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The Wannsee Conference

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Today, I would like to address a topic that is a little different from our usual subjects. The theme is the Wannsee Conference. Many of you might think that it refers to a conference that I happened to attend during summer vacation. No, this conference was actually held long ago at Lake Wannsee, a beautiful lake in the suburbs of Berlin, Germany.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I used to give consultation sessions for fifteen years at Japanese schools in Germany, France, and Thailand, for pre-school children and students with symptoms of developmental disability. For several years, I also gave counselling sessions at the Japanese school in Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin. Berlin is the largest city in Germany, but most Japanese in Germany live in Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, or Munich, cities located in the former West Germany that have the largest number of Japanese residents and those cities have large-sized Japanese schools. In Berlin, however, because there are fewer Japanese residents and no large school buildings like those in Dusseldorf and Frankfurt, the Japanese elementary school in the city is housed in a small building that was once an old residence. Furthermore, while the above-mentioned facilities are primarily in the center of Dusseldorf or Frankfurt, this Japanese school is located in Wannsee which is considered a fine resort area in the suburbs of Berlin.

On visits to the area, I stayed at a small lakeside hotel (literally named "Hotel Petit") and took a taxi to the Japanese school. A lakeside building that looked like an elegant hotel had always caught my eye. On the sign was written "House of the Wannsee Conference" and I wondered what sort of conference it was. During the lunch break between counseling sessions that were held from morning to late afternoon, I slipped out of the Japanese school to take a look.

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Lake Wannsee spreads out before the building and is encircled by a path for a pleasant lakeshore walk. After enjoying a walk around the lake, I entered the building and there I learned that it was the site of the Wannsee Conference held in 1942 where the Nazi government decided the "final solution" regarding the Jewish people.

Hitler is known for attacking the Jewish people in his arousing appeals to the German nation and its people who were exhausted by WWI. After the Nazi party came to power in Germany, it became necessary to expand eastward and a policy was implemented to remove not only Jewish people who lived in Germany, but also those in its expanded territories (present-day Poland, for example). One proposed method of elimination was emigration to another country, but this would require much time. It was then decided to hold the Wannsee Conference to consider a final way to "efficiently" eliminate Jewish people. The interior of the building where the conference was held, House of the Wannsee Conference, is now a history museum with exhibitions of photographs and documents.

The pamphlet in English indicates not only the number of Jewish residents in Germany and in occupied territories at the time, but also the number residing in each European country. It includes a copy of the final solutions in a report with English translation. It states that "In conclusion, there was a discussion of the various possible forms which the solution might take, ... certain preparatory work for the final solution should be carried out locally in the areas concerned, but that, in doing so, any alarm among the population must be avoided."

Although Hitler himself did not attend the conference, Adolf Eichmann, head of the Auschwitz concentration camp, was present.

I was not able to make the connection between the elegant building in a scenic environment and the horrible planning that once took place inside.

There are still tragic lessons that we can learn from the prejudice shown toward ethnic groups and citizens of other countries and we have still not learned enough from the frightening history of the Nazis. This is the conclusion reached when reflecting on the recent circumstances in the world and my reason for writing this blog.

sakakihara_2013.jpg Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.