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Vol. 10, No. 4 Summer 1992 WANNSEE REVISITEDl by Seymour Cain Seymour C.ain is a historian and philosopher of religion who has taught history of religions, philosophy, and humanities at various universities. He was the senior editor for religion and' philosophy in the making of the 15th edition of Encyclopaedia Brittanica. He is the author of Gabriel Marcel, a pioneer American study of Marcel's thought, and other works ,and has contributed' articles and poems to many periodicals, including Midstream, Christian Century',judaism, and Religious Studies Review. Since . 1990, as visiting scholar in history at the University of California San Diego, he has been engaged in a study of Mormonism, especially its relation to Judaism. He is currently President of San Diego Independent Scholars. 81 I have just returned from partiCIpating in the Annual Scholars Conference on the Holocaust and the German' Church Struggle, at the University of Washington, which marked the 50th anniversary of the infamous Wannsee Conference. It included some unexpected and dramatic events, such as the poignant testimony of former hidden, silent children of the Holocaust, now grown to middle age. There was also the moving dialogue of Gottfried Wagner, great-grandson of the composer and grandson of an ardent (female) NaZi, with Abraham Peck, archivist of American Jewish history, who was born of Holocaust survivors in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany. Also memorable were the words of tWo widows: Sybil Niemoeller von Sell's memories of her husband, the resistant pastor and concentration camp prisoner, and the powerful address of Elizabeth Maxwell, widow of the Holocaust survivor and publisher Robert Maxwell, calling on the Christian churches to "remember the future," i.e., to atone 'This article was published in the Los Angele~' jewish News of April 1992. Used by permissio n, 82 SHOFAR effectively for their past sins against the Jewish people. Dr. Maxwell is a Protestant of French Huguenot descent. A vexing behind-the-scenes brouhaha was the attempt of Bradley R. Smith, "Director of the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust," to buy space in the university's student newspaper for an advertisement stating that the Holocaust was a fiction, to appear while our conference was in session, obviously a trouble-making stunt. After much discussion and consultation the editorial board resisted the $750 temptation, rejecting the advertisement but offering to publish a guest editorial by Smith after the conference was over, preceded and succeeded by the editors' countercomments . Presumably this was intended both to provide freedom of expression and to refute a vicious canard. Wannsee figured prominently the first full day of the Scholars' Conference . It began with the showing of a film that many of us had already seen on television, including chilling German dialogue with English subtitles , accompanied by the il)formed and illuminating commentary of historian Henry R. Huttenbach of CCNY. He pointed out that Wannsee was one of three conferences called to deal drastically with the Jews, but Wannsee became the one that sticks out in historical memory. This cinematized and somewhat fictionalized presentation conforms essentially with the account in Raui Hilberg's Des/ruc/ion of the European]ews: following failure of various forced emigration programs, it was decided to solve the "jewish problem" by exterminating the Jews. The order came from Hermann Goering to Reinhardt Heydrich on july 31, 1941, placing the latter in complete charge of the I1nal solution. Deportations of Jews to the East soon followed, since, as Hilberg notes, "Heydrich was a man of decision, who liked to act I1rst and hold conferences afterwards" (p. 263 in the 1967 edition). However, Heydrich had to call a conference of the top bureaucrats in the Third Reich because of variclUs complications, such as to decide how to deal with intermarried, mixed-descent, and foreign jews, and to secure cooperation from various government agencies and the Nazi officials in charge of non-German territories. Among those invited, far down on the list, was SS Major Adolf Eichmann, the Reich Security's main expert on the jews, who plays a supporting role in the film as he did in life. The conference to plan the Hnal solution was held on January 20, 1942, in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 81-86
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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