Genocide was already under way. In Nazi-controlled nation
s from Netherlands to Norway, Ukraine to France, Jews were restrict
ed from holding jobs, owning businesses, marrying non-Jews, and attending school. Thousands of Jews had been killed, forced from their homes, or deport
ed to concentration camp
s in Mauthausen, Austria, and Auschwitz and Majdanek, Poland. The nation of Estonia, for example, was already “Judenfrei,” or free of Jews, by the time the Wannsee Conference began.
The “Final Solution” itself—the Holocaust
—had been outlined six months earlier by Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the Nazi paramilitary
organization known as the SS. In Himmler’s Final Solution, the Jewish population of Europe and what was then the Soviet Union
(including Russia and Central Asia) would be deported to work camps in the remote Russian region
. The large-scale deportation would take place after the war, which the Nazis thought would end with their conquest
of Europe and the Soviet Union within a year.
In late 1941, however, the Nazi plan for the Final Solution had to be radically alter
ed. First, the Soviet Army began a ferocious resistance
to the Nazi invasion
. Second, the United States entered the war when Germany’s Axis
partner, the Empire of Japan, attacked the U.S. fleet
at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. These powerful enemies made a quick Nazi victory
impossible. Local Nazi leaders also came under pressure from citizens displaced by Allied bombing—deporting Jews would create space for these refugee
At the Wannsee Conference, SS bureaucrats altered the Final Solution. Jews in Nazi-occupied regions would be immediately deported to concentration camps in Poland. At the conference, SS leader Adolf Eichmann prepared a preliminary
list of the Jewish populations in Europe—he calculated the murder of 11 million people. By the time World War II ended three years later, six million Jews had been killed.