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Final Solution to a "storage problem"
on 8 January 2006
CONSPIRACY serves as a reminder of the banality of human evil, even at its most horrific.
On January 20, 1942, with Nazi armies stalled in the snow at the gates of Moscow, a lakeside mansion in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee is the venue for a conference. Fifteen government bureaucrats and high ranking officers of the SS gather. History is advised to remember these otherwise appallingly ordinary representatives of the human species: SS General Reinhard Heydrich (Reich Security Main Office), SS Lt. Colonel Adolf Eichmann (Office of Jewish Affairs), SS Lt. General Heinrich Müller (Gestapo), Gerhard Klopfer (Nazi Party Chancellery), Wilhelm Kritzinger (Reichs-Chancellery), SS Lt. General Otto Hofmann (Race and Settlement Main Office), Dr. Georg Liebbrandt and Dr. Alfred Meyer (Reichs-Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories), Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart (Reichs-Ministry of the Interior), Undersecretary Martin Luther (Foreign Ministery), SS Major Rudolf Lange (SS Taskforces in Latvia), Director Erich Neumann (Office of the Four Year Plan), Dr. Joseph Bühler and SS Colonel Karl Schöngarth (Government-General of Occupied Poland), and Dr. Roland Freisler (Reichs-Ministry of Justice).
Even after coerced emigration, 132,000 Jews remain in Germany. As the Wehrmacht gobbles up territory, millions more - potentially 11 million - will come under Nazi control. As it's put in this film, there's a burgeoning "storage problem", and the chairman of the meeting, Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh), is calling for unanimous agreement on a "final solution".
As the viewer sees, it's not the concept of the eradication of the Jews from Germany and the occupied territories that fuels the debate, it's the modus operandi, and which individuals, particularly those of impure blood resulting from a confusing variety of mixed marriages, are to be targeted. At one point, even the semantics of the process - "evacuation" vs. "execution" - are at issue. And, of course, it all must be done legally as proscribed by the Nuremburg Laws. Finally, after the group dances around the issue of method, Heydrich and his deputy Eichmann (Stanley Tucci) get to the crux of the matter. The Jews are to be gassed in special camps established for that purpose. At the current stage of technology, the gold standard is apparently 60,000 exterminations a day.
The impact of CONSPIRACY derives from the chilling ordinariness of the conference and its tone. These fifteen might just as well be the top management of a large corporation discussing the eradication of rats from one of its manufacturing sites, or the construction of an assembly line to produce more and better widgets. As a note of interest, nine of those present were lawyers by training.
Branagh renders a positively brilliant performance as the ultimate devil's advocate, who steers the meeting to its foregone conclusion with a mixture of charm and quiet menace. When Kritzinger (David Threfall) objects that Hitler has declared to him personally that execution of the Jews is not his intent, Heydrich cooly reminds him, "Yes, and he will continue to do so." Plausible deniability, you see. And later in a private conversation when Heydrich demands Kritzinger's full support, the SS General remarks that the latter would be a difficult man to bring down - but it could be managed.
At the film's conclusion, the fate of all involved is provided in text overlay. Heydrich was assassinated by Czech partisans. Eichmann, Bühler and Schöngarth were tried and executed. All the rest either went free for lack of war crimes evidence, served time and were released, died of natural causes, were killed in the closing months of the war, or just disappeared. Indeed, Klopfer sold insurance after the war and presumably died in his bed.
The Final Solution took planning. As Eichmann angrily berates an Army chauffeur for engaging on whim in an undignified snowball fight with his fellow drivers awaiting their masters, "Things just don't happen."
The record of the Wannsee Conference which served as the basis for CONSPIRACY came from Luther's copy of the minutes discovered after the war. Ironically, Luther himself was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1944 for plotting against his boss in the Foreign Ministry.