The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution A Reconsideration

Mark Roseman




Trade Paperback

224 Pages


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In early 1947, American officials in Germany stumbled across a document. Headed "Secret Reich matter," it summarized the results of a meeting of top Nazi officials that took place on January 20, 1942, in a grand villa on the shore of Berlin's Lake Wannsee.

On one level, this document offered clarity: known as the Wannsee Protocol (and included here in full), it tallied up the Jews in Europe, carefully classified the half and quarter Jews, and above all laid the groundwork for a "final solution to the Jewish Question." Yet the Protocol, among the most shameful documents of history, remains deeply puzzling. How should we understand this businesslike discussion of genocide? And why was the meeting necessary? Hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been shot by squads in Russia or gassed in the camp at Chelmno. Test murders had been carried out in Auschwitz. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the Wannsee Conference is that we do not know why it took place.

Roseman, author of the acclaimed A Past in Hiding, seeks to unravel this double mystery and to explain how it was that on a snowy January day in 1942, a group of educated young men met to discuss the systematic slaughter of a people.


Praise for The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution

"Roseman sets out not to solve this mystery [of the Conference] so much as to anatomize it, to dissect the thinking of the key players and to present the central themes, ideas, and intentions of the day. He does so with the same determination and respect that he brought to A Past in Hiding."—Los Angeles Times

"There is, to my knowledge, no book that brings together more masterfully in less than 200 pages the daunting problems and massive research on the Holocaust than Mark Roseman's account of the notorious Wannsee Conference. Concise and very accessible, yet also comprehensive in its contextualization of the 'Final Solution of the Jewish Question' and its origins, I found this a most illuminating study of the cold-blooded planning and execution of the most horrific crime of the 20th century."—V. R. Berghahn, Seth Low Professor of History, Columbia University

"Roseman's book is a lively contribution to work on a terrifying period in history. It is no simplistic account—chaos and uncertainty are the very 'stuff' of history—but, throughout the book, we are forced to recognize the very ordinariness of these men as we follow, step by step, the diverse routes they followed in their will to destroy."—Joanna Bourke, The New Statesman

"A cool, judicious and well informed guide to the meeting whose minutes were described by the war crimes prosecutors at Nuremberg as 'perhaps the most shameful document of modern history.'"—Richard J. Evans, author of Lying About Hitler

"This is the best analysis in existence of the fateful Wannsee Conference and its place in the fateful events that culminated in 'The Final Solution.'"—Ian Kershaw, author of Hitler

"Lucid and compelling . . . a remarkable book."—Saul Friedländer, The Times Literary Supplement

"Well-researched and subtly argued . . . Roseman's grasp of every detail of the Wannsee Conference is impressive . . . Equally important is the document translated here in full: the minutes of the meeting, known as the Wannsee Protocol . . . Roseman's book is also a contribution to the question of how far Hitler was personally responsible for the extermination program."—Hyam Maccoby, Evening Standard

"An up-to-date analysis . . . Succinct, closely argued, free of academic jargon. Engrossing and chilling, it helps our understanding of Wannsee's place on the twisted path to genocide."—Theo Richmond, author of Konin

"Convincing . . .An excellent introduction to this immensely complex story . . . A highly-readable, concise, and thorough account not only of the conference itself—about which very little documentation ever survived—but of the whole debate on the timing and nature of the Holocaust . . . Shows compellingly that Wannsee was just one of many stepping stones in the middle of a long messy process of turning vicious anti-Semitic discrimination into stark mass murder."—Richard Overy, The Sunday Telegraph

"A thoughtful examination . . . A chilling keyhole glimpse of Nazi evil's bureaucratic banality."—Kirkus Reviews

"In January 1942 a group of top Nazi officials met in a villa on the shore of Lake Wannsee, near Berlin, for the purpose of planning the 'final solution' of the 'Jewish question.' This Wannsee Conference and the document emanating from it, the Wannsee Protocol, are usually regarded as the moment when German policy toward the Jews departed irretrievably from systematic persecution and deportation and turned toward a deliberate policy of genocide. Holocaust deniers and others sometimes contend that, because Hitler was not present at this meeting and because the genocidal nature of the Final Solution was not spelled out explicitly, somehow this means that there was no deliberate policy from the top of genocide against the Jews. In this short, well-reasoned book, Roseman presents a very clear exposition of the reasons behind the Wannsee meeting, what happened there, and its significance in the destruction of the Jews of Europe. Roseman's is the first thorough treatment in English devoted solely to this pivotal event. [This book] should be in all four-year academic and larger public libraries. Libraries may also want to consider a chilling video reenactment, Heinz Schirk's The Wannsee Conference."—Library Journal

"In January 1942, 15 high-ranking Nazi officials met in a villa on the shore of Berlin's Lake Wannsee. The purpose of the meeting was to intensify and streamline plans already underway for the 'Final Solution,' which was designed to exterminate European Jewry. Despite the use of coded terms, such as evacuation, the goal of genocide was clear. Yet the significance of the conference is still disputed by historians. Was this the final, irrevocable decision to physically destroy the Jews or simply a meeting to monitor the progress of a policy decision that had already been made? Were the participants fulfilling only the vague sentiments and threats of Hitler or operating under his explicit (but unwritten) instructions? Although historian Roseman cannot provide definitive answers to these questions, he utilizes a variety of sources to support several credible, but still speculative, assertions. The verbatim recounting of the words of such men as Heydrich and Eichmann as they calmly discuss mass murder is riveting and a cogent reminder that evil once embraced easily becomes bureaucratized."—Jay Freeman, Booklist

"Roseman has succeeded in a brief 150 pages to write not one, but two standard works: one on Wannsee itself, the other on Germany's road to the Holocaust."—Berlin Tagespiegel

Reviews from Goodreads



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Author of A Past in Hiding and winner of the Fraenkel Prize in contemporary history, Mark Roseman teaches at the University of Southampton and has published widely on German history. He lives in Southampton, England.
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  • Mark Roseman

  • Author of A Past in Hiding and winner of the Fraenkel Prize in contemporary history and the Wingate Literary Prize for nonfiction, Mark Roseman teaches at the University of Southampton. He has published widely on German history and lives in Southampton, England.