I’m not someone who likes to watch horror movies. For a start I have to sleep with the lights on after watching one, and secondly, I think there’s enough horror in the real world without inventing more. For example last night I watched a truly terrifying film based on real events: Conspiracy, a 2001 co-production between HBO and the BBC which depicts the Wannsee Conference of 20th January 1942 where the Nazis revealed the plan for the Final Solution.
The film boasts a great cast: Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich (who won an Emmy for his performance), Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann (who won a Golden Globe for his performance) and Colin Firth as Dr Wilhelm Stuckart, with many other well-known character actors. Written by Loring Mandel, the script is exceptional and is based on the only surviving copy of the minutes of the meeting, found in 1947. In just ninety minutes fifteen government officials, under the direction of Heydrich, agreed on the proposal for and method of the Jewish genocide in Europe.
Heydrich begins by discussion by talking about the ‘storage problem in Germany with these Jews’. Heydrich was known as the The Butcher of Prague and Hitler described him as ‘the man with the iron heart’, and the casual way in which he reduces the Jewish population to a ‘storage issue’ is typical of his sociopathic political efficiency. A proposal for sterilisation of the Jewish people is discussed and quickly dismissed as it would take too long.
Gradually Heydrich wins the others around to his plan, which is to empty the ghettos and take the prisoners to concentration camps, three of which had already been built in secret. The attendees used euphemisms like ‘evacuation’ and ‘processing’ instead of murder, gassing and burning, and the minutes of the meeting were edited and all notes burned to guarantee secrecy.
Those who have objections are taken aside and threatened by Heydrich ensuring their eventual cooperation. One of the attendees, Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger (played brilliantly by David Threlfall), opposes the plan but his objections are rubbished by Heydrich. In fact, after the conference Kritzinger attempted to resign from his position in Reich Chancellery but was refused, and historians speculate that his resignation was prompted by his disagreement with the Final Solution.
Conspiracy is a stomach-churning glimpse into the psychology of the Nazis and though difficult to watch, the script and performances, plus the direction by Frank Pierson, makes it a must see film for anyone interested in World War Two.