“The Wannsee Conference”: Cold-blooded deliberation on genocide

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 24, 2022
Updated 2022/01/24 at 8:29 PM

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the historic Wannsee Conference, which took place on January 20, 1942 in a villa on the Großer Wannsee in Berlin, ZDF is showing the surprising feature film “Die Wannseekonferenz” (January 24, 8:15 p.m., ZDF) by the multi-award-winning director Matti Geschonneck (69, “The witness house”) and then “The Wannsee Conference – The documentation” (at 10 p.m.).

That’s what the meeting was about – back then and in the film

On the morning of January 20, 1942, 15 leading representatives of the Nazi regime plus a secretary meet in a villa in Berlin: SS, Reich Chancellery, ministries, police, administration. Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942) was invited by the chief of the security police and SD (abbr. for security service of the Reichsfuhrer SS) to a “meeting followed by breakfast”. This meeting will go down in history as the “Wannsee Conference”. The exclusive topic is the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”, the organization of the systematic, millionfold mass murder of the Jews of Europe.

The film “The Wannsee Conference” follows as closely as possible the minutes of the meeting written by Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962), of which only one copy has survived and which is considered a key document of the extermination of the Jews. Eichmann had also written the draft speech for Heydrich’s presentation at the “Conference”. As head of the department for Jewish affairs/evacuation affairs in the Reich Security Main Office, Eichmann was responsible for the entire organization of the deportation of Jews from Germany and the occupied European countries.

A shocking film with the simplest means

The chamber drama-like film captivates its audience from the start. It’s interesting, fast-paced, and surprisingly captivating. Small changes of location in a hall, on the terrace or in a back room provide a little visual variety. But that’s about it. The full concentration is on the spoken word, which is shockingly bluntly recited in the sober, official German of the time.

The plan to wipe out eleven million Jews in Europe is discussed. The incomprehensible sentences hit the core so much because star director Matti Geschonneck left out many of the usual elements in this film: there is no music, no classification, no pointing finger, no manipulation whatsoever. Also, “The Wannsee Conference” does not follow a classic dramaturgical plot.

“For me, what was frightening about this one-and-a-half-hour gathering of high-ranking Nazi functionaries, most of whom had a degree in law, was the naturalness of this process, which had the character of a production meeting: cooperation and coordination of the authorities involved, setting the timeline, narrowing down the groups of victims, the search for more tolerable ones Methods of murder – more bearable for the murderers,” Geschonneck told the broadcaster. There were no moral concerns on the part of the participants. Instead, one of the main concerns of the host, Reinhard Heydrich, was “to secure his claim to leadership in the overall organization of the ‘final solution to the Jewish question’,” he added.

At the press conference, producer Oliver Berben (50) also explained why he wanted to deal with this topic again, even though there are already two older productions: “Because it’s about keeping history alive, always finding forms to deal with to deal with their own history,” says Berben. “Another reason was the question: What can arise from language? What happens when the spoken word becomes action?” These are questions that are increasingly being asked today.

Prominent cast in the film

The conference participants are embodied in the feature film “Wannsee Conference” by German and Austrian theater, film and television stars: Philipp Hochmair (48, “Charité”) plays Reinhard Heydrich and Johannes Allmayer (born 1978, “Gladbeck”) plays Adolf Eichmann. Lilli Fichtner (28) can be seen as Eichmann’s secretary Ingeburg Werlemann (1919-2010).

“I watched a lot of documentaries for weeks in order to understand the perpetrator’s perspective and to be able to take it as an actor,” says Philipp Hochmair. “But understanding clearly does not mean forgiving in this case,” he added. Purely acting, he tried to put himself in the 1930s. “How could it happen that humanistically educated people like Heydrich wanted to systematically exterminate other people,” says Hochmair. And he admitted: “It became a psychological burden to learn this deviant inhuman language and to embody it as if it were my personal thoughts.” The actor summarizes how extreme the shoot was: “Two months of text learning, two Months of filming and two months to get it all out of my head. I’ve never experienced that before.”

Simon Schwarz (51, Eberhofer thrillers) also played. He is seen as Martin Luther, an undersecretary of state at the Foreign Office. His copy of the minutes of the Wannsee Conference is the only one that has survived. “I found the idea of ​​realizing the Wannsee Conference as a chamber play very special. Reducing the dialogue almost exclusively to the texts during the conference in order to be able to participate even more closely and mercilessly in the story – that was what grabbed and shook me from the start,” explained Schwarz.

Actor Maximilian Brückner (43) is Dr. to see Eberhard Schoengarth. He was commander of the Security Police and the SD in the General Government. Brückner was also shocked by the texts. “Since the screenplay works very closely with the records and sources that have been handed down, it was a downright shock to read this screenplay. Substances like this absolutely have to be filmed in order to serve as a reminder to later generations and to memorialize the victims,” ​​he said.

Other performers of the NS session participants:

Frederic Linkemann (born 1981) played Dr. Rudolf Lange, the commander of the Security Police and SD in Latvia. dr Roland Freisler, State Secretary in the Reich Ministry of Justice, was played by Arnd Klawitter (53). Peter Jordan (54) is as Dr. to see Alfred Meyer. At that time, Meyer was State Secretary in the Reich Ministry for the occupied Eastern Territories and Gauleiter of the Gau of North Westphalia. Godehard Giese (49) embodied Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, State Secretary in the Reich Ministry of the Interior.

Also on site were the Ministerial Director in the Reich Chancellery, Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger (Thomas Loibl, born 1969), Heinrich Müller, the head of the Secret State Police in the Reich Main Security Office (Jakob Diehl, born 1978) and Erich Neumann, State Secretary at the Commissioner for the Four-year plan (Matthias Bundschuh, born 1966). Also taking part was Dr. Gerhard Klopfer, Deputy Head of the NSDAP Party Chancellery (Fabian Busch, 46). He was arrested and interned in 1946, later denazified. He established himself as a lawyer in 1956 and died in 1987 as the last participant in the Wannsee Conference.

The round was completed by Dr. Georg Leibbrandt, Ministerial Director in the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (Rafael Stachowiak, born 1981), Dr. Josef Bühler, State Secretary in the Office of the General Government (Sascha Nathan, 44) and Otto Hofmann, Head of the Race and Settlement Main Office (Markus Schleinzer, 50).


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