When a group of high-ranking Nazi bureaucrats sat down 70 years ago today (Jan. 20, 1942), they didn't plot the death of 6 million Jews; they aimed at 11 million.
Dubbed the Wannsee Conference, after its location, it was chaired by SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich, who brought together some of the most efficient managers of mass murder history has ever seen.
The 90-minute agenda was direct, having been transmitted by Hitler to his deputy, Reich Marshal Herman Goering, and then onto Heydrich: "Make all necessary preparations" for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in all territories under German influence, coordinate the role of all government organizations in accomplishing that goal — and then submit a "comprehensive draft" for the "final solution of the Jewish question."
In other words, for the first time, the administrative, industrial and transportation resources of an entire nation would be deployed for the purpose of genocide.
While history records that a staggering 6 million Jews would ultimately be destroyed as a result, one of the more chilling documents retrieved from the massive archives of the Nazi regime is a simple list of all European nations with Jewish populations as small as 200. Prepared for the Wannsee meeting by Heydrich's notorious SS assistant, Adolf Eichmann, it assumed that at some point soon the Nazis would control countries from Ireland to Turkey.
The genocidal census was designed to anticipate the organizational structure required to retrieve and ship those 11 million Jews to the Nazi murder factories, regardless of how distant they were from Auschwitz or Treblinka. The Wannsee conferees met to ensure that all participants would meet their quotas (under Heydrich's centralized authority) to complete "the final solution."
It would take untold blood, treasure and sacrifice from the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union to bring the Third Reich to an end. Seventy years later, the ruthless, brutal and unrelenting struggle against one of the darkest regimes ever to plague mankind serves as an eternal reminder that there remain forces that would destroy humanity.
Much the way the Nazis assigned their strategic national assets to the destruction of a people, the rulers of Iran are focusing their considerable national resources on creating and fielding nuclear weapons. They do so while publicly embracing time and again a foreign policy that calls for literally wiping Israel off the map.
Elsewhere, the racial hatred practiced by the Third Reich is echoed in the Taliban revulsion of our Western democracies — and in policies in areas it controls that include burning to death young girls for the high crime of attending school.
On this grim 70th anniversary of Wannsee, let us contemplate how a disbelieving world can stand idly by as evil regimes coolly harness their bureaucracies to methodically achieve horrendous goals. Whatever the double speak (as the Wannsee crowd used the phrase "final solution" to mask its program of mass extermination), the outcome is clear to all who wish to see it. Had they been invited, the Iranian regime and the Taliban would have been enthusiastic participants in the Wannsee Conference.
This Third Reich milestone should serve as a cautionary tale for every 21st-century democracy. Middle East expert Bernard Lewis has observed that Islamist leaders like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are little concerned with the mutual-destruction strategies that kept the Cold War from becoming hot. Instead, they welcome the martyrdom of their subjects.
History consistently reminds us that indifference in the face of an implacable enemy invariably leads to disaster. Further, more often than not, our enemies tell us exactly what they mean to do before they do it. Acting on their warning requires our collective insight, personal courage and national will.
Originally published by the New York Post, January 20, 2012, and reprinted by gracious permission of the author.