80 years since Wannsee, European leaders stress ‘Never Again’

Faith leaders met to discuss the rise of antisemitism on the 80th anniversary of the Nazi's Wannsee Conference.

 A view of the Wannsee villa. The Wannsee Conference was about systematic death. (photo credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum/Gedenkstätte Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz)
A view of the Wannsee villa. The Wannsee Conference was about systematic death.
(photo credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum/Gedenkstätte Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz)

Religious leaders and officials addressed the rise of antisemitism in Germany at a conference on the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, where senior Nazi officials gathered in 1942 to formulate a plan for the so-called “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.”

“Antisemitism cannot be defeated at a one-day symposium, but this event can become a catalyst for greater understanding and determination as well as better coordination and cooperation among global faith leaders to take on the fight against this deadly virus”, said symposium organizer Tomas Sandell of the European Coalition for Israel.

The one-day symposium, which was organized by the ECI in cooperation with the Evangelical-Protestant Church of Germany (EKD), was held on January 19, and featured  Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Dr Thomas Schirrmacher of the World Evangelical Alliance and Dr Arto Hämäläinen from the Pentecostal Religious Liberties Commission. Together they represented more than 600 million Christians around the world. On the following day, the attendees visited the Wannsee museum.
"The tragedy at Wannsee did not start with the Wannsee conference in 1942”, said symposium organizer Tomas Sandell of the ECI. “Without a supportive belief system and deeply rooted antisemitic sentiments in the German culture at the time, there could not have been a Holocaust.”

“In a mere 90 minutes, 15 Nazis – not thugs, but elites – sealed the fate of millions of Jews,” said Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean and Global Social Action Director Rabbi Abraham Cooper. “Wannsee provides proof that the Shoah may have been the vision of one man, but it was embraced and carried out by all who marched in lockstep with the fuehrer, including bureaucrats who never fired a gun in anger.”

A Nazi armband with a swastika displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany (credit: Wikimedia Commons)A Nazi armband with a swastika displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Reverend Johnnie Moore, a former commissioner in the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, referenced the Colleyville synagogue attack, saying that “while the US has plenty of antisemitism itself... our country was touched this week by an Islamist antisemite who came from Britain all the way to the US in order to take a synagogue hostage. We have a crisis on our hands. As faith leaders still grappling with the lessons of the Holocaust, it is up to us to lead, not to wait for the politicians or the opinion polls or, God-forbid, for another attack – another deadly attack on Jews.”

"Whilst the deadly threats to Jews in the 1940s were limited to those in Nazi-occupied Europe, today antisemitism is raising its ugly head also in the United States", said Sandell. "The next battleground in the combat against antisemitism” is in the US.

Moore noted that all the attendees of the Wannsee Conference were Christian. “You also couldn’t dismiss them as uneducated or underprivileged – it was the cultured German name that gave us the Wannsee 15. Eight of the 15 had doctorates, most of them had studied law. While we like to highlight the courage of those Christians who stood against the Nazis... it is also important for us to first remember that the vast majority of the Nazis were Christians, and this great horror took place in a Christian country in Christian Europe.”

Chief Rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt said at the ECI conference that “when evil is being perpetrated, it is being perpetrated not only by evil people – it is being perpetrated because good people do nothing, because good people keep quiet. This is the banality of evil.”

Goldschmidt added that the purpose of interfaith dialogue is to prevent a situation when good people stand by as evil happens. He said that “technocrats” need to be held responsible to fight antisemitism, such as on social media.

On January 20, 1942, 15 officials and representatives of the Third Reich met at a villa in Wannsee to plan and coordinate genocide plans among various ministries and authorities. The conference set out how Jews would be separated from the rest of society and murdered. The Nazis planned to kill at least 11 million Jews spread over 35 countries and territories.

The Reich officials discussed how to transport Jews eastward, gather them in ghettos and use them for slave labor. The protocol of the conference pointed out that officials expressed concern that the “remnant” of Jews who would remain would be the most resistant and could “become the germ-cell of a new Jewish revival.”

The protocol also noted that the officials expected “no great difficulties” in rounding up Jews in France and southeastern and western Europe. The only countries stated as possibly resisting the roundup were the Nordic states.