On 20 January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Security Police, chaired a meeting of German officials at Wannsee outside Berlin. The purpose of what became known as the Wannsee Conference was to coordinate the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ in which all Jews in Europe were targeted for extermination. Heydrich provided a list of the Jewish populations of every country in Europe, including enemies of Germany such as Britain and even neutral countries such as Sweden and Spain. He then proceeded to explain how they would be dealt with.

Under appropriate direction the Jews are to be utilised for work in the East in an expedient manner in the course of the Final Solution. In large columns, with the sexes separated, Jews capable of work will be moved into these areas as they build roads, during which a large proportion will no doubt drop out through natural reduction. The remnant that eventually remains will require suitable treatment: as it will certainly represent the most resistant part, it will consist of a natural selection of the fittest, form a germ cell from which the Jewish race could revive itself. (This is the lesson of history.)

Europe will combed from west to east in the process of the implementation of the Final Solution...

The evacuated Jews will first be taken in stages to so-called transit ghettos, in order to be transported further east from there.

Heydrich’s bureaucratic talk of “natural reduction”, meaning working people to death, only applied to those who were “capable of work”. It was clear to all of the highly educated officials who attended the conference, at least half of whom had doctorates, that all other Jews – especially children and the elderly – would be murdered immediately.

Photo: Nazi estimates of European Jewish populations by country, Wannsee Conference protocol, January 1942; Yad Vashem

Speech: Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes