Museum Fellowship Lesson Plans

 
  Wannsee photograph
'Entrance to Jews Forbidden' sign at Wannsee
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.

 The Wannsee Conference
 Gretchen Skidmore
 North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
 Durham, North Carolina

 

 
 

 

Overview

On January 20, 1942, 15 high-ranking Nazi party and German government leaders met under the leadership of SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich at a lakeside villa in the wealthy Wannsee district of Berlin. Heydrich called the meeting on the basis of an order instructing him to coordinate logistics for carrying out "the final solution of the Jewish question." By reading parts of the transcript and seeing recreated scenes from this extraordinary 90 minute meeting, students will learn that German government officials discussed "extermination" without hesitation or qualm and thereby sanctioned, coordinated and expanded the implementation of the mass murder of all European Jews.

Objectives

  • Students should understand the importance of the Wannsee Conference and how it fits into the larger pattern of persecution of the Jews in Germany prior to 1942.
  • Students will be able to analyze the purpose and nature of the decisions made at the Wannsee Conference and grasp the change in Nazi policy this represented.
  • Students will investigate the use of language and the attitudes of major Nazi policy makers in all branches of the government as they adopted the “Final Solution.”
  • Students will understand the investment of resources and coordination required by the Nazis in implementing this plan that involved the cooperation of all government agencies.
  • Students will know the amount of territory controlled or occupied by the Nazis by 1942 and understand the significance of this in the execution of the "Final Solution." 

Time Required

90 minutes of instructional time

Grade Level

Grades 12

Curriculum Fit

Western Civilization

Procedure / Strategy

  1. Students read an overview of the Holocaust in their textbook and the minutes of the Wannsee Conference held January 20, 1942. Students are asked to mark passages in the document where language appears unclear or vague and bring this list to class for discussion.
  2. Discuss with overhead Nazi racial policy in the 1930's, anti-Jewish measures, policy abroad toward Slavic people, and the decisions made in 1942.
  3. Examine as a group the map of Europe in 1942 and also identify the locations in 1942 of concentration and labor camps that existed in greater Germany.
  4. Identify terms used in the minutes of the conference that are unfamiliar or unclear and clarify the role of Heinrich Himmler and the scope of his command.
  5. Watch 30 minute film clip of the Wannsee Conference that shows the actual recreation of the meeting in real time from the minutes recorded by Adolf Eichmann.
  6. Allow students to discuss their responses to what they have learned from the video.
  7. Investigate the reality of the policies discussed, the methods of implementation, the language used by the participants that disguised their actions, and the ways in which the various branches of government agreed to cooperate to implement the policy they called the “final solution.”
  8. Assign as homework a short essay that answers the question: “How does this careful investigation of the meeting of Nazi leaders in 1942 change your understanding of the Holocaust and the people who made it happen?"

Materials / Resources

  • Days of Remembrance, April 26-May 3, 1992: Fifty Years Ago: In the Depths of Darkness: Commemoration Planning Guide. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 1992.
  • "Minutes of the Wannsee Conference on the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, January 1942." Reprinted from Volume 11 of The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes by John Mendelsohn. New York: Garland Publishing, 1982.
  • "Minutes of the Wannsee Conference" from The History Place.
  • The Wannsee Conference. Munich: Infafilm, 1984. German with English subtitles.
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum resources
    Major Ghettos in Occupied Europe map
    Major Nazi Camps in Europe map
    Introduction to the Holocaust (animated map)
    The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution from The Holocaust Encyclopedia

Evaluation / Assessment

  • Check homework on both days in class.
  • Evaluate oral responses in discussion.
  • Formulate essay question on test dealing with the Wannsee Conference and other aspects of the Holocaust discussed throughout the unit. 


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