THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE AND THE FINAL SOLUTION: A Reconsideration
Although the publisher promises a "groundbreaking investigation," little if any new light is shed on the overture to the Holocaust by English historian Roseman (A Past in Hiding). The notorious 1942 meeting, in a villa in a posh Berlin suburb overlooking Lake Wannsee, reviewed, rather than approved, the "final solution of the Jewish question." Assent was a given. Heinrich Himmler's chief deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, chaired—and dominated—the conference, which dealt in coded euphemisms with the genocide already underway in occupied Poland and Russia. The protocol, or minutes, printed here as an appendix—the most valuable part of this small book—makes clear in a single sentence who bore authoritative responsibility: "Instead of emigration, the Führer has now given his approval for a new kind of solution, the evacuation of the Jews to the East." All 15 participants understood what "evacuation" meant, says Roseman. Working Jews to death would not eliminate "the most resistant elements" in the "final remnant," Heydrich coldly told those present, for by "natural selection" these would "form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival." That line more than any other, Roseman feels, mandated the murders without exception. Beyond that, he wanders, page after page and often repetitiously, through the bureaucratic Nazi pseudo-legal arguments about how many Jewish grandparents made one a Jew and how to deal with mixed marriages. Even the absolutist Himmler complained, "We tie our hands with all these stupid definitions." As ultimate Nazi racial policy, the Wannsee minutes, despite chilling ambiguities, were a "rhetorical canopy" behind which Roseman sees Hitler's "licensing." (May 7)
Forecast:Because the Wannsee conference has attained iconic status since the protocol was discovered in 1947, a book with Wannsee as its focus may draw many curious readers beyond history specialists.