NEW YORK (Mar. 3)
A 20-year-old idea to turn the site of the formulation of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” into a Holocaust documentation center and museum is closer to fruition than ever.
In November, West Berlin is scheduled as the site for a conference with scholars from Germany, Israel, Poland and the United States to plan the memorial in Wannsee Villa, the country house at which over lunch and cocktails on January 20, 1942, Third Reich leaders formulated the idea that resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews.
The plan to establish West Berlin’s first Holocaust museum has been controversial since proposed by the German Jewish writer Joseph Wulf. He wrote 18 books on the Third Reich in order to teach the German people their history, but felt compelled to do more.
In August 1974, Wulf wrote to his son David: “I have published 18 books on the Third Reich, and they all had no impact. In Germany you can keep on gathering documents until you die…” The elder Wulf committed suicide two months later.
SERIES OF MAYORS
His predictions seemed at first to be correct. Although the proposal to immortalize the Wannsee Villa was initially approved by West Berlin’s former Mayor, Willy Brandt, as well as his successor, Heinrich Albertz, and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Free Democratic Party (FDP) members of the House of Deputies, the idea fell through because of second thoughts by Albertz’s successor, Klaus Schuetz, who did not want “a macabre cult site.”
A former resistance fighter who was at the time Speaker of the Bundestag (Parliament) — Eugen Gerstenmaier — also resisted the proposal Gerstenmaier advocated demolishing the 30-room villa “so as to leave no trace of this place of horror.”
Five years ago, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, the chairman of the West Berlin Jewish community, Heinz Galinski, again proposed turning the villa into a Holocaust memorial. Last September, West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen approved the suggestion.
In December, Dr. Michael Nutkiewicz, director of the Martyrs Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust of the Jewish Federation of Greater Lost Angeles, was in West Germany at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry for a first-of-its-kind study tour of the teaching and study of Jewish history in West Germany.
PLANS BEING FINALIZED, MAYOR SAID
In West Berlin, Mayor Diepgen and his aide, Dr. Ekkehard Klausa, told Nutkiewicz’s group that plans were being finalized for the Wannsee Villa to be turned into a memorial. Nutkiewicz invited Klausa to Los Angeles for the February opening of the feature film “The Wannsee Conference.”
Klausa obliged, and at the premiere in Los Angeles read a letter announcing the opening of the Wannsee Villa Memorial. “Berlin is taking up the responsibility of the Third Reich,” he said.
There are expectations that by November more documentation will be available on the history of the villa, which for 30 years has been a youth hostel. It was built as a country house by a businessman, then sold to a German firm, Norddeutsche Grundstueck.
In November 1940, the Wannsee Villa was bought by a front organization for the Reich’s Security Headquarters of the SS, known as the NORHAV Foundation. It was a resting place for SS officers until February 1943, at which time it was sold to the Reich’s police administration and used as a headquarters of Interpol.
In 1945, the villa was seized by Soviet, then American, troops, and became an officers’ club. By 1947, it had been sold once more to the SPD’s (Social Democratic Party) August Bebel Foundation, and used for political instruction for two years. Since that time it has turned from a place of political teachings to a way station for German youth.
In order to maintain a youth hostel, the West Berlin Senate has offered an alternate site, thus freeing the villa for a transformation into West Germany’s first Holocaust museum. It also has been reported that the former Gestapo compound in West Berlin will be designated a memorial.