On the Other Hand...

A Lesson from Berlin

by Jim Davies

Eight or ten years ago, PBS-TV broadcast a most remarkable documentary, which I recorded; and have replayed the tape at least once every year since, as my personal memorial to the several million victims of government in the Jewish Holocaust.

It's called "The Wannsee Conference", and was produced in German by Bavarian Television, with (fortunately) English subtitles. As far as the producers were able, it reproduces in 90 minutes, word for word, the conduct of a meeting held in February 1942 in a mansion in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, under the chairmanship of Reynhard Heydrich.

In my opinion it's one of the most significant TV productions of the Twentieth Century, and I've been astonished to have noticed no repeat.

During my business life I've attended many business meetings in Europe, including several with German participants who in some cases acted as chairmen. So I can vouch for the fact that the manner and style of this Wannsee Conference were shown exactly true to type; except for the subject matter discussed, it portrayed precisely how German conferees behave.

I intend no criticism, mind. Long before seeing this documentary I'd noticed a certain heartiness, a slightly exaggerated good humor, a high deference to authority, among German members of a round-table discussion. They are not bad characteristics - in fact I rather like them; my point is, that this film was spot-on. And Germans conduct themselves commendably, compared with other nationals.

The Agenda

One of the most endearing participants was a military officer called Lange. He had flown from Latvia, I think it was, to take part; and had brought his Shepherd dog with him. The dog barked outside in the garden and at Heydrich's prompting, Lange went out for a moment to feed him, and the barking stopped. Lange remarked that rations for dogs in Berlin were better than those for soldiers near the Eastern Front! Plenty of laughter, all around. And a little later, when the weary Lange nodded off to sleep, he had to be awoken - with some gentle teasing by Heydrich.

The documentary shows however that Lange was also a most dedicated exterminator of Jewish people. Just prior to the conference proper, he had reported to Heydrich proudly that, under his leadership, the Baltic States were "Juden-frei"; with a clicking of the heels, Lange was boasting that no living Jew survived in that area of the new German Empire. A job very well done.

And the whole agenda had to do with the "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Problem."

As stated by the Chairman, the specific purpose was to ensure the co-operation with Heydrich's SS of all the key departments of the government of the Third Reich, in exterminating all Jews under its jurisdiction - now that all possibility of exporting them had ended, after FDR had manipulated the US into World War Two. He made it clear that Hitler and Himmler had entrusted him with that responsibility, and the Wannsee Conference was to make sure that the lines of interdepartmental co-operation were clear.

The Conference also had an unstated purpose: as Heydrich explained to a small group of "insiders" before it started, it was to make sure that all those department heads shared the responsibility. That real purpose succeeded completely. From February 1942 onwards, the Holocaust could never be seen as just an aberration, by one over-zealous government department (the SS); it was a deliberate act of the entire government and its bureaucracy. The SS got the job done; but nobody could later say "they did it without my agreement." Nobody protested.

The Minutes

These were taken by a lady stenographer, with whom Heydrich openly flirted during the conference; and her notes were transcribed with the editorial guidance of Adolf Eichmann, who also told the delegates of his responsibility to schedule trains returning from the Front to transport the victims to their fate. He was angered, was Eichmann, by the shocking fact that some of the rolling stock had been damaged! when certain Jewish corpses, frozen stiff to the carriage seats, had been ripped away so vigorously by the receiving staff as to break the seats.

There were also the personal notes and recollections of a few of the surviving participants, recovered after the war. No doubt some of the dialog was filled-in; but the whole was a seamless and highly credible reconstruction of one of the most infamous planning councils in history.

The whole discussion was rational, businesslike, matter-of-fact. Jews had to be exterminated, that was clearly the mission Destiny had given to the Reich; so let the job be done as efficiently as could be - distasteful though it was (why, even Reichsminister Himmler himself had thrown up at the sight of naked Jewish corpses in a mass grave!) Shooting and carbon-monoxide poisoning had proven expensive and unreliable; so let it be done by vermin-killer gas, in the shower rooms of the concentration camps. And let the Jewish workers in those camps take care of the most unpleasant tasks - as a condition of their own, temporary survival.

Shall half-Jews and quarter-Jews be included? No! said one, for that would violate the Nurnberg Laws, and that would never do. No! said another, for that would deprive the Reich of many valuable munitions workers. But Yes, ruled the majority, unless some method of sterilization could be made reliable; for then alone could they make use of those workers without the danger of them ever regenerating the Race. An elegant solution. Rational planning at its finest, courtesy and co-operation all round, bureaucracy at its best.

The Lesson

There was nothing improper or fanatical about the Wannsee Conference, that I could see; nothing unusual. Participants had no horns; they did not foam at the mouth. They joked, complained, reasoned, negotiated, concurred, just like any other government or business group. Its most appalling characteristic was that it was perfectly ordinary; that its participants were perfectly human.

The lesson is that ANY such gathering can calmly and reasonably plan the extermination of eleven million human beings (yes, eleven; only the loss of the war reduced the count.) All it needs is one factor.

That factor is the common presumption of purpose and authority. All those soldiers, civil governors and bureaucrats took it for granted that their task was to rid the world of Jews; that premise was unquestioned. And secondly, they presumed that they had the proper authority to dispose of those human lives.

And why not? - had they not been duly elected to such power?

Yes, they had been elected, and therein lies the vast falsehood of democracy; for its theory is that The People delegate power to chosen representatives. But nobody can delegate power he does not have in the first place; and no German voter in 1933 had any authority to deprive his Jewish neighbor of the right to work, or of his property, or of his residence, or of his life. No more than today's American voter has the right to take his neighbor's income, or regulate how he uses his property, or require him to pay for his own childrens' education, or prevent him buying a gun.

So it really doesn't matter whether they were elected or not. Neither elector nor electee had the right to govern anybody else's life, for it belongs only to him. And until we clearly understand that self-ownership principle, and undermine that arrogant presumption, a Holocaust will happen again.

© Copyright Jim Davies 2000

Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.

The above is Edition # 310

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