Since 1992, the memorial and educational center at the House of the Wannsee Conference has offered seminars for civil service employees in tax administration. Students training in this field analyze the role of their profession during the Nazi era. Through the seminars, they learn how administrative structures and patterns of behavior were indispensable for the smooth-functioning apparatus required to implement the Holocaust.
Since 1992, the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site has developed a variety of one- to five-day seminars especially for the different professional groups within the field of public administration [see Reference: Contact information].
The goal of the seminars is to bring both working professionals and those still in training face-to-face with the history of their own professional groups in the Nazi era. This confrontation is accomplished by giving participants, through a study of documents, the opportunity to analyze the Nazi persecutions and genocide as an administrative process, one that involved a division of labor and the participation of completely "ordinary".employees in the public sector. This analysis inevitably leads to questions about how far general administrative structures and career-specific thought and behavioral patterns were responsible for the smooth functioning of the mass cooperation needed to implement the Holocaust. At the same time, however, ideological continuities and breaches in administrative practice as well as today's professional ethics are also examined.
The project described here encompasses a one-day seminar for students in their final year of training as finance professionals at an educational center in Berlin. These students are preparing for white-collar careers in the private and public sectors in real estate, residential management, tax assessment, and as tax consultants at a Berlin center with advanced professional classes.
Career training consists of internships in business firms as well as two days per week of classroom instruction at a professional school. Project days outside school, such as the one-day seminar at the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site, are allowed within the framework of subject curriculum.
Prerequisites for the Project Day
A preliminary discussion with the teacher clarifies the main points of the subject that students will explore. Here, the interests of the students take precedence over teacher concerns. The project day at the memorial assumes, above all, motivation to study the subject of National Socialism and the ability to work individually in small groups.
There is no concern with simply creating a school at a different location, i.e. classic instruction with textbooks following an established curriculum. Therefore, the day should be free of any obligation to perform and should not be rigidly structured. Every project day is tailored to the specific group involved. Information about the group members, their existing knowledge, interests, and attitudes to learning are important factors for the design of a project day.
Course of the Project Day
After a brief round of introductions, in which the participants' feelings and expectations concerning the topic and the seminar's methodology are addressed, the session moves on to an introductory lecture on the history of the Wannsee Villa [see Documents] and the significance of the Wannsee Conference. Since the Wannsee Conference is often equated with the decision to murder the Jews of Europe, the presentation makes the coordinating function of the conference clear by using the conference protocol, a map,.and various diagrams on overhead projections [see Documents]. Neither the Reich Finance Ministry nor the Reich Transport Ministry was present at this conference. The necessary cooperation of these two agencies with the other ministries was already operational, so the presence of their representatives was not required.
The next session analyzes the stages of exclusion and expropriation up to the decision for deportation, and uses appropriate texts of laws (as, for example, the Ermächtigungsgesetz [Enabling Law], the Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums [Law for the Reestablishment of the Civil Service], the Nürnberger Gesetze [Nuremberg Laws]). There is also a short documentary film about the "normal" work of public agencies and daily life in Berlin at that time [see Reference: Bibliography].
An explanation of the so-called Aryan clauses (in National Socialist law) provides a transition for a discussion about Nazi racial theory. Nazi terminology is discussed, including definitions for: Volk [nation/tribe]; blood; race; Aryan; artverwandt [lineage]; artfremd [alien/the "other"]; Ariernachweis [proof of Aryan ancestry]. Nazi images and texts, used in teaching "racial theory" in schools and training courses for the civil service, are analyzed. Film excerpts then critically illustrate the historical development of a career civil service person [see Reference: Bibliography]. The film's somewhat ironic presentation usually leads to a lively discussion about patterns of thought and behavior attributed to the civil service. The lunch break that follows gives an opportunity to become more deeply involved in conversations about the subjects already discussed in the class.
In the afternoon session, work on sources is done in four small groups. The material to be covered is explained during an introduction to the successive measures of the Finance Administration after the Kristallnacht, including involuntary Aryanization, expropriation, and exploitation of property. Topics include Reichsfluchtsteuer ["Flight" Tax], registration of property, Judenvermögensabgabe [Expropriation of Jewish Property] or Sühneleistung ["fine"].
The students choose their groups based on their personal interests. The seminar moderator is available for questions from the groups. In addition to the materials distributed to the work groups, a reference library and other reference works in the media center are available, as well as assistance from the librarians. The day closes with an open plenary discussion.
Assignments and Questions for the Work Groups
Functions and Significance of the Reichsfinanzhof [Reich Financial Control Court]
Fritz Reinhardt (State Secretary in the Reich Finance Ministry) in:
Deutsche Steuer-Zeitung [German Tax News], 1935, pp. 487-498; especially page 489 to the bottom of page 491
Question: How should the laws be interpreted?
Reichsfluchtsteuer [Reich "Flight" Tax] - "Liberation from Jews"
Arthur Seweloh (Federal Judge at the Reich Financial Control Court) in:
Steuer und Wirtschaft 1938, Columns 1331-1352; especially column 1348 bottom to 1352
Question: How were the decisions justified?
Die Judenvermögensabgabe [Expropriation of Jewish Property]
W. Donandt (Regierungsrat [Government Councilor] in Reich Finance Ministry) in:
Deutsche Steuer-Zeitung 1939, pp. 78-84.
Question: How was the tax discussed?
Arisierung [Aryanization]: Case Study of the Writer Else Ury
(Else Ury was the author of the popular children's book series Nesthäkche [baby of the family])
Deportation file of Else Ury and items in the special exhibition on Else Ury at the.House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site
Question: What do the materials about official behavior toward Else Ury and her property reveal?