The lakeside villa in Berlin where high-ranking Nazi officials coordinated the implementation of the Holocaust has launched a new permanent exhibition.
The House of the Wannsee Conference (Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz) is where Nazi Party, SS and government officials gathered on 20 January, 1942 to discuss how they would carry out the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" - the policy of exterminating the Jewish people.
Located in a southwestern suburb of Berlin, the lakeside villa has been opened as a Holocaust memorial and education centre since 1992. With the new upgraded permanent exhibition though, museum officials hope they can attract more visitors, particularly students, and keep them engaged for longer with interactive displays. The exhibition is entitled The Meeting at the Wannsee and the Murder of European Jews.
In a statement, museum officials highlighted the significance of this exhibition as "current debates about anti-Semitism, racism and other group-related misanthropy" continue. The conference at Wannsee "marked the political and moral low point of a modern society," they added. "In these rooms it is important to uncover the mechanisms of prejudice, exclusion and murderous persecution."
The Wannsee conference was not the meeting at which the Nazis decided on the Holocaust. Jews were already being rounded up and killed in their thousands. By the time of the Wannsee meeting, the first Nazi gas chamber in Poland, at Chelmno, was already carrying out the unspeakable. The meeting was held not so much as to devise policy as to sign off on the practical details.
The meeting was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich of the SS and the main record we have of what was discussed are the minutes drawn up afterwards by Heidrick's specialist on Jewish affairs, Adolf Eichman. Most of the copies were destroyed but one survived and it has become known as the Wannsee Protocol. We know more of what followed from Eichman's own testimony when he was tried 20 years later. When the official part of the meeting was over, cognac was served and according to Eichman, coded language was dropped and people spoke freely about "extermination."
By the time World War II ended three years later, an estimated six million Jews lay dead in the wake of genocide.