cinema response: Conspiracy 2001

I was telling a new acquaintance of mine, a professor of history at Connecticut College, that I've been reading Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder and learned something new about the Holocaust from it. The new thing for me was learning that Hitler's Final Solution went through several iterations before it ended up as execution. I'll get into that more on this blog when I start posting my responses to that depressing book. He recommended the HBO movie, Conspiracy (2001), for a compelling dramatization of the 1942 Wannsee Conference outside Berlin where Heydrich and Eichmann sought consensus from several Nazi government and martial leaders.

The notes of the meeting were supposed to have been destroyed, but one copy, that of, I'm not kidding, Martin Luther, was found, after the war by the Allies. Screenwriter Loring Mandel wrote a dramatization based on those notes, adding the dimension of what the pressure must have been like on those who still held onto shreds of their humanity and were repulsed by this decision from Hitler. The job of SS General Hydrich, portrayed wickedly by Kenneth Branagh, was to get everyone's approval, whether they had reservations or not. The earlier versions of Hitler's "solution" was to exile the Jews to Madagascar, not too different from Stalin's methods of exile which had a byproduct of high mortality. Then it was just exile to the Soviet Union, when it was an ally against Poland. Then it was evacuation out of Poland, but no one would take them, not even the United States, to our shame. At this conference, evacuation became a euphemism for elimination for execution.

This movie is a ninety minute board room meeting. This may sound boring, but it is the subject matter, the potential execution of 10 - 20 million Jews in contrast with the tedium of such a meeting that provides the drama. You watch aghast as Himmler goes over the latest methods developed to execute more humans in less time, as if he he were discussing widget production. It is a terror of the sublime. I empathize with the cast who were able to inhabit the world of the Nazis so fully that they can maintain no sense of the horror in their lines, just business. I almost wish they didn't do such a good job, they won Emmys and Golden Globes. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey as my wife and I are, you'll be delighted to see Mr. Bates, Brendan Coyle, as SS Maj. Gen. Heinrich Muller, but then you are disgusted with Muller, and wish you never associated him with Bates. Conspiracy is a devastating movie to watch, and, thus, I highly recommend it.


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