Saturday, January 20, 2007

January 20

On this date in 2001, George Walker Bush formally ascended to the office of President of the United States. In that day's inaugural address, speechwriter Michael Gerson -- addressing the nation via the new president -- vowed that President Bush would "live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility and try to live it as well.

"In all these ways," Bush continued, "I will bring the values of our history to the care of our times."

He spoke these words on the 116th anniversary of the patenting of a "roller coasting structure" by L.A. Thompson.


Today also marks the 65th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, held at a stately suburban villa just outside Berlin on 20 January 1942. There, more than a dozen officials of the Third Reich met to coordinate their efforts toward a "final solution" to the Jewish presence in German-occupied lands. The conference came at the request of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, who asked Richard Heydrich, chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (the Reich Main Security Office), to develop a preliminary outline for such a project. The RSHA was a subdivision of the SS charged with the vague and monumental responsibility of waging war against "enemies of the Reich" -- a category that expanded to include Jews, gypsies, and other undesirable souls throughout German lands. Heydrich would have understood that such a request from Goering also carried the approval of Hitler himself, whose position on the existence of the Jews was widely known.

According to the minutes of the meeting, which were dutifully kept by Adolf Eichmann, Heydrich spoke for nearly an hour on the subject of Germany's previous efforts to encourage the "emigration" its Jewish population. Successful as those projects may have been, Heydrich warned, the inevitable extension of German authority eastward into Slavic lands would require fresh thinking on the "Jewish question." Listing the Jewish populations of countries throughout Europe -- including nations such as England, Ireland and Spain -- Heydrich estimated that 11 million people would have to be "evacuated" to the east, where that would be worked to death or otherwise liquidated. As Heydrich explained at Wannsee,
Under proper guidance, in the course of the final solution the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes.

The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival (see the experience of history.)
Heydrich himself would be assassinated in June 1942, but the preliminary efforts of the Wannsee Conference would evolve rapidly and monstrously over the next three years.

Along with millions of Jews, communists, freemasons, Roma and other ethnic minorities, nearly all the participants in the Wannsee Conference would themselves perish in the next six years. Three would be executed for their crimes; several died in the course of the war itself; several died of natural causes; and one of the participants actually finished the war in Sachsenhausen, one of the concentration camps that administered the Final Solution. That official, whose improbable name was Martin Luther, died shortly after the Soviets liberated the camp.

Gerhard Klopfer, the last surviving participant at the Wannsee Conference, died on 28 January 1987.