Friday Afternoon Movie: Conspiracy

Do you know why the anvil — the metal plate near the front of your stapler — turns? It’s so you can temporarily join pieces of paper, or “pin” them together. With the legs of the staples pointed outwards instead of inwards it makes them easy to remove without causing too much damage to the paper. Isn’t that amazing? Did I just blow your mind?

Ye gods, it’s so slow today.

Thankfully, the FAM is here to rescue you from the doldrums leading up to Fuck-It-O’Clock. Today, the 23rd day of October in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine we present the 2001 HBO movie, Conspiracy, starring Stanley Tucci, Kenneth Branagh, and Colin Firth giving his best National Socialist Fitzwilliam Darcy performance. It details the proceedings of what would come to be known as the Wannsee Conference. Held on the 20th of January, 1942 at an Italian styled villa at 56–58 Am Grossen Wannsee — Wannsee being a suburb of Berlin — it was attended by 15 senior Nazi officials, presided over by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich and organized by SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann. The purpose of this meeting was to come to discuss “the final solution to the Jewish question”.

Conspiracy is actually a remake of a German television movie, Die Wannseekonferenz (The Wannsee Conference), shown in 1984. Based upon the minutes for the meeting that were found by the Allies in 1947, it ran for 85 minutes, roughly the length of the actual meeting. Most of what we know about what transpired comes from these minutes and from deposition given by Eichmann during his trial in Israel in 1961.

Some have suggested that Heydrich’s purpose for calling the meeting was to impose his authority on the various heads of the agencies involved with Jewish affairs; and Eichmann suggested that Heydrich also wished to implicate the other ministries represented should Germany lose the war. The mass extermination of Jews had already begun in places like Lithuania and Latvia and it was in his best interest to not only quash any dissent over these actions but, more importantly, establish a better system of extermination, one that didn’t demoralize the German soldier the way shooting women and children did. To that end, it should also be noted that, while the conference lasted 85 minutes, Heydrich’s opening speech took up 60, the remaining minutes taken up by various members raising concerns regarding compulsory divorce of Germans married to Jews, the sterilization of half Jews among other things. The “final solution” had already been decided, in other words. The Wannsee Conference simply served to clarified some of the finer points.

In this way Conspiracy is a little misleading. In reality, despite the enormity of what was being discussed, few of the attendees would have attached much importance to the proceedings; one meeting of many on the schedules of those gentleman that week what with the Eastern revealing itself as a disaster, seemingly by the day. In that regard, the facts trump the fiction in almost every way. Here we have men discussing an assembly line model of genocide, requiring a vast network of people and resources, in the most bureaucratic and banal terms soon after to be filed away as the participants were shuttled to their next appointment.

One Response to “Friday Afternoon Movie: Conspiracy”

  1. Tequila Says:

    I’ve had to write about the The Wannsee Conference over the years and was surprised in the middle of doing a small article on it HBO announced this film. I was impressed with how well the drama was handled thanks to the knock out cast assembled. I was expecting a much more over the top “Oh look at us being evil!” version of the story but they got the measured emotion and frustration of certain participants really well. While the facts vs. fiction of the conference came to light long after the war and Mark Roesman’s book on the subject remains the best current account it remains endless fascinating. It’s worth reading the The Einzatsgruppen reports in relation to the conference because you start to see just how many cogs it took to build the horrid machine to follow.

    I don’t find the film misleading at all. I think in the title makes one think of X-Files or insane internet conspiracy theory websites where you expect to hear the evil guys talk about evil plans in a very point A to point B kinda way. One would hope people walk away from either watching or reading about all this with a clearer picture of just how such a government not only constructed the holocaust but how disturbing this kind of bureaucratic nightmare really was. More so that some of the men attending lived long past the war with no real price paid for the participation. In many ways this is a much scarier film (though I prefer the original) then other more heavy handed approaches on the subject.

    As solid as the performances are Colin Firth’s is the one I enjoyed the most. He nailed the frustrations many of the more legally minded had with the rise of the SS. You can see the slow realization that the letter of the law and all that went with it would soon be a formality with no real weight or purpose. He also ends up having some of the most disturbing lines in the film especially those related to how justifiable this would all be if done “legally”.

    My interpretation of why Heydrich called the meeting was less to do with spreading the blame and more to do with making sure key officials and ministers knew who was really in charge of the day to day operations of the war at that stage. At that point in the war Heydrich was already being groomed for the post war years and had he not been assassinated was scheduled to take over command of occupied France (one can only imagine the hell he’d have brought to it…) Defeat wasn’t in the cards at this point. Heydrich like others knew the key issue the German war machine had was communication. Many branches were so consumed by infighting that key R&D, intelligence, and simple day to day military reports were not being shared or even given to those who needed them the most. If anything this conference probably would have been a much more regular affair had Heydrich lived and much of those ministries consolidated under the SS.