spoon.

Dr. Josef Mengele – Eliezer encounters Mengele after his arrival at Auschwitz. Known as the angel of death, Mengele sentenced thousands of Jews to their death. He also oversaw cruel experiments on prisoners.

Hilda, Bea, Tziporah – Eliezer’s mother and sisters, whom he never sees after entering Auschwitz.

Important Quotes from Night by Elie Wiesel

Use these Night quotes as a reminder to thwart prejudice, racism, hatred, and discrimination, for they are the seeds of human rights violations. These important quotes from Night will help you remember.

Quote: Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Analysis: As Eliezer arrives at Auschwitz he is greeted by his first selection. He and his father follow the line that passes a pit of burning babies. It is difficult for even the most hardened reader not to wince at this passage; it stands out as the most horrible atrocity in a chronicle of horrible atrocities.

Wiesel writes three times in this passage “Never shall I forget.” He uses anaphora, a poetic device that involves the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of clauses, to highlight the novel’s major theme–to never forget.

Quote: Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

Analysis: A continuation of the first quote in this section, the phrase “Never shall I forget” is repeated four more times. This section of the passage highlights another major theme of the novel–the struggle to maintain faith in a world full of evil.


More Quotes from Night, a book written by Elie Wiesel

Use these Night quotes as a reminder to thwart prejudice, racism, hatred, and discrimination, for they are the seeds of human rights violations. These important quotes from Night will help you remember.

Quote: One day I was able to get up, after gathering all my strength. I wanted to see myself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.

Analysis: The narrative’s last lines leaves the reader with a sense of hopelessness. Eliezer views himself as dead; innocence is dead; humanity is dead; God is dead. It is important not to confuse the narrator with the author. Elie Wiesel, the older version of Eliezer, the death camp survivor, has dedicated his life to serving mankind and to prevent human rights atrocities, showing the world that humankind is capable of goodness, notwithstanding its inherent evil. For more on Wiesel’s life after his liberation, check out his website.

Quote: The night was gone. The morning star was shining in the sky. I too had become a completely different person. The student of the Talmud, the child that I was, had been consumed in the flames… A dark flame had entered my soul and devoured it.

Analysis: Wiesel uses parallel structure–the like grammatical structure of adjacent phrases or clauses that signify equality of importance–to draw attention to the two things which died: his faith and his childhood.

Quote: Yet another last night. The last night at home, the last night in the ghetto, the last night in the train, the last night in Buna.

Analysis: The repetition of “the last night” emphasizes death, not just the death of his fellow prisoners, but the death of humanity.

Read more: http://www.brighthub.com/education/homework-tips/articles/45196.aspx#ixzz0T4ws25Ro

Themes in the book entitled Night, written by Elie Wiesel

Night themes include the dangers of silence and the importance of remembering. Putting into practice these themes from Night by Elie Wiesel can help prevent human rights atrocities. Night themes include the inhumanity of humans toward others and the struggle to have faith in a benevolent God during suffering.

Silence – As Eliezer and his family exit the train at Auschwitz, they are shocked at its existence, causing one of the prisoners to insult them, in disbelief that it was 1944 and they had never heard of Auschwitz. They weren’t alone.

How many otherwise good humans were aware of the existence of concentration camps but chose to remain silent? It is silence which allows the Nazi takeover in Europe. Another silence Wiesel emphasizes is the silence of God to allow such atrocities to occur. Wiesel counsels his readers to not be silent witnesses to hate.

The Importance of Remembering – One of Wiesel’s main objectives in writing Night is to remind his audience that the Holocaust occurred, in hopes that it will never repeat itself. Wiesel has maintained his vigilance against hatred and inhumanity through the Elie Wiesel foundation for humanity.

The Existence of Evil – Philosophers and religious scholars have theorized on the existence of evil for centuries, asking the question “How or why does God allow evil to exist if he is, in fact, all powerful and good. Throughout the narrative, Eliezer answers the question by asserting his God is dead. Despite his avowal that his faith is dead, he maintains scraps of it, praying, for example, that he will never betray his father as Rabbi Eliahou’s son does. He also recognizes that those prisoners who completely lose their faith soon die.

Inhumanity – Eliezer is shocked that human beings can be so cruel. The first section of the narrative portrays the entire city of Sighet in denial. When foreign Jews are deported, the town insists all is well. When Moshe the Beadle returns and reports Nazi atrocities, the town insists all is well. When the Fascists take over in Hungary, the town insists all is well. When the SS begin patrolling the streets, the town insists all is well. When Eliezer suggests they move to Palestine, his father refuses. When Martha the former servant offers them refuge, even after most of the town had been expelled, they remain. Those in Sighet cannot comprehend that other human beings can be so evil.

The Animalization of Humans – Eliezer comments on how prisoners themselves become inhuman in concentration camps. In addition to the kapos who treat regular prisoners almost as cruelly as the SS, Eliezer witnesses three instances of sons turning against their fathers: (1) He witnesses a son abusing his father; (2) He witnesses Rabbi Eliahou’s son abandon him during the forced evacuation from Buna; (3) He witnesses a son beat his own father over a piece of bread on the train to Buchenwald. Eliezer feels guilt over the manner in which he treats his father, feeling him a burden at times.

Read more: http://www.brighthub.com/education/homework-tips/articles/45195.aspx#ixzz0T4xZc1P7

Symbolism in the book entitled Night, written by Elie Wiesel

Understanding Night symbolism brings greater appreciation for Wiesel’s memoirs.

1. Night – The title of the novel symbolizes death, the death of innocence, childhood, faith, and millions of people. The narrative contains many last nights, the last night in Sighet, the last night in Buna, the last night with his father, the last night of innocence, etc. Night also symbolizes a world without God. The worst suffering occurs at night. Wiesel contends that God does not live in the concentration camps and God’s people have no recourse.
2. Fire – Fire represents hell. Eliezer’s hellish experience is foreshadowed by Madame Shachter’s insane screaming on the train to Auschwitz. The pit of burning babies scars Wiesel for life. The specter of the furnace haunts Wiesel and his fellow prisoners throughout. The symbol of fire in Night, however, is ironic. No longer is fire a tool of the righteous to punish the wicked. It has become a tool of the wicked to punish the righteous. It emphasizes Wiesel’s belief that God has abandoned his people.

3. Silence – Silence symbolizes fear, apathy, and inability. Wiesel cannot comprehend that the world can remain silent as the Nazis commit atrocities. It also represents the silence of the oppressed. Eliezer, for example, remains silent when his father is beaten, unable to help him. The entire town of Sighet remains silent to the pleas of Moshe the Beadle, who warns the town of what is coming. Silence also represents the absence of God. Note the camp’s reaction to the young boy’s hanging–silence. A common theme in the narrative is God’s silence as his people suffer. 4. Corpses – Corpses symbolize the living dead. Prisoners are often referred to as corpses, corpses whose spirits have been crushed by suffering. Eliezer looks in the mirror as the narrative ends and sees a corpse, symbolizing the death of innocence and childhood.

Read more: http://www.brighthub.com/education/homework-tips/articles/48700.aspx#ixzz0T55k6tUW

 

The Wannsee conference where the Final Solution was planned

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 1:22 pm

Wannsee Conference 20 January 1942

Villa in Wannsee where “Final Solution” conference was held

After World War II ended on May 8, 1945, the Allied powers began a search for the Nazi documents that they would need as evidence at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal which was set to begin in November 1945. They found tons of paperwork including secret documents hidden in salt mines and behind walls in the Nazi administration buildings. But the one most important document, the order signed by Adolf Hitler which gave the authority for the genocide of the Jews, was never found.

Finally, in 1947, long after the first proceedings of the Nuremberg IMT had ended, the minutes of a conference held on January 20, 1942 at a villa in Wannsee, a district of Berlin, were found. At this conference, the plans for the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” had been discussed. Today, tourists can stand in the very room where the plans were made for the genocide of the Jews.

The photograph above shows the front of the Wannsee villa, as you approach from a short straight driveway off a street named Am Grossen Wannsee. (Wannsee is pronounced VON-say.) The property has now been converted into a Holocaust Museum, which opened in 1992 on the fiftieth anniversary of the conference.

The photograph below shows the circular driveway and the miniature roses in the front of the house.

Front door of the villa with roses and circular driveway

Fifteen top officials of the Nazi bureaucracy and the SS attended the Wannsee conference, which was led by 38-year-old Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA). On May 27, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich was wounded when a group of Czech resistance fighters, who had escaped to England, returned and made an attempt on his life in Prague. Heydrich died of his wounds on June 4, 1942.

The minutes or protocols of the Wannsee meeting, 15 pages in all, were written by 36-year-old Adolf Eichmann. The copy that was found in 1947 was undated and unsigned; it had no stamp of any Bureau. The copy appeared to be a draft report of the meeting that was held on January 20, 1942 at Wannsee.

The full title of the Conference was “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe.” The original phrase was “a final territorial solution of the Jewish question.” The term “Jewish Question” referred to a question that had been discussed for years: Should the Jews have their own state within the country where they lived, or should they assimilate?

On the witness stand at the Nuremberg IMT, Hermann Goering said that the conference was about “the total solution to the Jewish Question” and that it meant the evacuation of the Jews, not extermination.

The full text of the letter from Goering to Heydrich, ordering the Final Solution, (Nuremberg Document PS-710) is quoted below:

To the Chief of the Security Police and the SD, SS Gruppenfuehrer Heydrich

Berlin

In completion of the task which was entrusted to you in the Edict dated January 24, 1939, of solving the Jewish question by means of emigration or evacuation in the most convenient way possible, given the present conditions, I herewith charge you with making all necessary preparations with regard to organizational, practical and financial aspects for a total solution [Gesamtloesung] of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe.

Insofar as the competencies of other central organizations are affected, these are to be involved.

I further charge you with submitting to me promptly an overall plan of the preliminary organizational, practical and financial measures for the execution of the intended final solution (Endloesung) of the Jewish question.

Goering

In 1992, Yehuda Bauer, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, referred to “the silly story of Wannsee,” as he said: “The public still repeats, time after time, the silly story that at Wannsee the extermination of the Jews was arrived at.”

The fifteen men who met at Wannsee for this historic occasion were not elder statesmen, but men in their prime, who were, for the most part, long standing members of the Nazi party. Heydrich’s involvement with the Nazis dated back to the dawn of the Fascist movement in Germany when he was a teen-aged member of the Freikorp, a volunteer militia group which engaged in bloody street battles with the Communists, who were led in Berlin by the Jewish militants, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, and in Munich by the Jewish leader, Kurt Eisner.

The minutes of the meeting began with an explanation of what had been accomplished so far by the emigration of the Jews in Germany, including the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which is now the Czech Republic.

The following quote is from the minutes of the Wannsee conference:

The Chief of the Security Police and the SD then gave a short report of the struggle which has been carried on thus far against this enemy, the essential points being the following:

a) the expulsion of the Jews from every sphere of life of the German people,

b) the expulsion of the Jews from the living space of the German people.

In carrying out these efforts, an increased and planned acceleration of the emigration of the Jews from Reich territory was started, as the only possible present solution.

By order of the Reich Marshal, a Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration was set up in January 1939 and the Chief of the Security Police and SD was entrusted with the management. Its most important tasks were

a) to make all necessary arrangements for the preparation for an increased emigration of the Jews,

b) to direct the flow of emigration,

c) to speed the procedure of emigration in each individual case.

The aim of all this was to cleanse German living space of Jews in a legal manner.

All the offices realized the drawbacks of such enforced accelerated emigration. For the time being they had, however, tolerated it on account of the lack of other possible solutions of the problem.

The Jews had been forced to pay for their emigration themselves. Foreign Jews had donated approximately 9.5 million dollars to finance the emigration of German Jews between the time of the Nazi takeover of power and 31 October 1941, according to the minutes of the conference.

On June 22, 1941, Germany had invaded the Soviet Union and the emigration of the Jews from Europe was no longer feasible, according to the minutes of the meeting, which stated: “In the meantime the Reichsführer-SS and Chief of the German Police had prohibited emigration of Jews due to the dangers of an emigration in wartime and due to the possibilities of the East.”

The following quote is from Article III of the minutes of the Wannsee conference:

Another possible solution of the problem has now taken the place of emigration, i.e. the evacuation of the Jews to the East, provided that the Führer gives the appropriate approval in advance.

These actions are, however, only to be considered provisional, but practical experience is already being collected which is of the greatest importance in relation to the future final solution of the Jewish question.

Approximately 11 million Jews will be involved in the final solution of the European Jewish question, distributed as follows among the individual countries:

Country – Number

A. Germany proper 131,800
Austria 43,700
Eastern territories 420,000
General Government 2,284,000
Bialystok 400,000
Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia 74,200
Estonia – free of Jews –
Latvia 3,500
Lithuania 34,000
Belgium 43,000
Denmark 5,600
France / occupied territory 165,000
unoccupied territory 700,000
Greece 69,600
Netherlands 160,800
Norway 1,300

B. Bulgaria 48,000
England 330,000
Finland 2,300
Ireland 4,000
Italy including Sardinia 58,000
Albania 200
Croatia 40,000
Portugal 3,000
Rumania including Bessarabia 342,000
Sweden 8,000
Switzerland 18,000
Serbia 10,000
Slovakia 88,000
Spain 6,000
Turkey (European portion) 55,500
Hungary 742,800
USSR 5,000,00

Ukraine 2,994,684
White Russia
excluding Bialystok 446,484

Total over 11,000,000

The “Eastern Territories,” which had a total of 420,000 Jews, were in the part of Poland that had been taken over by the Soviet Union in 1939, but were now in the control of the Nazis, following the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The Ukraine and White Russia (Belorussia) were formerly a part of the USSR (Soviet Union) so the 2,994,684 Jews in the Ukraine and the 446,000 in White Russia were included in the 5 million Jews in the USSR. Many of these Jews had been moved into the interior of Russia, when the Soviet Union was invaded.

It was Hitler’s custom to have his personal secretary take down his words verbatim when he gave his long-winded monologues to his inner circle at the dinner table, or in the drawing room, in the evening. According to historian John Toland , Hitler made the following comment, which was written down by his secretary, during his “table conversations” in the fall of 1941:

From the rostrum of the Reichstag, I prophesied to Jewry that, in the event of war’s proving inevitable, the Jew would disappear from Europe. That race of criminals has on its conscience the two million dead of the First World War, and now already hundreds and thousands more. Let nobody tell me that all the same we can’t park them in the marshy parts of Russia! Who’s worrying about our troops? It’s not a bad idea, by the way, that public rumor attributes to us a plan to exterminate the Jews. Terror is a salutary thing.

The map below shows the Greater German Reich in orange and the area of Poland that was annexed into the Greater German Reich in a darker orange color. The yellow line shows the boundary of Poland between 1919 and 1939; during this period of time, Germany was divided into two sections by the Polish Corridor. The tan colored area within the yellow boundary line designates the part of Poland that was occupied by the Soviet Union after the defeat of Poland by the Germans and the Soviets in 1939; this is what was referred to as “the Eastern territories” in the minutes of the Wannsee conference. Shown in dark brown on the map is the General Government, where 2,284,000 Jews lived; this area was German-occupied Poland. In the tan colored area is the “Reichskommissariat Ukraine” where 2,994,684 Jews lived. The area called “German Military Administration” on the map is the part of Russia that was within the control of Germany by January 1942.

Map of Greater Germany and Eastern Europe in January 1942

The evacuation of the Jews in the Warsaw and Lublin ghettos to the death camps at Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec, began in February 1942, soon after the Wannsee conference. This first “evacuation to the East” was named Aktion Reinhard in honor of Reinhard Heydrich, although some sources say that the operation was named Aktion Reinhardt in honor of Staatssekretär Fritz Reinhardt, the civil servant in the Reich Finance Ministry, who was in charge of exploiting the assets of the Jews who were murdered in these camps. Note that Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec are all located close to the Bug river, which formed the border between German-occupied Poland and the area of Poland that was formerly occupied by the Soviet Union.

Some visitors to the Wannsee house might be upset to see that the Nazis chose such a lovely, serene setting for a conference devoted to planning the world’s greatest crime, but it was typical for the Nazis to surround themselves with beautiful scenery, classic buildings, music and books. Some of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps were built in beautiful locations and had such incongruous features as flower gardens, bird houses, orchestras, a library, a zoo, and a swimming pool. Reinhard Heydrich, who chose this spot for the conference, was an aristocratic and cultured man, an athlete and a talented musician. Most of the participants were educated men and several had law degrees.

The photograph below shows the back of the Wannsee house, which overlooks a large lake named Grossen Wannsee. To the left in the picture is a covered terrace with French doors leading to the Wintergarten, a sun room which looks out on a small formal rose garden on the south side of the house. The two ground floor windows to the left of the flower-filled urn are the windows of the former dining room where the infamous conference was held.

The rear of the villa which overlooks a large lake

According to the museum at Wannsee, Reinhard Heydrich requested the job of coordinating the “General Solution of the Jewish Question.” The Jewish Question had been discussed in Europe for at least a hundred years. Karl Marx, the originator of Communism and a non-practicing Jew himself, had even written a paper on the subject. The question was whether the Jews should give up their separate identity and become assimilated into the country in which they lived, or whether they should have their own separate nation within a nation.

The Final Solution to the Jewish Question, which was the subject of this Conference, was to be the “transportation to the east” or “evacuation to the east” (nach dem Osten abgeshoben) of the Jews in Europe. In the minutes of the meeting, nothing is written about killing the Jews, but the innocuous words used in this document are now regarded by Holocaust historians as euphemisms for the extermination, or genocide, of the European Jews.

By late 1941, the Nazi empire extended from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara Desert and from the Pyrenees mountain range to the Ural mountain range. The Germans controlled most of Western Europe and in Eastern Europe, they had conquered all of Poland, the Ukraine, White Russia, and the three Baltic states: Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Most importantly, they were in control of territory a thousand kilometers into Russia and they were on the verge of defeating the Soviet Union.

Hitler had formed the Greater German Reich, starting with the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland in what is now the Czech Republic in 1938, Silesia in Poland in 1939, and Luxembourg, along with the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine in France, in 1940. Ethnic Germans from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been relocated to the area in western Poland which had been annexed into the Greater German Reich.

Hitler’s ultimate goal was to unite all the ethnic Germans into one country, and to unite Europe against the threat of Communism. Considering that the Nazis had many allies, including Italy, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, his plan was entirely feasible at this point. By January 20, 1942, when the Wannsee conference was held, Hitler was in a position to implement his second major goal which was the extermination (Ausrottung) of all the Jews in Europe, the plan that was code named The Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann had been concerned with the Jewish Question ever since his youth; he had spent time living in Palestine in order to learn more about Zionism and the developing Jewish State. He had studied the traditions and customs of the Orthodox Jews and had even learned to speak and write in the Hebrew language. At the time of the conference, he was Director of the Jewish Department of the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin (RSHA), the second man to hold this office.

Most of the Jews in Germany were assimilated and did not want to leave their country, but Eichmann worked with the Zionists to help as many Jews as possible to emigrate to Palestine before 1938. Palestine was a protectorate of the British, and immigration was restricted, but the Nazis aided the Zionists in illegal immigration. Hitler established farms and workshops where young German Jews could be trained in agriculture and blue-collar jobs, which would qualify them for legal immigration to Palestine.

After the war, Eichmann escaped arrest by posing as a Luftwaffe private; he was captured, but escaped. For awhile, he worked in Germany under a false name, then fled in 1950 to Italy and from there to Argentina. He lived there with his family until he was kidnapped by the Israeli Intelligence Service in May 1960 and taken to Israel for trial as a war criminal.

During his trial in Jerusalem, Eichmann testified as follows during session 107 on July 24, 1961:

What I know is that the gentlemen convened their session, and then in very plain terms – not in the language that I had to use in the minutes, but in absolutely blunt terms – they addressed the issue, with no mincing of words. And my memory of all this would be doubtful, were it not for the fact that I distinctly recall saying to myself at the time, Look, just look at Stuckart, the perpetual law-abiding bureaucrat, always punctilious and fussy, and now what a different tone! The language was anything but in conformity with the legal protocol of clause and paragraph. I should add that this is the only thing from the conference that still has stayed clearly in my mind.

When the Presiding Judge asked Eichmann what Stuckart had said “in general” “on this topic,” Eichmann answered, “The discussion covered killing, elimination, and annihilation.”

On the basis of Eichmann’s testimony, it is now accepted that the minutes of the Wannsee conference were written with euphemisms, instead of the actual words used at the conference.

Gerald Fleming wrote the following in his book “Hitler and the Final Solution”:

Heydrich, who presided over this fateful conference and ultimately “gave the finishing touches” to the minutes of the proceedings, which had been prepared by Eichmann, prudently refrained from documenting any mention regarding the “special treatment” of the Jews not fit for labor.

The Nazi term “special treatment” (Sonderbehandlung) is believed be a euphemism which meant death in the gas chamber.

Eichmann was convicted of Crimes against Humanity by the Israeli court and was executed on May 31, 1962. He was the first and only person in the history of the world to ever be convicted of a crime that was not a crime when the act was committed and by a country that did not exist when the act was committed.

Conference room

Museum Highlights

History of the Wannsee villa