The year 1942 marked a turning point for European Jews both inside and outside of the ghettos. On January 20, senior officials from various branches of the German Reich met at a villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee at the invitation of SS General Reinhard Heydrich, who was a subordinate of Heinrich Himmler.

Heydrich was assisted by SS Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann, head of the Jewish section of the Reich Main Security Office. Thirteen other officials participated. They came from the German Foreign Office, Interior Ministry, the Gestapo, Justice Ministry, Ministry for Eastern Territories, and Hitler's Reich Chancellery.

Heydrich informed his colleagues at the Wannsee conference that the SS had been given responsibility to implement a "Final Solution to the Jewish Question." This meant the mass execution of European Jews.

Until the Wannsee Conference, mass killings of Jews had been mainly carried out in the Soviet Union. But afterwards, a clear comprehensive program was in place to implement the total destruction of European Jewry. Heydrich had presented a statistical review of Europe's Jewish population, listed by country. Even areas not under German control were included -- such as England with its population of 330,000 Jews. 

The participants at the Wannsee Conference met for a mere ninety minutes, but their deliberations sealed the fate of Europe's Jews for the next four years. When Heydrich was assassinated several months later, the program was nicknamed “Operation Reinhard” in his memory.

 

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The Villa at Wannsee