The Wannsee Conference took place in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, Germany in late January 1942 during World War II. It was called to reveal and coordinate secret plans with several high-level Nazi ministers and functionaries the implementation of the Holocaust, or the attempt to murder all European Jews. The conference was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich, SS Reichfuhrer Heinrich Himmler's chief deputy. Heydrich had been commissioned by Reichmarshall Hermann Göring in late July 1941, shortly after the commencement of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Republics of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, the Baltic states and Caucuses, to formulate a "Final Solution to the Jewish Question".
Heydrich and his chief assistant, Adolf Eichmann, had worked out plans together between July 1941 and January 1942, between the time Hitler violated the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact by invading the Soviet Union, and Hitler's declaration of war against the United States following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which brought about a general state of world war. Documentation of what was discussed at the secret conference survived the war in the form of minutes transcribed by Eichmann.
Having driven most Jews out of Germany in the pre-war years, only about 60,000 remained. With the invasions of Poland and Western Europe, the Nazi regime considered itself challenged once again with administering territories with large Jewish populations, not only of populations with Jews resident in those occupied territories, but also holding many Jewish refugees who fled Germany in the 1930s. Additionally, Eichmann calculated that 11 million Jews lived in the Soviet Republics which the Germans had invaded to create Lebensraum (living room or living space) for the German and Aryan peoples of Western Europe.
Although the specific method of extermination with Zyklon B gas had not been fully decided upon as yet, the details of segregation into walled-off ghettos and deportation to concentration camps, and selection for slave workers in German factories was fully explained at the conference. Einsatzgruppen, or special mobile detachments had already been in operation in Belarus and the Baltic states, wiping out whole Jewish villages of men, women, and children, but the method was considered to slow to accomplish the task of extermination, and impractical for larger urban populations. The method of gassing was the result of ongoing experiments in some camps, and soon large facilities with airtight chambers and crematoria were constructed to accommodate up to 10,000 victims daily.
The conference itself did not take very long, highlighting the eagerness and willingness of the Nazis to carry out the Holocaust.
- Göring had been designated Hitler's successor after deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess's flight to England in May 1941, hence the order from Göring was interpreted to mean the Reich Marshall outranked the Reich Fuhrer in the Nazi hierarchy, although the Fuhrer outranked a Field Marshall in the regular German military.