The Final Solution (Die Endlösung) was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of its systematic genocide against European Jewry during World War II, resulting in the final, most deadly phase of the Holocaust (Shoah). Hitler termed it: "the final solution of the Jewish question" ("Endlösung der Judenfrage")
Mass killings of about one million Jews occurred before the plans of the Final Solution were fully implemented in 1942, but it was only with the decision to eradicate the entire Jewish population that the extermination camps were built and industrialized mass slaughter of Jews began in earnest. This decision to systematically kill the Jews of Europe was made by the time of, or at the Wannsee conference, which took place in Berlin, in the Wannsee Villa on January 20, 1942. During the conference, there was a discussion held by a group of German Nazi officials to decide on the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question". A surviving copy of the minutes of this meeting were found by the Allies in 1947, too late to serve as evidence during the first Nuremberg Trials.
By spring of 1942, Operation Reinhard began the systematic extermination of the Jews, although hundreds of thousands already had been killed by death squads and in mass pogroms. In Heinrich Himmler's speech at the Posen Conference of October 6, 1943, Himmler, for the first time, clearly elucidated to all assembled leaders of the Reich, in frank and brutal terms, what the "Final Solution" referred to.
"Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!
Christian Gerlach has argued for a different timeframe, suggesting the decision was made by Hitler on December 12, 1941, when he addressed a meeting of the Nazi Party (the Reichsleiter) and of regional party leaders (the Gauleiter). In his diary entry of December 13, 1941, the day after Hitler’s private speech, Joseph Goebbels wrote:
"Regarding the Jewish Question, the Führer is determined to clear the table. He warned the Jews that if they were to cause another world war, it would lead to their own destruction. Those were not empty words. Now the world war has come. The destruction of the Jews must be its necessary consequence. We cannot be sentimental about it. It is not for us to feel sympathy for the Jews. We should have sympathy rather with our own German people. If the German people have to sacrifice 160,000 victims in yet another campaign in the east, then those responsible for this bloody conflict will have to pay for it with their lives."
Echoing his above statements along with the January 30, 1939 speech by Hitler, in a article written in 1943 entitled "The War and the Jews" Goebbels wrote:
"None of the Führer's prophetic words has come so inevitably true as his prediction that if Jewry succeeded in provoking a second world war, the result would be not the destruction of the Aryan race, but rather the wiping out of the Jewish race. This process is of vast importance, and will have unforeseeable consequences that will require time. But it can no longer be halted. It must only be guided in the right direction."
After this decision, plans were made to put the Final Solution into effect. For example, on December 16, at a meeting of the officials of the General Government, Hans Frank referred to Hitler's speech as he described the coming annihilation of the Jews:
"As for the Jews, well, I can tell you quite frankly that one way or another we have to put an end to them. The Führer once put it this way: if the combined forces of Judaism should again succeed in unleashing a world war, that would mean the end of the Jews in Europe. …I urge you: Stand together with me … on this idea at least: Save your sympathy for the German people alone. Don't waste it on anyone else in the world, . . . I would therefore be guided by the basic expectation that they are going to disappear. They have to be gotten rid of. At present I am involved in discussions aimed at having them moved away to the east. In January there is going to be an important meeting in Berlin to discuss this question. I am going to send State Secretary Dr. Buhler to this meeting. It is scheduled to take place in the offices of the RSHA in the presence of Obergruppenführer Heydrich. Whatever its outcome, a great Jewish emigration will commence. But what is going to happen to these Jews? Do you imagine there will be settlement villages for them in the Ostland? In Berlin we were told: Why are you making all this trouble for us? There is nothing we can do with them here in the Ostland or in the Reich Commissariat. Liquidate them yourselves! … Here are 3.5 million Jews that we can't shoot, we can't poison. But there are some things we can do, and one way or another these measures will successfully lead to a liquidation. They are related to the measures under discussion with the Reich…. Where and how this will all take place will be a matter for offices that we will have to establish and operate here. I will report to you on their operation at the appropriate time.
At first, vague plans were made in Nazi Germany to deport all European Jews to Madagascar. Adolf Eichmann, in particular, supported this option before the Wannsee Conference of 1942, where he was made privy to the exact details of the "Final Solution". SS chief Heinrich Himmler stated,
"However cruel and tragic each individual case may be, this method is still the mildest and best, if one rejects the Bolshevik method of physical extermination of a people out of inner conviction as un-German and impossible.
The original plan was to use the Royal Navy after Britain's defeat to exile all of Europe's Jews to Madagascar. However, since the British were not defeated as anticipated by the Nazis, the Madagascar Plan had to be abandoned.
By November 1, 1941, the first extermination camps were being built: first Belzec, then Sobibor, Treblinka, Chełmno, Majdanek, and finally Auschwitz-Birkenau. The mass execution of Jews began in early 1942.
Dear Fellow Party Member [Parteigenosse] Luther!
Enclosed I am sending you the minutes of the proceedings that took place on January 20,1942.
Since the basic position regarding the practical execution of the final solution of the Jewish question has fortunately been established by now, and since there is a full agreement on the part of all agencies involved. I would like to ask you at the request of the Reich Marshal to make one of your specialist officials available for the necessary discussion of details in connection with the completion of the draft that shows the organizational, technical and material prerequisites bearing on the actual starting point of the projected solutions.
I want to schedule the first discussion along these lines for 10:30 a.m. on March 6, 1942 at 116 Kurfürstenstrasse, Berlin. I therefore ask you that for this purpose your specialist official contact my functionary in charge there, SS-Obersturmbannführer Eichmann.