“Conspiracy” (Wannsee Conference)

I just finished watching the HBO film Conspiracy, about the Wannsee Conference, a meeting of 15 Nazi generals, SS officers and government ministers at a villa on the shore of a Berlin lake Wannsee on a cold winter’s afternoon, Jan 20, 1942.
Organized by Chief of Security Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann, they would politely discuss and determine over wine and dinner the “the final solution” to the “Jewish question.” The meeting lasted only 90 minutes. According to the Holocaust Memorial Museium, the Wansee Conference

. . . did not mark the beginning of the “Final Solution.” The mobile killing squads were already slaughtering Jews in the occupied Soviet Union. Rather, the Wannsee Conference was the place where the “final solution” was formally revealed to non-Nazi leaders who would help arrange for Jews to be transported from all over German-occupied Europe to SS-operated “extermination” camps in Poland.

The minutes of the meeting were taken by Adolf Eichmann and edited by Heydrich. It never explicitly mentions the killing of Jews, or the methods used to do so — according to Eichmann’s testimony, all 15 attendees of the meeting were quite aware of what was meant by the euphamism “evacuation”, and discussed the use of gas chambers and crematoriums in the process. Of the 30 copies that were made only one remained, found by American investigators in the Reich Foreign Office in 1948 and became the “smoking gun” during the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Conspiracy is an excellent film, with a first-rate cast and script (based on the minutes of the conference). It is very well done — and chilling to the bone. If I ever chose to rent it again, I would most likely do so in conjunction with Spielberg’s Schindler’s List: the calm and collected dialogue of the conference room juxtaposed against the screams of the gas chambers and the stink of the ovens is something to think about. There are many cases of genocide in human history, but Conspiracy reinforces the dreadful uniqueness that was the Holocaust.

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