May 20, 2018

Visit to House of the Wannsee Conference

The House of the Wannsee Conference, seen from the gate.
16 May 2018

The House of Wannsee is the location of the notorious Wannsee Conference, the meeting where Nazi officials discussed and decided how to implement the extermination of European Jewry in January 1942.

When you drive up to it, you are greeted with a large iron gate containing a beautiful mansion overlooking Lake Wannsee. It is located on the Wannsee peninsula, the home of the elite business and well-off citizens of the surrounding area. The house was designed and built between 1914-1915 by Paul Otto Baumgarten, an already well-known architect at the time. It seems to be a wonderful summer getaway. Soon, however, it would come to serve a much darker purpose.

            In 1921, the house was sold to Freidrich Minoux, an adherent of the right-wing opposition to the Weimar Republic. During the Nazi regime, the house served as a guesthouse for the Reich security main office, or RSHA, and acted as the headquarters of terror across occupied Europe. On the 20thof January in 1942, several high ranking Nazi officials gathered here to decide the fate of the Jews of Europe, dubbing their decision the “Final Solution”. As a result, thousands of people were murdered in the years that followed. While today we see this as a turning point in the terror brought by the Nazi Party, at the time they considered it only a formality in furthering their anti-Semitic agenda.

            At the house, before World War II young Jewish people were often made to work in a “re-education day camp” that focused on giving them the skills that they needed to emigrate from Germany. Soon, however, once RSHA had taken possession of the grounds, the young people found themselves forced to work for the Nazi government, doing gardening, cleaning, and housework. Jewish families that owned houses in the neighborhood on the Peninsula were forced out of their homes along with hundreds of other families in Germany.

            After the war, the purpose of the house flipped. Hospitals and education centers moved in, it was used as an SPD training center, and from 1952-1988 it housed the school’s residential centre for the Neukölln district. This switch exhibits a distinct contrast with its usage before and during the war. On the 50thanniversary of the conference in 1992, the house was converted into a museum.

            Today, the House of Wannsee houses information, original documents, photos of the Holocaust, and quotes from survivors and the families of perpetrators. Visitors walk through the house and learn about not only the history of the conference, but the history of the entire Holocaust.

Group 5: Katie Whitlock, Maddie Noyes, Chris St. Aubin, Isabelle Bukary (Author: Katie Whitliock)