Wannsee and the bureaucracy of genocide

The villa of the Wannsee conference

Remembrance Day isn’t observed here in the country that started and lost two World Wars.

But Berlin is filled with memorials which commemorate the Twentieth Century’s darkest events.

I normally stand alone in my study for the 11am moment of silence. But this year I decided to observe Remembrance Day by visiting the Wannsee villa where Nazi bureaucrats met to work out the details of their “final solution to the Jewish problem”.

It felt especially important to go there because this is the first Remembrance Day in my 51 years that I’ve seen antisemitism openly rallying in the cities of Europe, England and Canada — the cities whose very same citizens gave their lives by the hundreds of thousands to defeat it in 1945.

Wannsee is a beautiful suburb set in forest on a broad bight of the Havel River. This popular summer swimming spot has one of Europe’s longest inland beaches. Its shores are lined with villas and yacht clubs, and the scent of money hovers in the air. 

One of those villas was owned by the Nazi SD in 1940, the intelligence arm of the SS.

Chief of Reich Security, SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich

Chief of Reich Security SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich invited representatives from several government ministries to a meeting there on 20 January 1942. The murder of Jews had already been underway for several months, but Heydrich wanted the participants to agree on a common approach, and to work under his leadership.

Letter from Hermann Göring to task Reinhard Heydrich with submitting an overall plan for the ‘final solution’, dated 31 July 1941

He also explained that the objectives had changed. Their initial plan was to expropriate all property and wealth owned by Jews, and to drive them out of Germany. Now, rather than forced emigration, Jews were to be rounded up and taken to Eastern Europe to be killed there by forced labour. Those unable to work, and those who survived, would also be killed.  

The meeting didn’t take much longer than 90 minutes. They discussed the murder of all Jewish men, women and children, not just in Germany but in all of Europe. And no one objected.

The sun sparkled on the Wannsee outside the room’s three tall windows, and the smell of breakfast bread wafted in from the kitchen.

Several things struck me about the details of this meeting, and each has parallels today.

One was the nature of the discussion. Mass murder wasn’t mentioned explicitly, at least not in the minutes of the meeting. The terminology is bureaucratic, procedural, systematic, and antiseptic in a way that a bullet to the back of the head or asphyxiation never are.

One section, underlined in pencil, says that the goal was to cleanse German living space of Jews “auf legale Weise” — “by legal means”.

Page 3 of the 15-page minutes of the Wannsee conference meeting

SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, Head of Section IV Jewish Affairs and Evacuation, would say at his 1961 trial that he was told to make sure nothing too explicit appeared in the official minutes. “How shall I put it,” he said, “certain over-plain talk and jargon expressions had to be rendered into office language by me”.

When I read those 15 closely typed pages, I saw how they focused on the minutiae of procedures and definitions, and avoided the inhumanity of what they were planning. 

They ‘problematized’ the Jews and obscured their own actions in academic-sounding jargon. They also created elaborate charts to determine what degree of ancestry made someone a Jew, an unwanted parasite to be purged.

Chart of racial classification under the Nuremburg Laws (1935)

Their methods reminded me of today’s ‘compassionate’ professors and activists, who preach anti-racism while slotting individuals into deterministic racial categories that label them as ‘oppressor’ to be purged or ‘oppressed’ to be given all power as some sort of correction of history. 

They hide their antisemitism behind academic concepts like ‘decolonization’, which they claim will be bloody but necessary. Ethnic cleansing always is.

More often than not, the professors and activists themselves fall into the ‘problematic’ racial category of ‘whiteness’, but they give themselves a pass for being the architects of this power hungry ideology.

The other thing that struck me about the Wannsee conference was the normality of the participants. 

History regards them as monsters, but Reinhard Heydrich’s father was a composer and director of a conservatoire. Adolph Eichmann’s father was an accountant. Heinrich Müller, head of Gestapo Section IV, only had a high school education, unlike the others, but his father was a gardener.

Of the 15 men who met in Wannsee to plot the eradication of European Jewry, nine were lawyers and over half had earned doctorates. Education didn’t protect them from the poisonous ideology they acted out.

Today, education positively encourages race-obsession, antisemitism and the hatred of our own cultural legacy.

The third thing that struck me about the Wannsee conference was that the participants were aware of the monstrous nature of what they were doing, and of how the world would judge them.

Martin Luther, secretary of Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, pointed out that rounding up Jews would cause difficulties in some countries, notably the Nordic states, and that it was therefore advisable to defer action in those countries. In South-Eastern and Western Europe, however, he didn’t foresee any major difficulties.

The Nazis knew they would be held accountable for their crimes, and when the tide of war turned against them, they tried to destroy the evidence.

That isn’t the case with the terrorists of Hamas who butchered unarmed Jews on 7 October. They filmed their gang rapes, brutal murders and cruel beheadings and proudly showed them to the world.

One butcher called his parents using the phone of a woman he had just slaughtered, saying over and over, “Look how many I killed with my own hands! Your son killed Jews! I killed 10 with my own hands! Dad, 10 with my own hands!” His mother takes the phone and replies, “I wish I was with you.”

Journalists across the world have watched graphic videos of this butchery. What shocked them most wasn’t the barbarity of it, but the glee with which it was carried out. Unlike the Nazis, these killers were positively ecstatic. They wanted the world to see what they’d done while shouting “Allahu akbar!” (“god is great”).

Hamas leaders have said on camera that, if given the chance, they will repeat October 7th over and over and over again until there are no Jews left.

Reading the farewell letter of a Jewish woman about to be killed

It was heartbreaking to read the farewell letters of Jews about to be taken and killed. But more than anything, what I felt when looking at photos of the men who attended the Wannsee conference was anger — anger at the weak hate-filled men who drove ‘the final solution’, at the millions who collaborated with them, and at the many more who enabled them by doing nothing to stop it.

The writer Douglas Murray describes antisemitism as a shapeshifting virus. In the past, he says, Jews were hated for their religion. After Europe’s wars of religion, you couldn’t hate them for that anymore, so people started hating them for their race. After the Holocaust, you couldn’t hate them for their race, so people started hating them for their nation. And so it goes on.

Representatives from 32 states met in Evian in July 1938 — few accepted Jewish refugees

The villa of the Wannsee conference was turned into a documentation centre so we would remember what was done there during the Second World War — and so that we would never go down that horrible road again.

Eighty-one years have passed since 20 January 1942, and we have failed to keep the promise our forefathers made when they said “Never again.”

October 7th was the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. The bodies hadn’t even been counted when huge groups of people took to the streets of Canada to celebrate, and to demand that Israel not strike back. They did this having seen footage of Hamas terrorists hunting down unarmed kids at a music festival, shooting unarmed civilians in cars, and murdering entire families in their homes. 

The colossally stupid or badly educated Western students who joined them may be too ignorant to know that the river in “From the river to the sea” is the Jordan, and the territory to be cleansed of Jews is the entire area of modern Israel. 

Far worse footage has been released since that day, revealing a level of depravity that exceeds even that of the Nazis. And yet, antisemitism grows in virulence unopposed on our streets. 

To hold pro-Hamas rallies on Remembrance Day of all days was a deliberate affront to the sacrifices made by our grandparents and great grandparents. A line was crossed that we cannot accept.

US soldiers force residents of Weimar to look behind the walls of Buchenwald concentration camp, 16 April 1945

The men and women whose deaths we commemorate on November 11th knew how quickly civilization can turn into barbarism.

They saw in the ruins of Berlin and Dresden how easy it is to tear something down — and how difficult it is to build it back up.

They knew that sometimes a country can tear itself apart and descend into the sort of anarchy there’s no coming back from.

And they knew that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

The past few weeks have made it clear we’re headed down the same ugly road again. Those calling for “death to all Jews” and “decolonization by any means necessary” are not advocating for an end to war on behalf of Gaza’s innocent noncombatants who live under the brutal rule of terrorists that use them as human shields, and that divert humanitarian aid money to building underground fortifications and missiles.

It is no longer safe to be a Jew on the streets of Montreal, Toronto, London or Berlin.

A Christian can walk through any of these cities wearing a crucifix. A Buddhist monk can stroll freely in his robes. A Muslim can wear an Islamic beard and taqiyah (cap), and even a burqa in our self-professed bastions of feminism. Can the same be said of a Jew with a kippa?

The willingness of our countries to defend Western values is being probed and tested and pushed.

When a synagogue is firebombed and a Jewish school peppered with bullets twice in one week in Montreal, when Jewish students are attacked by pro-Hamas students and a teacher at Concordia University, when Jewish shops are targeted in Toronto, when supporters of a banned terrorist organization fill our streets to advocate the eradication of Israel and shout ‘death to all Jews’, when they take over our sacred days and our sacred spaces —Remembrance Day and our cenotaphs — and our governments and police do nothing, it sends a very clear message that we are no longer willing to defend and uphold the values our forebears fought so hard to secure. 

This situation can quickly spiral out of control.

History has taught us that the sort of slaughter we saw in the Holocaust and on October 7th never ends with the Jews. Places like the Wannsee villa and Auschwitz were preserved to remind us of this.

The latest outbreak of violence in the Middle East is a turning point. It isn’t yet another skirmish in an endless regional conflict. It is quickly becoming civilizational. 

We are standing on the edge of a precipice, and I don’t know whether we’ll step back and stand up for our values or tip into the abyss once again.

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • Ryan. How really sad that history does, it seems, to repeat itself. Wannasee certainly reflects current day activities. I’m 80 years old & have tried for years to understand why the Jewish people are victims of hate. I’ve written several sources & asked why? To this day I don’t have a clear answer. Don’t back off reporting on these items. Keep telling the truth.

    • Thank you Clark. I’ve never been able to understand it either. And I can’t see how our current societal obsession with race is anything but a regression to an age where people were judged and categorized based on the colour of their skin. How is that progress?

  • Interesting post Ryan.
    Both my parents served in the armed forces in the Second World war, my father driving a Dual drive Sherman in the D-Day landings, and my mother in the S.O.E. My maternal grandparents took in three Jewish children that were able to escape Nazi Germany as part of the Kindertransport campaign.

    Of course that doesn’t automatically mean that I’m not anti-Semitic, but I’m not, and nor I believe are the hundreds of thousands of people that have demonstrated against the nightly bombing of Gaza since the 7th of October.

    Joining those who it seems consider that the Nazis weren’t as bad as the Hamas combatants that murdered civilians, and killed IDF soldiers, because the poor Nazis had to get drunk at the end of their days butchery of innocent Jews (and others considered untermenschen), to be able to forget the horror, is imho, despicable.

    The Nazi’s final solution was a carefully planned industrial murder of a people because of their religion (race, sexuality, or for being prisoners of war, or agents from several nations).
    To try desperately to equate the Hamas attack with this, is I find, disgusting.
    It belittles the Holocaust, and at the stroke of a pen tries to write off any possible motivation for the barbaric attack on Israel.

    And according to the current Israeli Prime Minister, Hitler never even considered exterminating European Jewry, merely wanting U-Haul fashion , to help them relocate to Palestine. But the strong words of the Mufti of Jerusalem, presumably having in his power the One Ring, and maybe the Ark of the Covenant, so frightened Hitler, that he had to change his mind, and burn them all.


    • Christopher,

      Thank you for sharing those details of your parents and grandparents. They sound like truly admirable people.

      I guess when it comes to Hamas, one person’s combatant / militant is another’s terrorist.

      Deliberately targeting unarmed civilians with beheading, gang rape, hostage taking, slaughtering family members in front of one another after lopping off various bits of their loved ones, and burning families alive would qualify such people as terrorists in my dictionary.

      I fail to see how any possible motivation can justify such barbarity. Attempting to excuse or justify it is to me shameful.

      I also fail to see what the current Israeli prime minister’s opinions have to do with anything I’ve written about the antisemitism raging in our streets. I haven’t condoned or denounced Israeli government policies in anything I’ve written. My comments are directed at antisemitism, these recent barbaric attacks, and those at Western rallies who call for ‘death to all Jews’, ‘by any means necessary’, ‘from the river to the sea’, etc etc etc.

      As I pointed out in my blog, anyone shouting such slogans is “not advocating for an end to war on behalf of Gaza’s innocent noncombatants who live under the brutal rule of terrorists that use them as human shields, and that divert humanitarian aid money to building underground fortifications and missiles.” They are deliberately calling for something very different.

      You note that the Nazi’s final solution was planned — as I’ve written here, right down to every logistical detail. Documents found on the bodies of Hamas terrorists on Oct 7th show clear planning as well, and not some spontaneous bloodletting. They detail stages of attack, meticulous descriptions of the communities being targeted — including plans to target elementary schools — and directives to “kill as many people as possible”. The acts they committed were planned, right down to the gang rapes.

      What Hamas lacked in Nazi bureaucracy they made up for in wanton cruelty of a depth I struggle to understand. Both were monstrous. Both are the enemy of anything resembling civilization.

      I think you and I would agree that the destruction of Gaza is horrible, and that hell is being brought down on innocent noncombatants. I think we would disagree on where the blame for that lies.

      I would place it with Hamas, who knowingly brought fire down on the people they were elected to govern, who use those same people as human shields, who deliberately place military facilities beneath hospitals and schools, and who divert the billions of dollars of aid money that flows into Gaza to build fortified tunnels and stockpile rockets for killing Jews.

      When it comes to Hamas, I think Golda Meir was right when she said, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.”

      Hamas leaders have said that if given a chance, they will repeat Oct 7th again and again, and that they’re proud to ‘martyr’ the people of Gaza while doing so https://twitter.com/MEMRIReports/status/1719662664090075199

      I fail to see how there can be any lasting peace or two state solution without eradicating Hamas.

      What happens in that beleaguered corner of the world is ultimately up to the Israelis and Palestinians.

      What happens in our own cities — in Canada, the US, Europe and England — is up to those of us who live here. These barbaric attacks have revealed a level of virulent antisemitism I never would have expected, but that I’m sadly not surprised to see in our bastions of so-called progressivism.

      • I meant to add that I wasn’t making an ill-informed comparison based simply on Hamas and the Nazi’s enjoyment of atrocities. There were literal connections between the Nazis and the Muslim Brotherhood via brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna (an ardent admirer of Mein Kampf) and Haj Amin el-Husseini (who met with Hitler in November 1941). Hamas came out of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch.

        • Dear Ryan, many thanks for replying.

          “I guess when it comes to Hamas, one person’s combatant / militant is another’s terrorist.

          Deliberately targeting unarmed civilians with beheading, gang rape, hostage taking, slaughtering family members in front of one another after lopping off various bits of their loved ones, and burning families alive would qualify such people as terrorists in my dictionary.”

          Perhaps you haven’t read that much of the above was pure fiction. But I do not condone the attack carried out by the armed wing terrorists of Hamas. Perhaps you also know about the beginnings of Hamas?
          We’ve been led to believe that Hamas and the population of Gaza, is one and the same thing.
          After the war ended in Europe (WWII), my father was stationed in then, Palestine. Several armed Jewish groups were terrorists in the eyes of the British, and amongst other atrocities, one group in particular (Irgun) blew up the King David hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people of various nationalities, and injuring 46. Leader of the Irgun was Menachem Begin, who later became Israeli Prime Minister,
          one country’s terrorist in this case, also became the joint Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1978.

          Defending the Palestinians right to live, doesn’t equal being anti Semitic, or even anti Israel.

        • Sorry to jump in again to have my two pence worth.
          Although Wikipedia may not be the most reliable source, it states about Hassan al-Banna “Hassan al-Banna in two of his writings, Peace In Islam and Our Message, criticises the ultra-nationalism of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as being a “reprehensible idea” within which was “not the slightest good”[27] and which gave power to “chosen tyrants”. Are you sure he was an ardent admirer of Mein Kampf?

          Having enjoyed another excellent podcast of yours, perhaps you might like to read this by Louisa Waugh:
          Many thanks!

          • Hi Christopher.

            No, I haven’t read that those graphic details were pure fiction. The journalists who watched the footage and visited the scenes of the attack were, what, then…? Misled? And what of the ecstatic Hamas terrorists who filmed and shared it with the world?

            Yes, I’m aware of the origins of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

            I suggest checking out the Conflicted podcast, they’ve done several fascinating episodes on the Brotherhood, Hamas and much more. The co-host fought in several conflicts as a jihadi before turning spy for MI6 within Al Qaeda. He’s posted some very informative Q&A videos on Twitter as well re: the current conflict in Gaza.

            I don’t equate Palestinians with Hamas, nor have I disputed their right to live or to defend themselves. Overthrowing Hamas would be a great start to a better life for the people of that beleaguered territory.

So many innocent Palestinian noncombatants have been used as human shields, had bunkers built beneath their hospitals and homes, and had billions of dollars in international aid money that should have gone towards increasing living standards for Palestinians siphoned off for Hamas’s Jew-killing rocket programs, tunnel complexes, and funding the lavish lifestyles of its leadership in Qatar.

            I’m also aware of the endless conflicts that have plagued the Levant, and that unacceptable things have been done by all sides.

            The convoluted details of that decades-long conflict are far too confusing to tackle in a blog post. That’s why I confined my remarks to condemning the terrorist atrocities of October 7th, and the antisemites in the West who held street parties and rallies calling for more of the same under the guise of eradicating what they call “settler colonialism”.

            You mentioned Louisa, my latest podcast guest. She wrote a book on Gaza — we spoke about doing a podcast about it at some point. I haven’t had a repeat guest thus far — mainly because I’ve only done 34 episodes — but I’m interested. I’d aim to do one on Israel / the Jewish perspective around the same time if so.

            Dervla Murphy also wrote books on both Gaza and the West Bank that you may find interesting.


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