What was the “Final Solution”?

Selection of prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau (May/June, 1944). Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was the euphemistic term used by the Nazi German authorities to refer to the plan to annihilate European Jewry. The most important use of the term to mean this was in a memorandum from [Hermann Göring] to [Reinhard Heydrich], dated 31 July, 1941, asking Heydrich to prepare “an overall plan of the preliminary organisational, practical and financial measures for the execution of the intended final solution of the Jewish question.”

The implementation and coordination of the Final Solution was set on January 20, 1942, at a meeting of senior SS officers and German government officials from different ministries and agencies in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. This meeting was initially intended for December 1941 but was cancelled after Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States.

[Hermann Göring: a fighter pilot in World War I, Göring joined the Nazis in the 1920s after hearing Hitler speak. By 1933, he was at the center of the NSDAP and assumed a range of offices and responsibilities. He is best known for his roles as Commander of the Luftwaffe (air force) and Director of the Four Year Plan to rebuild Germany’s economy so that it could wage war. As the Third Reich progressed, Göring became obsessed with honors, titles and uniforms, as well as becoming progressively more dependent on drugs. He was a particular focus of wartime humor in Germany, after boasting that the Allies would never be able to bomb Berlin.

The senior defendant at the first Nuremberg Trial, Göring had regained much of his earlier abilities due to the enforced weaning off drugs during his imprisonment. He made chief US lawyer Robert H. Jackson seem ineffectual when questioning him, and had to be brought under control by British counsel Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe. The tribunal sentenced him to death but he committed suicide by poison hours before the sentence was carried out.]

[Reinhard Heydrich: born in 1904, Heydrich joined the SS in 1931, quickly becoming head of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst), responsible for internal party security. Through the 1930s, Heydrich gained more and more responsibility for police matters, becoming chief of the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei: secret police) in 1934. In 1936 he added responsibility for the Security Police to his portfolio and in 1939 became head of the Reich Security Main Office, responsible for all police functions in Nazi Germany. In the summer of 1941, Heydrich was given responsibility for the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” and convened the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. Appointed to run the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in September 1941, he brutally suppressed Czech resistance while supervising the deportation of Jews from the Czech lands. His pacification policy and disregard for personal security led to his assassination by British-sponsored Czech agents attacked him in central Prague in May 1942: he died of infected wounds from the attack on 4 June, 1942.]

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