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terça-feira, 27 de novembro de 2012

No Limits for Cruelty

The Wannsee Conference was a meeting of senior officials of the Nazi German regime, held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942. The purpose of the conference was to inform administrative leaders of Departments responsible for various policies relating to Jews thatReinhard Heydrich had been appointed as the chief executor of the "Final solution to the Jewish question". In the course of the meeting, Heydrich presented a plan, presumably approved by Adolf Hitler, for the deportation of the Jewish population of Europe and French North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) to German-occupied areas in eastern Europe, and the use of the Jews fit for labour on road-building projects, in the course of which they would eventually die according to the text of the Wannsee Protocol, the surviving remnant to be annihilated after completion of the projects.[1] Instead, as Soviet and Allied forces gradually pushed back the German lines, most of the Jews of German-occupied Europe were sent to extermination or concentration camps, or killed where they lived. As a result of the efforts of historian Joseph Wulf, the Wannsee House, where the conference was held, is now a Holocaust Memorial.

In 1935, the German Reichstag was controlled by the Nazi Party. It codified longstanding antisemitic practices, both official and unofficial, in theNuremberg Laws which made them official policies of the Third Reich. These laws provided legal definitions of who was a Jew and who was a German citizen (definitively severing Jewish identity from German citizenry), prohibited sexual intercourse between Jews and state citizens, and provided punishment in forced labor camps for those who fell afoul of the law.

In 1939, Adolf Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" (later known as Action T4), which instituted a forced eugenics program extending the existing laws enabling sterilisation for those deemed genetically or socially unfit. Under this new policy doctors were allowed, and in some cases required, to take the lives of those deemed unfit rather than to sterilize them, as had been the law before. The term euthanasia in this context is a euphemism, since its aim was not to relieve pain and suffering but rather, for the sake of societal purity, to prevent further 'pollution' of the race by 'inferior' genetics.

The notion of wholesale deportation of Jews, as part of the plan to "purify" all of Europe, reached its peak in the forced deportation of Jews to labor camps in Poland and in the Madagascar Plan of 1940, but was shelved due to logistical challenges during the war.

With the policies of legal racism delineated by the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and their consequences, the continued deportation of Jews, the prospect of 'ethnic cleansing' of Europe and the existing sterilization laws extending to actual murder in 1939, the Wannsee Conference in 1942 can be seen to be simply as a means to codify murder in order to expedite existing policy.

The rapid German advances in the opening weeks of the invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, created a mood of euphoria among the Nazi leadership, which began to take a view of the "solution" of the "Jewish question" increasingly freed from moral or ethical restraints. The so-called "Jewish question" seemed even more urgent with the growing likelihood that the four million Jews of the western Soviet Union would fall under German control.[2] On 16 July 1941 Hitler addressed a meeting of ministers, includingReichsmarschall Hermann Göring, at which administration of the occupied Soviet territories was discussed. He said that Soviet territories west of the Urals were to become a "German Garden of Eden", and that "naturally this vast area must be pacified as quickly as possible; this will happen best by shooting anyone who even looks sideways at us."[3]

Hitler's chief lieutenants, Göring and the SS chief Heinrich Himmler, took this and other comments by Hitler at this time (most of which were not recorded, but were attested to at postwar trials) as authority to proceed with a definitive "final solution of the Jewish question" (Die Endlösung der Judenfrage) involving the complete removal of the Jews from the German-occupied territories. On 31 July 1941 Göring gave written authorisation to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), to "make all necessary preparations" for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in all the territories under German influence, to coordinate the participation of all government organizations whose cooperation was required, and to submit a "comprehensive draft" of a plan for the "final solution of the Jewish question".[4]

Göring was at this time the second most powerful figure in the Nazi regime, having been given the special rank of Reichsmarschall and designated as Hitler's successor.[5] Heydrich would thus have understood that any instruction coming from Göring carried Hitler's authority. He also knew that his immediate superior, Himmler, favored exterminating the Jews, and Heydrich was at that moment directing the Einsatzgruppen to do just that in the newly conquered Soviet territories. Rudolf Lange, commander of Einsatzkommando 2 in Latvia, wrote that his orders were "a radical solution of the Jewish problem through the execution of all Jews".[6] In October, deportation of the Jews of Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to the east began. When a train carrying about 1,000 German Jews arrived at Riga in Latvia on November 29, 1941, Lange simply had them shot. But this was clearly not a feasible method of dealing with millions of people: the cost of the ammunition alone was unacceptable, and it was observed that even SS troops were uncomfortable about shooting assimilated German Jews as opposed to Ostjuden ("Eastern Jews").[7] The head of the German civil administration in Belarus, Generalkomissar Wilhelm Kube, who among other crimes personally murdered Jewish children, objected to the deportation of German Jews to theMinsk ghetto "who come from our own cultural circle" where they were being casually killed by German soldiers.[8]

Accordingly, during the second half of 1941 Heydrich and his staff worked on proposals to "evacuate" all Jews from Germany and the occupied countries to labour camps, either in occupied Poland or further east in the Soviet Union, which it was assumed would soon be completely conquered. Those who were unable to work would be killed, while the remainder would soon be worked to death. But the German defeat in front of Moscow in November–December led to a sharp change of emphasis. Euphoria was replaced by the prospect of a long war, and also by a realisation that food stocks were not sufficient to feed the entire population of German-occupied Europe.[9] It was at this time that the decision to proceed from "evacuation" to extermination was made. Speaking with Himmler and Heydrich on 25 October, Hitler said, "Let no one say to me we cannot send them into the swamp. Who then cares about our own people? It is good when terror precedes us that we are exterminating the Jews. We are writing history anew, from the racial standpoint."[10]

Letter from Reinhard Heydrich to Martin Luther, Undersecretary at the Foreign Office, inviting him to the Wannsee Conference (Wannsee Conference House Memorial, Berlin).
By November 1941, it was becoming known in the upper reaches of the Nazi leadership and government offices that Hitler intended all the Jews of Europe to be deported to the eastern territories and executed by whatever means.[11] To carry out such a massive enterprise involving the registration, assembly and transportation of millions of people at a time when the necessary material and human resources were already severely stretched, would be a formidable logistical challenge. It was also one that at least some elements of the German state apparatus might be expected to obstruct or fail to cooperate with. It thus seemed advisable to bring together representatives of all affected departments to explain what was intended and how it was to be carried out, and to make it clear that the project had been undertaken on the highest authority of the Reich.
On 29 November, Heydrich sent invitations for a meeting to be held on 9 December at the headquarters of the International Criminal Police Commission (the forerunner of Interpol, of which Heydrich at the time served as President) at 16 Am Kleinen Wannsee (in the comfortable lakeside suburb of Wannsee on the western edge of Berlin). He enclosed a copy of Göring's letter of 31 July to indicate his authority in the matter. As this was to be a meeting of administrators to discuss implementation of a policy already decided at the executive level, those invited were mostly state secretaries, i.e., chief administrative (subministerial) officers of government ministries. The ministries to be represented were Interior, Justice, the Four Year Plan and Occupied Eastern Territories. The Foreign Office was to be represented by an undersecretary, since Heydrich suspected that State Secretary Weizsäcker was not fully aligned with the objectives of the regime.[12] Also invited were representatives of the Reich Chancellery, the Nazi Party Chancellery, the Race and Resettlement Main Office of the RSHA andGestapo chief Müller. When Hans Frank, head of the General Government in occupied Poland, heard of the meeting, he demanded to be represented and Heydrich agreed. SS-Sturmbannführer Lange was invited for his experience in executing German Jews in Latvia. Heydrich's right-hand man Eichmann was to take the minutes.[13]
Developments in early December 1941 disrupted the original meeting plans. On 5 December, the Soviet Army began a counter-offensive in front of Moscow, ending the prospect of a rapid conquest of the Soviet Union. On 7 December, the Japanese attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, causing the U.S. to declare war on Japan the next day. To fulfill its obligations under its Tripartite Pact with Italy and Japan, the Reich government immediately began preparing to issue a declaration of war on the U.S. on 11 December. Some meeting invitees were involved in these preparations, so Heydrich postponed the meeting without rescheduling it on 8 December. In early January 1942, Heydrich sent new invitations to a meeting to be held on 20 January. German historian Christian Gerlach sees in Heydrich's postponement the exploitation of an opportunity to broaden the original objective.Götz Aly wrote, "The postponement followed, one could assert, the political confusion that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had caused. But Gerlach substantiates with convincing details that the originally planned Wannsee Conference had an entirely different theme from that which actually took place six weeks later. It had been anticipated only to discuss problems that occurred with the deportations of the (Greater) German Jews... Only after Hitler's speech of 12 December was Heydrich able, as Gerlach shows, to broaden the theme and fix a conference on the 'Final Solution of the European Jewish question'."[14]

In preparation for the conference, Eichmann drafted a list of the numbers of Jews in the various European countries (quoted below in translation). Countries were listed in two groups, "A" & "B". "A" countries were those under direct Reich control or occupation (or partially occupied and quiescent, in the case of France); "B" countries were allied or client states, neutral, or at war with Germany. The numbers reflect actions already completed by Nazi forces; for example, Estonia is listed as judenfrei ("free of Jews"), since the thousand Jews who remained in Estonia after the German occupation had been virtually exterminated by the end of 1941.[16] English translation:
[List] A.

Eichmann's list
Old Reich [Germany proper]: 131,800
Ostmark [Austria]: 43,700
Eastern Territories [Polish areas annexed by the Reich]: 420,000
General Government [occupied Polish lands]: 2,284,000
Bialystok [district in eastern Poland, under German civil administration]: 400,000
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia: 74,200
Estonia: free of Jews
Latvia: 3,500
Lithuania: 34,000
Belgium: 43,000
Denmark: 5,600
France/occupied territory: 165,000
unoccupied territory: 700,000
Greece: 69,600
Netherlands: 160,800
Norway: 1,300
[List] B.
Bulgaria: 48,000
England [i.e. United Kingdom]: 330,000
Finland: 2,300
Ireland: 4,000
Italy including Sardinia: 58,000
Albania: 200
Croatia: 40,000
Portugal: 3,000
Romania including Bessarabia: 342,000
Sweden: 8,000
Switzerland: 18,000
Serbia: 10,000
Slovakia: 88,000
Spain: 6,000
Turkey (European portion): 55,500
Hungary: 742,800
USSR: 5,000,000 [including subtotals for:]
Belarus exclusive of Bialystok: 446,484
Ukraine: 2,994,684
"Total: over 11,000,000"
For comparison see "Jewish Lists" of the Korherr Report of January 18, 1943.

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