Special exhibit: SUMMER HOMES OF THE BOURGEOISIE AND NS-AGENCIES

Special exhibit

This exhibition commemorates the history of some of the villas along the shores of the Wannsee and their inhabitants. The focus will be on the former Jewish inhabitants, who suffered persecution during the Nazi Era, but also on the use of some of the neighbouring villas by Nazi and SS agencies.

The area around Grosser and Kleiner Wannsee – conveniently located between Berlin and Potsdam - was developed in the 1870s into an exclusive residential area, the “Colonie Alsen”.

Wealthy Berliners built summer villas in this area. Some of the families were part of the Jewish bourgeoisie of Berlin, such as the impressionist painter Max Liebermann, but also prominent non-Jewish families settled there, such as the publishers Langenscheidt and Springer. However, religious  boundaries did not seem to have been of central importance in the Colonie Alsen. Christian and Jewish Berliners were neighbours in close social contact and even shared the local cemetery.

After 1933, many villas along the Wannsee were overtaken by Nazi agencies and/or high ranking officials. Jewish families were forced to sell their houses below market value in the course of the so-called aryanization of Jewish property and leave Germany. From 1937, the Security Service of the SS (SD) also ran intelligence operations out of Wannsee. In order to expand its property holdings in Wannsee, the SD and later the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA, Reich Security Main Office, created in autumn 1939 as the central police and intelligence agency) started to “acquire” Jewish property. In the beginning, its executive arm, the Gestapo, confiscated individual villas. Further acquisitions as well as new construction and furnishings for the houses were funded by the seized property of Jews, who had been forced to emigrate. Their property had been transferred to a special “Jew account” for this purpose. This house was purchased in 1940 by the “Nordhav Foundation”, an SS foundation. The villa became a guest house for the Head of Security Police (Sipo) and Security Service (SD), and is the site where, on January 20, 1942, the Wannsee Conference took place. Some of the buildings in the immediate vicinity of the villa were used by the foreign intelligence department of the SD and other SS departments.