Wannsee Villa to Become Holocaust Studies Center

Berlin authorities announced last week that the villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee where Nazi leaders planned the “Final Solution” in January 1942 is expected to be opened in January 1992 as a Holocaust studies center.

Berlin, as a federal state and a municipality, will invest about $3.7 million to restore the 77-year-old Wannsee villa, which will also become a memorial and youth meeting center.

The project is sponsored by a group called Remembrance for the Future, composed of representatives of the Interior Ministry in Bonn, the Berlin state, the German Jewish community, the Catholic and Protestant Churches and the German Historical Museum.

An organization of victims of racial and religious persecution is also a member.

The restored villa is expected to be ready in time for the 50th anniversary of the Wannsee conference, which was presided over by SS chief Reinhard Heydrich.

It was there that the Nazi top brass, including high officials from all the key ministries of the Reich, gathered to discuss how to implement orders from Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering to find a “Final Solution” to the so-called Jewish problem.

According to the minutes of the meeting, which were retrieved by the Allies after the war, the Nazis committed themselves at that time to the annihilation of European Jewry as a major war aim, to be carried out regardless of military developments, even if Germany should face defeat.

Preliminary plans to convert the villa into a Holocaust memorial were announced in February 1987 by Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, following inspection of the site in September 1986.

In November 1987, a film recreating the events of the infamous conference was released. An international group of experts later convened to develop the plans for the memorial.

The idea to convert the villa into a Holocaust memorial was first suggested in the 1960s by a German Jewish writer, Joseph Wulf, who produced 18 books on the Third Reich in order to teach the German people their own history.

Wulf, who was a member of a Jewish underground organization in Krakow during the Holocaust, was sent to Auschwitz but managed to escape from the transport en route.

He returned to Berlin in 1952. Exasperated over the failure to fulfill his goal, Wulf committed suicide in October 1974.

The proposal to immortalize the villa was initially approved by West Berlin’s former mayor, staunch anti-Nazi Willy Brandt, as well as his successor in office, Heinrich Albertz. But the idea fell through because of second thoughts by Albertz’s successor, Klaus Schutz, who did not want “a macabre cult site.”

(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)

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