Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day. What chills me is that 69 years ago this week, in the smart Berlin suburb of Wannsee, Germany’s top brass met for a buffet lunch. The food was excellent, the wine and brandy were of the best, the tone of the discussion was courteous and by the end of the lunch they had come up with what they called the Final Solution to the Jewish question.
That, we now know, was a programme of mass killing. This is how the author Robert Harris put it: “Before the Wannsee lunch, the Nazis had killed only 10 per cent of the six million Jews who were to die during the Final Solution; in the 12 months after it, 50 per cent of the eventual total were liquidated.”
What happened at the Wannsee Conference is that the refined, cultured and intelligent products of one the world’s great civilisations decided, in an atmosphere of polite and decorous discourse, to proceed to an act of such evil that generations later we still struggle to comprehend its horror. It is very disturbing just how sophisticated and calculating the plans for such brutality were.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt talked of the “banality of evil”. What the Wannsee lunch shows us is, I believe, the “urbanity of evil”.
The Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us of the slaughter of the innocents carried out as a matter of policy. It is important that we should remember these dreadful events and be constantly vigilant against anything like this ever happening again.