15 men determine the fate of an entire people over appetizers. Except it was decided even earlier.
"This is...more than war. There must be a different word for this."
— Friedrich Wilhelm KritzingerConspiracy
is a 2001 HBO
TV film that dramatizes the story of the 1942 Wannsee Conference, the 1942 meeting of German officials that formalized and developed the
"Final Solution of the Jewish Question
." It is an English-language adaptation of Die Wannseekonferenz
, a German film that tackled the same subject matter; both films are shot in Real Time
and used the only surviving copy of the minutes of the meeting, which was found in the papers of Undersecretary Martin Luther, as the basis for their scripts.
Starring an Ensemble Cast
, including Kenneth Branagh
, Colin Firth
and Stanley Tucci, the film follows SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Adolf Eichmann as he organizes the meeting itself. Various members of the German government and military authority, including Nazi Party officials and members of the SS-Gestapo, have been recalled to the Berlin suburb of Wannsee from their duty stations for a conference, but very few have heard what the conference is actually meant to cover. After a round of genial introductions and conversation over appetizers, SS-Obergruppenführer (General) Reinhard Heydrich, the conference's ranking member, arrives and explains that they are there to discuss what to do with the Jews that are currently in Germany, as well as what to do with all the Jews that are in neighboring countries that Germany is in the process of annexing.
Though the meeting is phrased as a discussion panel for the formulation of policy, Heydrich quickly makes it clear that the policy has already been decided and he is there to inform everybody of their roles: Namely, the Jews are to be exterminated, not simply evicted from German territory, and the various departments represented at the conference are to defer to the SS as the ultimate arbiter of Jewish fate. Those who argue against this policy, either because they feel the mass execution of Jews goes too far
or because they feel the policy has been poorly thought out and will have negative consequences for Germany
, are persuaded or threatened by Heydrich into agreement in a series of private conversations during brief lulls in the meeting.
The film is an examination of the psychology of genocide; the way in which those who were about to commit heinous war crimes rationalized their atrocities. It is perhaps unique in attempting to tell the human story of the Nazis who planned the Holocaust, and how they came to terms with what they felt they had to do. To help in this regard, actors were expected to remain both in-costume and in-character for each day of filming. Kenneth Branagh, who played Reinhard Heydrich, has said that filming Conspiracy
was one of the most disturbing experiences of his acting career. The film was shot in ten minute takes, often requiring actors to memorize a large amount of script, using only one fixed set, and natural lighting. There is no soundtrack.
All portrayed characters were actual German officials who took part in the real Wannsee Conference, with their accurate ranks and areas of responsibility.
Cast and Historical Personalities
- Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich: The SS Chief of Reich Security (Main Office) and Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. He has ultimate oversight over all matters relating to the Jewish question, and is the immediate subordinate to Heinrich Himmler. A ruthless and intelligent man, he spends much of the film threatening, flattering and cajoling to bring the ministries into line. He was killed by British-trained Czech commandos with an anti-tank grenade which destroyed his car in 1942.
- Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann: Immediate subordinate to Heydrich, and head of the SS Office for Jewish Affairs, Eichmann is the man tasked with arranging the meeting, and the final solution that arises from it. Eichmann takes the role of a dispassionate observer, frequently chiming in on Heydrich's side, and generally as a man with no purpose beyond ideology. He later became known as the "architect of the Holocaust". After the war, he fled to Argentina, where he was kidnapped by Mossad and taken to Israel, where he became the only man ever put to death by that country.
- Colin Firth as Wilhelm Stuckart: State Secretary of the Reich Ministry of the Interior under Wilhelm Frick, Stuckart was author of the Nuremberg Laws, which codified the government's anti-semitic stance. Argues for avoiding distress to German couples and prefers the sterilization and "natural extinction" of Jews to Heydrich's policy of extermination. He survived the war, was released from prison in 1949 and died in a car accident (believed by some to have been Mossad-induced) in 1953.
- Ian McNeice as Gerhard Klopfer: A fat, loud, arrogant and rude member of the Nazi party, he, as he constantly reminds everyone, speaks for Martin Bormann, the party chancellor. He was released after the war due to lack of evidence, becoming a tax advisor in Ulm. He died in 1987.
- Kevin McNally as Martin Luther: Undersecretary at the Nazi Foreign Office. Violently anti-semitic, he speaks for Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. After a failed attempt to usurp his boss, Von Ribbentrop, he was sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, and died of a heart attack shortly after its liberation by the Red Army in 1945.
- David Threfall as Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger, the Deputy Head of the Reich Chancellery under Hans Lammers. Kritzinger shares Stuckart's opposition to outright extermination, and is the only participants who come close to making a moral objection. He attempted to resign after the Conference, but this was refused on unknown grounds. After the war, he declared himself ashamed of what he had done, and was released from Allied custody. He died in 1947.
- Ewan Stewart as Georg Leibbrant: Part of the occupying administration for the Eastern Territories, Liebbrant is concerned for the situation the Eastern territories and for the connection between Communism and Judaism. After the war, he was interned, but released without trial in 1950. He emigrated to the USA that year, but later returned to Germany, dying in 1982 in Bonn.
- Brian Pettifer as Alfred Meyer: A bespectacled, shrewish man, Meyer is Nazi Gauleiter in charge of the General Government (a section of Poland that formed a subdivision to the Reich) and the expulsion of Jews and ethnic Poles from "German" territory. He does not care what is done about the Jews, as long as it is done fast, due to the challenge of keeping the ghettos pacified and free of disease (which he fears may spread to the volkdeutsch). He committed suicide in 1945 when it became apparent that Germany was about to lose the war.
- Nicholas Woodeson as Otto Hoffmann: Head of the SS Race and Settlement Office. After the war, he was jailed for 6 years (from a 25 year sentence) for war crimes. He became a clerk in Bad Mergentheim, where he died in 1982.
- Jonathon Coy as Erich Neumann: Director of the Office of the Four Year Plan, Neumann is subordinate to Hermann Goering. He was interned by the Allies in 1945, but released in 1948 on the grounds of poor health. He died in 1951.
- Brendan Coyle as Heinrich Mueller: Chief of the Gestapo. He walked out of the Fuehrerbunker on May 1, 1945 and was never seen again, dead or alive.
- Ben Daniels as Josef Buehler: State Secretary of the General Goverment. After the war, he was extradited to Poland and hanged in 1948.
- Barnaby Kay as Rudolf Lange: The SS Officer in charge of SD forces in Latvia. Under his command, Einsatzgruppe A is believed to have exterminated a quarter of a million Jews. He was last seen in Poznan in 1945, and it is believed he was either killed in action or committed suicide.
- Owen Teale as Roland Freisler: Presiding Judge of the People's Court, representing the ministry of Justice. He was killed in a USAF bombing raid in 1945, when one of the pillars of his court building fell and crushed him. The man he had been trying, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, later became one of Germany's top judges.
- Pete Sullivan as Karl Eberhard Schoengarth: A young, arrogant and careerist SD Officer assigned to the General Goverment of Poland. He was captured by the Allies, charged with the murder of a downed Allied airman and hanged by the British in 1945.
This film contains examples of:
- Affably Evil: An extremely chilling example of this trope. A group of intelligent, cultivated, soft-spoken men having a secret conference in Germany in 1942 about what to do with the "storage problem" of the Jews in Europe. And it is based on the minutes of the actual meeting.
- Amoral Attorney: Several characters are either lawyers or Justice Ministry officials.
Klopfer: How many lawyers are in this room? Raise your hand.
(About half those present raise their hands, including Klopfer)
- Dr. Kritzinger is the only Nazi official present at the conference who feels that the wholesale extermination of the Jews is wrong. He feels legitimately betrayed when he figures out that he has been kept in the dark with false promises that they would be spared by the regime. Heydrich deconstructs this for Kritzinger by noting that he's only barely better than the rest of them because he never had any problems with terrorizing, enslaving and sterilizing the Jewish populations in Europe so long as they weren't immediately being killed.
- Rudolf Lange is an SS officer who has personally seen the horrors of war in the east. He actively hates the Jews he has ordered to be killed but even he is disturbed by the ad hoc mass murders in Latvia. He gets pissed off at Heydrich for the casual way in which he couches the ensuing genocide with euphemisms and has become quite introspective about his station.
- Stuckart is a downplayed example. He does object against the holocaust and brutality of his companions, but not on moral grounds (and indeed, he's a rampant anti-Semite), rather he feels that such actions would violate the spirit of the Nuremberg law, which cannot be accepted by any means, and suggests sterilization as a more "lawful" approach.
- Argentina Is Naziland: Eichmann flees to Argentina after the war before he is captured by the Israeli Mossad and tried and executed for his crimes.
- Armies Are Evil: The paramilitary factions of Nazi Germany are a major presence at the conference. The conflict between the SS officers and the civilian officials is frequently expressed by the SS stressing absolute obedience to the 'chain of command'. Stuckart protests that they're not a nation of armies, but in fact he's quite wrong. General Heydrich voices his belief to Major Lange, who has been carrying out ad hoc massacres in the field, that the duty of a soldier is "to be willing to do the unthinkable".
- Artistic License – History: In-universe, Eichmann is wrong when he says that Wannsee House was owned by a Jew - in fact, it had been owned by Friedrich Minoux, a Corrupt Corporate Executive who sold it to the Heydrich-controlled Nordhav Foundation in 1940 after being jailed for defrauding the Berlin Gasworks. The money to purchase it (ℛℳ145000000 in all) may have come from expropriated Jewish property, however.
- Ass in Ambassador: Martin Luther is the Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, representing Joachim von Ribbentrop at the conference. He's almost as obnoxious as Klopfer, participates in a bunch of lurid jokes about forced sterilization and proudly declares that he would be willing to sign up for Major Lange's death squad if they needed someone to shoot women and children.
- The Bad Guy Wins: They're all bad guys, mind you. It's just that the lesser bad guys are overruled by the more evil ones by the end. Heydrich gradually squashes any dissenting opinion and forces all the other ministries that opposed the genocide in some way to fall into line with the SS, and the Holocaust goes ahead as planned. Some of the attendees were punished for their crimes during and after the war such as Heydrich being assassinated and Eichmann captured in Argentina and dragged to Israel for trial, but a distressing amount became Karma Houdinis.
- Berserk Button: Eichmann is incredibly angry when the SS drivers are found having a snowball fight outside, especially when one of them tries to excuse himself by saying "it just happened". Eichmann actually strikes the man across the face and insists that nothing ever "just happens" when they are in uniform, and threatens to have them sent to the Russian front.
- Big Bad: Reinhard Heydrich. He's the most high-ranking and powerful Nazi in the film, and directs every step of the Holocaust and the conference.
- Bigger Bad: The unseen Adolf Hitler. It's abundantly clear the orders for Heydrich to organize the genocide ultimately come from him, but he remains a distant higher figure of the system.
- Black And Black Morality: All named characters, including those who argue most stenuously against the Final Solution, were Nazi officials who had implemented and carried out systematic persecution of Jewish peoples, including several war crimes that had already taken place before it became official policy.
- Black Comedy: The debate over sterilization is sidetracked for a while by lurid jokes. Besides that, virtually every joke the Nazis make is in the context of making light of mass slaughter.
- Blatant Lies: Heydrich is a 'font' of these.
- Blond Guys Are Evil: Heydrich is a platinum blond-haired man who personifies the Nazi ideal of the Aryan man; fit, warlike, cruel, ambitious, manipulative, and racially arrogant in the extreme.
- Book Ends: The opening and closing shots of the film parallel each other. It begins with a member of the villa's staff (the maid) turning the lights on inside the conference room in the morning, and ends with another one (the majordomo) turning them off in the evening after everyone has long left.
- Brick Joke: In the opening scene, of the background characters and staff preparing for the meeting, one waiter accidentally drops a tray of glassware and Eichmann instructs the head waiter to make sure that the dropper stays out his sight for the rest of the meeting. Towards the end of the film, Eichmann goes into the kitchen for a drink and medicine to calm his nerves and stomach after giving the details about gassing the Jews, and sternly remarks "I wasn't talking to you" when the dropper tries to offer him a glass of water.
- British Nazis: Every Nazi except Eichmann (who is played by the American Stanley Tucci) has a British accent. This was deliberate - the mainly British actors kept their natural accents, as it was felt that putting on an accent would shift the focus from the evil of the protagonists to how well Ken Branagh could do "Saxony-Anhalt".
- Category Traitor:
- Some of the Nazi officials are concerned with the plight of German spouses of the German Jews they want to murder when those people's husbands and wives are taken away. Others counter that they feel they're "race traitors" anyway and should be treated as such. SS General Heinrich Mueller goes so far as to say that he'd happily throw them all on the same transport if it were up to him.
- In that same scene, Klopfer and Stuckart get into a verbal spat over euthanasia and sterilization, and Klopfer accuses Stuckart of sympathizing with Jews. Subverted, as Stuckart clarifies that he's simply a different type of anti-Semite than Klopfer, who sees Jews as subhumanoids, whereas Stuckart sees them as diabolical geniuses plotting to take over the world.
- Captain Obvious: "Hoffmann, SS Race and Settlement Main Office, we deal with matters of race and settlement."
- Chromosome Casting: The only female character in the film is a maid who briefly appears. The rest are all men, as the Nazi government was quite reactionary when it came to gender issues and they considered politics a purely masculine field.
- Classified Information: Eichmann takes thorough measures to ensure there's minimal evidence of the meeting, even removing the guest book and ensuring a list of damages for broken crockery is sent to him personally. Fortunately for history one copy of the minutes was not destroyed by the person it was sent to.
- Co-Dragons: Mueller and Eichmann, to Heydrich.
- Creepy Crows: Are heard at the beginning of the film. Crows commonly symbolize death, so the connection to the planned genocide is quite obvious.
- Deadly Euphemism: As befitting a film about the Holocaust, these are used frequently — "evacuation" is the term finally agreed upon when discussing the future policy of the regime. Lange gets so pissed off by this he confronts Heydrich, asking if mass killings were meant by "evacuation". Heydrich simply responds that they were.
- Deadpan Snarker: Stuckart, who has been consistently ignored and undermined throughout the entire meeting, when asked on his final opinion/approval/collaboration, simply says, with a completely straight face, that his enthusiasm is boundless.
- Department of Redundancy Department: Otto Hofmann introduced himself as being from the Race and Settlement Department, then explains that they deal with race and settlement.
- Dirty Communists: In-universe, the Nazis view all Jews as this and Germany's war with the U.S.S.R is mentioned in passing. Roland Freisler, however, argues that the Russian people themselves are not communist at all, but will simply accept whatever role is forced upon them provided they are given the basic needs of survival.
- Dirty Old Man: Several Nazis, upon hearing about a new sterilization injection, ask where they can get it, as it would be "useful with the ladies." Luther points out that you would not need the injection, just the papers to say you had had it. Klopfer in particular lusts after the villa's maid, and later talks about "how [the Jews] love to make the beast [with two backs]."
Heydrich: Control yourself.
- The Dragon: Technically speaking, Heydrich is one to Adolf Hitler, although he plays more of the Big Bad in this film.
- Drinking On Duty: Invoked. Heydrich offers Eichmann a drink at the end to congratulate themselves on organizing a genocide. Eichmann notes he is still on duty, so his superior simply orders him to indulge himself.
- The Empire: The protagonists are bureaucrats of a totalitarian, conquering empire which is presently invading the rest of Europe and engaging in genocide.
- Enemy Civil War: Discussed. Mueller at several points in the film interjects when other characters protest the way that the SS is dominating the situation, explaining that there must be a single guiding hand to form policy. If there are multiple objectives then the entire process can fall into shambles as they compete against one another; he likens it to an animal having two heads and a ship having two captains. He explicitly points out that having Martin Bohrmann and Herman Goering fight it out would be disastrous.
- Establishing Character Moment:
- From the very moment that he swaggers into the mansion (cheerfully boasting that he plans to acquire it after the war), you know what Heydrich is: A classic sociopath, to whom mass murder means no more than buying a house. Also of note - Heydrich is unique in not responding to the "heil Hitler" greeting in kind, a hint at his lack of actual loyalty.
- Eichmann has one when he forces the terrified waiter who broke the plates to pay for the damage, then asking the majordomo if they have enough. Meticulous and terrifying.
- Lange has one the second he steps out his car: "No silence in Latvia - no silence like this..."
- Stuckart and Kritzinger get one with their first conversation together. They believe in the supremacy of law and detest the SS for disregarding all of it to get more power by heading a genocide.
- "N-Neumann, Office of the Four Year Plan, so good to see you..."
- Klopfer barging into the mansion like a pompous buffoon, demanding to see Eichmann so he can explain why his colleagues had to momentarily miss his presence, then guzzling sausages and belittling Neumann in very rude terms.
- Luther's first act on reaching the conference is to track down Eichmann (all but ignoring the other attendees, who are making small talk) and hand him a "memorandum of recommendations", with a second copy for Heydrich. Eichmann is visibly annoyed, but politely brushes him off.
- Euphemism Buster:
- Eventually, after yet another mention of "evacuation", Lange — the only person present who is currently active in combat — stands up and asks whether he "evacuated 30,000 Jews already by shooting them."
Kritzinger: This is more than war. Must be a different word for this.
Lange: Try "chaos".
Kritzinger: Yes. The rest is argument, the curse of my profession.
Lange: I studied law as well.
Kritzinger: And how do you apply that education to what you do?
Lange: It has made me distrustful of language. A gun means what it says.
- Kritzinger, whose department has proceeded on assurances the Jews will be held in "liveable conditions", never lets Eichmann or Heydrich get away with cloaking brutality with ambiguity. On the other hand it's clear that the "liveable conditions" are in reality overcrowded Polish ghettos with a high risk of disease. Heydrich later calls Kritzinger on his hypocrisy for being willing to accept everything short of genocide.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Some are stated outright, but a lot are subtly hinted at.
- Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger epitomizes this. Despite being (as Heydrich points out) willing to go along with the persecution, enslavement, and even mass sterilisation of the Jews, it becomes clear from the beginning of the conference that he is the only one there with a moral issue with the planned "elimination" of the Jews, and when it becomes clear his colleagues mean to flat out murder 12 million Jews his utter horror and shame at what he is a part of are obvious and he seems to come the closest of any man present to actually say that this is morally wrong. It's noted in the epilogue that of all the attendees, he is the only person to express remorse at having been complicit in the Holocaust. In Real Life Kritzinger tried to resign immediately after the conference, although historians are conflicted on whether it was because he truly felt the Final Solution was morally wrong or if the timing was just a coincidence.
- Dr. Stuckart offers a different style of standard. Throughout the film he is the most vocal and aggressive opponent of the genocide, but he claims it is because the proposed plans are haphazard and unworkable and opposed to the laws of Germany. He himself launches into an anti-Semitic diatribe explaining the flaws of the Jews, but then continues to protest their extermination.
- While not having any moral objection or qualm about the planned genocide, and generally acting like the biggest and most disgusting scumbag in a room full of supremely evil nazis, even Klopfer is shocked for a moment over just how many Jews will be murdered every day as the plans progress. He stops chewing his food and freezes completely motionless.
- Lange is a ruthless officer currently involved in the genocide, but he finds shooting and disposing of Jewish noncombatants (families and children mainly) to be increasingly unsettling. He takes personal offense when Heydrich keeps insisting on euphemisms for the killings, as it does not reflect what he has been doing in the field.
- Eichmann, despite being the biggest supporter of the genocide after Heydrich, becomes uncomfortable when describing the extermination process used in the gas chambers. Heydrich later relates that Eichmann fainted when he saw the results first-hand, which Eichmann quickly denies.
- Josef Buehler points out to the ignorant Luther that it is often distressing for their soldiers, who have some semblance of honor, to shoot unarmed women and children in mass slaughters. His tone seems to indicate he agrees with them.
- Otto Hoffmann is visibly sickened when he learns the details of the gas chambers and has to excuse himself from the table to go to the bathroom. He at first tries to blame it on mixing alcohol at lunch, and then on a bad cigar.
- Evil Gloating: Schoengarth gives a contemptuous wink to Buehler and Meyer when they confront him about undermining them.
- Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: A sick sense of humor, as the Nazis specialize in Black Humor and racist jokes that are only funny to other Nazis. Roland Freisler probably makes the worst one when he cracks a joke about the effects of the gas chambers on "Communist" Jews.
- Evil Lawyer Joke: When the law keeps being brought up as an obstacle to the proposed policies, Dr. Gerhard Klopfer remarks that they will just change the law. After all, how many of the people here are lawyers? When the majority of members of the conference all raise their hands (Including himself) he laughs and remarks that it was even worse than he thought.
- False Reassurance: Kritzinger believes that the 'Final Solution to the Jewish Problem' that is being discussed will not involve their complete annihilation because "that possibility has been personally denied to me by the Fuehrer." When it looks like the discussion is progressing in this fashion, he brings this up again in outrage — and the response from Reinhardt Heydrich, the chairman of the meeting, is to simply reply "and it will continue to be." Kritzinger comes to the dawning realization that Heydrich is not saying there will be no extermination, but that Hitler will instead continue to lie about it for plausible deniability.
- Fascist, but Inefficient: Stuckart argues that the system for determining who has enough 'Jewish blood' is unworkable.
Stuckart: Depending on subjective evaluations as to whether he looks Jewish or has a Jewish personality, or whatever else is subject to personal interpretation and variation including the assertions of the damned Jew himself! And what does this do; it subverts the Nuremberg laws and perpetuates disrespect for the law!
- Fat Bastard: Klopfer, overweight and vile. (The real Klopfer wasn't fat at all.)
- Faux Affably Evil: Heydrich knows how to switch on the charm and barely raises his voice throughout the movie. It quickly becomes clear that that's largely because he doesn't have to.
- Final Solution: Follows the detailed formulation and dissemination of the plan for the Final Solution.
- Food Porn: There are some loving shots of the hors d'oeuvres served during the conference, possibly to highlight how cultured - and yet how inhuman the attendees were.
- Forced Into Evil: Stuckart and Kritzinger are threatened with "attention" from the SS if they do not play along, although they were both already in favour of the sterilization and persecution of the Jews before things progressed to extermination.
- Foregone Conclusion: The participants at the meeting are summoned under the pretence that their views and perspectives on potential solutions to the 'Jewish Problem' are being sought. It eventually becomes clear, however, that the solution has already been determined, and they are there to basically receive orders and rubber stamp everything. It was also a Secret Test of Character to see how they would react.
- Four Eyes, Zero Soul:
- Dr. Alfred Meyer, the bespectacled Secretary of the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, urges the others to proceed with the genocide as quickly as possible to depopulate Eastern Europe.
- Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Martin Luther looks like a refined gentleman with his suit and glasses, but in fact he's immensely arrogant, easily cowed and submissive, and wholly supportive of the field executions of unarmed civilians.
- Freudian Slip: Although Stuckart claims his position isn't based on "pride of authorship", he at one point refers to the Nuremberg Laws with a "my" before Verbal Backspacing to a "the".
- Government Procedural: All the main characters are government officials, and the film revolves around their proceedings, which culminates in genocide.
- Hate Sink: Dr. Gerhard Klopfer, who stands out as the most detestable character in an entire film filled with Nazis. He and his colleagues are all genocidal imperialists, but most of them are at least pragmatic, coldly efficient, or not completely unsympathetic (Kritzinger and Lange). Klopfer tops them all by being morbidly obese, gluttonous, ugly, rude, an open pervert, even more simple-mindedly racist than the others, and cowardly (he makes jokes about Heydrich's possible Jewish ancestry behind his back but dares not to say it to his face when dared to do so by Mueller).
- Historical Hero Upgrade / Historical Villain Downgrade:
- Stuckart may or may not have pushed for sterilization as a humanitarian alternative to the Endloesung. The film plays with this by giving him, as part of his protestations against extermination, a virulent anti-Semitic rant, and his protests are clearly based on legalistic grounds more than any kind of moral objection to mass murder. One gets the impression he'd be quite happy for the extermination process to occur so long as they were operating according to his Nuremberg Laws.
- Lange was an unrepentant Nazi and there is no indication that he felt anything other than joy at shooting dead thousands of Jews. The film version is a Shell-Shocked Veteran, although this is used in order to highlight the Real Life problems the Nazis had with the gas-vans and death-squads (that they turned men into "psychopaths or neurotics.")
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Whilst the real Erich Klopfer was just as evil and unpleasant as the one portrayed in the film, he was neither a glutton nor lecherous.
- I Don't Pay You to Think: When Heydrich notes that the secretary will be discreet about the proceedings that will discuss mass murder, Eichmann replies that the man in question agrees. Heydrich sarcastically replies "He agrees? Excellent".
- I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: When everybody is introducing themselves to the group, SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Rudolf Lange gives his title and says "among other things." Heydrich responds that they all have "other things."
- Implied Death Threat: Heydrich to Kritzinger and Stuckart.
Heydrich: Sitting at that table I will ask for your agreement on what is proposed.
Kritzinger: And I must answer now.
Heydrich: Oh you will answer now or you will answer...later.
- Industrialized Evil: The planning and practical execution of industrialized evil is the central event of the film. Heydrich openly boasts about how they applied the assembly line concept to a genocide.
- Interservice Rivalry: Much of the tension at the table is provided by the rivalry between the SS, the Party Chancellery, the General Government, the Interior and Justice Ministries and the Office of the Four Year Plan. It's notable that in Real Life, Adolf Hitler specifically invoked this in a social darwinist method. Having all these factions fighting with each other left him to reign supreme above the rest of the system, and it would supposedly result in having the "strongest" prevailing over the others.
- I Was Never Here: "This meeting is not taking place."
- Jerkass: One of the things that makes Dr. Klopfer a Hate Sink in addition to an evil Nazi is that he's obnoxious and rude even to his fellow Nazis.
- Karma Houdini: According to the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, a depressing number of the participants in the meeting appear to have avoided any kind of punishment for their consequent actions.
- Lawful Stupid: Stuckart reacts strongly against the proposed mass genocide, despite being a vehement anti-Semite, simply because it isn't part of any official "law" but an ad hoc process being done off the books. He then futilely tries to argue that they should forcibly sterilize the Jews instead, because this is legal under the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws. Klopfer mercilessly undermines Stuckart by flippantly talking over him, bluntly interjecting, "so change the law...change the law" repeatedly. Stuckart doesn't seem able to mentally process that what is "lawful" is not always what is "just", or that even mass-murdering tyrants can enact "laws" just as much as any other government - or, that as a tyrannical dictatorship, Nazi Germany can simply change the laws at whim. Then again, this is probably a subversion: Stuckart doesn't really care about "lawfulness", he's annoyed that they are laws he wrote, as one of the lawyers who co-authored the Nuremberg Laws. He doesn't give a shit about "lawfulness", he's annoyed that he is being cut out of the loop.
- Laser-Guided Karma:
- Heydrich is the most evil Nazi in the film and the biggest instigator of the genocide, and also the first to die after the conference. Within several months he is assassinated by Czech operatives sent by the British, before he even sees the culmination of his Holocaust.
- Catches up with Adolf Eichmann in the epilogue text. Abducted from Argentina by the Israeli Mossad and flown to face trial in Jerusalem, Adolf Eichmann became the only man ever executed by the state of Israel.
- Let Me Tell You a Story: Kritzinger relates a story to Heydrich as a warning to what he is trying to accomplish, which Heydrich later relates in turn to Müller and Eichmann at the end. It concerns a boyhood friend of Kritzinger, who hated his abusive father fiercely but was devoted to his loving mother. When his mother died some years later, the man tried to cry as her casket was lowered into the grave, but wasn’t able to. When his father died at a much older age, the man couldn't control his tears. The moral of the story is that being consumed by hatred for something will mean that once that thing is gone, the hater's life will be nothing but a hollow shell anymore.
- A Lighter Shade of Black: Kritzinger, while still a proud servant of the Fuehrer who's glad to oppress the Jewish people, is the only one appaled by the concept of complete extermination.
- The Load: When Luther broaches the subject of the inevitable response of their Italian allies to the Holocaust, the rest of the participants let out a collective groan. Heydrich quickly sums up the German Nazis' sentiment:
Heydrich: We must all trust the good Lord to save us from our Italian friends.
- Malevolent Mugshot: The promotional material featured one of Eichmann and Heydrich◊.
- Manipulative Bastard: Reynhard Heydrich. He is very good at putting on an outer face of pleasantness and respect, but it gradually becomes apparent that the "conference" is not a discussion of whether to enact the Holocaust, but informing the various departments of what their role in the already decided-on genocide will be. At most, Heydrich is going to give them some points of clarification, but otherwise, he isn't really interested in anything they have to say - though he maintains the pretense of this for a while. Heydrich verbally dominates the entire conference. Frequently, when one of the other men at the table attempt to interject a question, he will brush it off by earnestly and politely saying that he will take questions in a moment, but hasn't finished what he's saying. After a couple of rounds of his, it gradually becomes clear that Heydrich is just saying this to shut people up, and he has no intention of ever getting around to their questions. All said with a cheerful smile. This works with most of them, but when Stuckart adamantly insists that he doesn't like being cut out of the loop on important matters like this, Heydrich lets the mask drop for a moment, and bluntly make the offhand threat that it would be a shame if the bullies in the SS heard what an obstructionist he's being.
- Meaningful Background Event: In the beginning of the film, when all the participants are arriving at the house before the meeting begins, several short scenes focus on different groups of people introducing themselves and engaging in small talk. In almost all of these scenes Eichmann can be seen in the background just behind the people talking. He does not participate in the conversations, but is simply there, observing everything and everyone.
- Meaningful Echo:
- Before the meeting begins, Dr. Kritzinger comments on how the SS always want more, even though they already have everything. When Heydrich later demands Kritzinger's support for his plans, Kritzinger explains that he will not oppose him, but Heydrich says that he needs more. Kritzinger's only response is "Of course."
- Luther arrives for the meeting with a "memorandum of recommendations" for Eichmann to give to Heydrich, which Eichmann politely brushes off. Later, Heydrich thanks him for the memo, but when Luther claims he "heard some of what I wrote in what you have already said," Heydrich bluntly replies, "I think not."
- Minion with an F in Evil: Deconstructed by Heydrich to Kritzinger
"Well then, this is the moment to be... practical, until such time as Germany can afford your philosophy, which is what? Hound them, impoverish them, exploit them, imprison them - just do not kill them, and you are God's noblest of men. I find that, uh, truly remarkable."
- Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: As well as lawyers there are also several doctors at the conference, and the effects of medical experiments involving euthanasia of mental patients are also mentioned.
- Moral Myopia: The Nazis have more qualms about killing German Jews than Polish or Russian ones.
- Murder Is the Best Solution: Since this is about the Wannsee Conference where the Final Solution phase of the Holocaust was devised, the Nazis are discussing with coldblooded earnestness why killing the Third Reich's "undesirables" is the best means of dealing with them. Only one of the men has any genuine moral problems with the mass murder — the rest are simply discussing how best to organize it.
- My Master, Right or Wrong: Major Lange is briefly mentored by General Heydrich after Lange notes how disturbed he is by all the massacres in the east. When Heydrich later asks Lange for his opinion at the table, he simply submits to the chain of command and states that he has no other gods before it.
- Nazi Protagonist: Every single character is either working for the Nazi government or one of its subsidiary organizations.
- Never Hurt an Innocent: Downplayed. It's pointed out that the massacres in the east are causing problems because the soldiers are upset at being ordered to shoot women and children, especially if the victims are German.
- No Delays for the Wicked: This is Heydrich's ultimate objective during the conference—to cut through all the bureaucratic objections and red tape to start his genocide as quickly as possible. He does this by invoking his authority to convince all the other officials to play along and blackmailing those who still refuse. Near the end he declares that the train system to the death camps will start moving in days instead of weeks, and later boasts that within a year the Nazis will have exterminated every Jew in Europe.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Only minor characters attempt a German accent. All the actors playing Nazis at the table use their native accents, although Stanley Tucci tones down his New York accent slightly.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Variation. Neuman really is a twitchy, nervous guy without the assertiveness to be taken seriously by the other participants, it is not an act or ploy, but he also is intelligent in his own areas of expertise. When the discussions actually come around to matters under his control he speaks a lot more clearly and forcefully, even interrupting other people, than he does in other conversations.
- Oedipus Complex: Kritzinger relates a story to Heydrich about an old friend of Kritzinger who hated his abusive father but loved his doting mother. To the friend's surprise his mother's death didn't affect him all that much, but his father's death made him cry uncontrollably. The tragedy was that the son's hatred for his father became more important to him than his mother's love, turning him into an empty shell after the man's death.
- Oh, Crap: One SS driver has such a reaction when he turns round after a snowball fight and sees Eichmann standing there. This only gets worse as Eichmann threatens him with the Russian Front.
- Only Sane Man: An incredibly depressing one comes in the form of Dr. Kritzinger. He tries to make a moral stand while everyone else is concerned with bureaucracy or power-play, but he's shot down and eventually goes along with it after realizing the futility of objecting. It is summed up by this exchange at the end of the film:
Kritzinger: It is night in Moscow already. Soon it will be dark here. Do you think any of us will live to see the daytime?
General Hoffmann: Come spring we will be on the move again. Keep your spirits up.
- Plausible Deniability
- Towards the beginning of the film the radio operator takes a call for General Heydrich, after which Heydrich instructs Eichmann to end all further calls.
Eichmann: (To switchboard operator) This meeting is not taking place. You are to take no calls for anyone at this meeting. Anyone. Unless the Fuehrer calls - and he won't.
- Kritzinger is particularly frustrated by the meeting since everything Heydrich says goes against the public instructions he has received.
That we have undertaken to systematically annihilate all the Jews in Europe? That possibility has personally been denied to me by the Fuhrer
Heydrich: And it will continue to be.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Multiple characters point out that it takes away resources, personnel and time to kill all the Jews, when they need all they can to resume the offensive in Russia after their offensive stalled in the winter.
- Professional Butt-Kisser
Stuckart: How are you, Neumann?
Neumann: Well, always surprised and flattered, Dr Stuckart, that you recognize me.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Every character is a Nazi. Were you even remotely surprised that they're all foul racists?
- Precision F-Strike:
- Heydrich tells Eichmann to stop being so stiff and have a fucking drink.
- Leibbrandt, who is otherwise depicted as well spoken throughout the conference, tells Neumann, "Fuck the extrapolatons!" when the latter tries to explain the labor shortage that will result if no Jews are left alive for use as slaves.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Schoengarth seems to be a rather chillingly realistic example of this; he's boisterous and petty, but at the same time completely detached from any consequences of his actions and childish in his cruelty and sadism, enthusiastically imagining and clapping at the idea of genocide. Neatly encapsulated when Heydrich forces them to stop smoking cigars, Schoengarth, in the midst of cutting a new one, actually goes "awwww".
- Punch Clock Villain: This trope is taken to its most terrifying extreme, as the Nazis are debating the planning of a genocide of millions as matter-of-factly as they would if it were a business meeting between the heads of a major company. In the end it's simply an administrative job for them, discussed over lunch, as they're all part of a larger machine with only Heydrich having any real authority.
- Then again it varies from one character to the next. For some, it's just a job, and they enjoy doing their job effectively. Others actually enjoy what they're doing.
- Real Time: Like the German original, the events within the conference room strictly follow the minutes of the meeting that took place, which was over in less than 90 minutes.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- There's a peculiar one in which Dr. Stuckart rants about how Klopfer and his colleagues in the Nazi Party are a bunch of simple-minded thugs who believe every word of Party propaganda about Jews being unintelligent vermin, and notes that "pigs don't know how to hate". In the course of doing this however, he establishes that he's just as anti-Semitic as Klopfer, just a more intellectual and articulate one.
- Another one in the Evil Versus Evil conflict is between Heydrich and Kritzinger. The latter consistently objects to the "Final Solution" which Heydrich is pushing because he is the only man among the Nazis who acknowledges that exterminating the Jews is abjectly wrong. Heydrich eventually deconstructs Kritzinger's attempt at Even Evil Has Standards, because he knowingly consented to sterilizing and enslaving them before. Heydrich is an evil mass murderer, but he acknowledges this, whereas Kritzinger deludes himself into thinking that making a moral stand at that point somehow negates the crimes he has already committed.
- Riding into the Sunset: The film ends with the maid (who is clueless about the whole affair) being picked up by her boyfriend (the radio operator, also in the dark) on his bicycle. They ride away and can be heard giggling.
- Round Table Shot: Done twice: first when the participants introduce their names and ranks, second when the conference's chairman Reinhard Heydrich asks them all individually for their support for his "solution".
- Sand In My Eyes: When they finally get past the preamble of the meeting and Eichmann begins describing, in detail, the method of mass gas extermination, Otto Hofmann becomes visibly sickened and excuses himself to rush to the bathroom. He at first claims it is because he mixed wine and whiskey while eating, and then that it was probably a bad cigar.
- Secret Keeper
Heydrich: We have all become bearers of secrets.
- Screw The Rules We Make Them: Kophler's response to Stuckart's objections.
- Shaggy Dog Story: The film plays with the illusion presented to the ministries that they were collected to provide their genuine opinions, and to determine policy. By the end it becomes clear that the gas chambers have already been built, the SS organized the meeting simply to bully everyone into line, and disagreement was futile from the very start.
- Shame If Something Happened: When talking to Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, who opposed any sort of ad hoc policy that looked to make a mess of German law, Heydrich convinced him to stop opposing the Final Solution by off-handedly mentioning how he would hate for the bullies in the SS to take notice of his obstruction.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Of a sort; of the participants at the conference, Lange is the only one who is currently directly involved in the extermination of the Jews and, while he's certainly pretty enthusiastic about the killings, is clearly a bit haunted by his experiences. This also leads him to hold a certain degree of contempt for the bureaucrats and euphemistic language he's surrounded by.
- Shown Their Work: Very much so. The minutes of the actual conference, as well as Eichmann's Mossad interrogations, were used for the screenplay. Granted, much of the work had been done for them by the German predecessor, but the period details, especially the uniforms, are perfect, as is the small talk. Heydrich really was like that (and he really was late and really did turn up in a Fiesler Storch).
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Downplayed. When Neuman is talking to Mueller towards the end of the meeting, and Mueller begins to again restate his usual speech about unity of vision and avoiding internal conflict (See Enemy Civil War), Neuman just holds up his hand and says "Spare me" before walking off in the middle of his sentence.
- Snowball Fight: The younger SS soldiers who are guarding the Wannsee compound engage in a snowball fight near the end of the conference, before Eichmann angrily berates them for unprofessional conduct and threatens to send them all to the Russian front.
- The Social Darwinist: When Heydrich finishes the conference, he echoes the Nazi views on evolution as he gloats that the genocide of the Jews will "advance the human race to greater purity in a space of time so short Charles Darwin will be astonished". Or he would be. Evolution doesn't work that way.
- The Sociopath: Heydrich shows all of the classic traits: Superficial charm, glibness, personal manipulation, compulsive recklessness ("the secret to enjoying life is to live dangerously," he says), and an utter lack of empathy. Kenneth Branagh came away from the role convinced that inside the man, there was no principle, no passion, and no emotion except for a desire to dominate others. He went so far as to say that Heydrich didn't even seem especially anti-Semitic: The man simply lusted after power, and the fact that said power meant the murders of six million Jews was incidental.
- Sociopathic Soldier: Deconstructed. SS Major Lange is the closest you could get to this, as he's leading one of a number of huge death squads through the occupied Soviet Union shooting unarmed civilians en masse and encouraging racist locals to kill Jews in mobs. However, he and his men are becoming increasingly disturbed by the sheer level of inhumanity they're supposed to inhabit. Heydrich introduces the gas chambers to make the murders easier to carry out for the perpetrators.
- So Much for Stealth: Stuckart argues that you just can't 'evacuate' millions of people without non-Jewish relatives clogging the courts for decades settling issues of inheritance or divorce. "What happens to your secret killings then?"
- Straight Edge Evil:
- Nazi official Eichmann is a very composed man who doesn't indulge in the foods or cigars prepared for the attendants at the villa and is reluctant to drink on duty until Heydrich orders him to.
- Heydrich himself is obviously irritated by the lecherousness of the other attendees when they talk about sterilization and does not touch the drink or the cigars until the conference is finished.
- Tested On Humans: The Zyklon-B gas they plan to use has already been used on the terminally ill, the hereditary disabled and some Jews.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Averted in that like Schindlers List it's a realistic film, not a portrayal of any particular Nazi stereotypes. In fact, aside from the men who actually worked directly in the concentration camps, these are among the worst of the lot. Played with in that they're the protagonists of the story.
- Thousand Year Reign: Referenced several times, as the film takes place at a time when the Nazis were absolutely convinced that they were moments away from victory.
Neumann: Neumann, director of the Four-Year-Plan. Whom may I be speaking to?
Klopfer: I speak for Martin Bormann, of the Thousand-Year-Plan.
- Threat Backfire: When Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart explains, almost ranting, why the Final Solution policies are a bad idea (Because of all the German laws they are violating and the mess they would create), Dr. Gerhard Klopfer, having been directly insulted numerous times over the course of said explanation, leans across the table and says, very lowly: "I'll remember you." Stuckart responds "You should. I'm very well known."
- Unable to Cry: Offscreen, Dr. Kritzinger tells Reinhard Heydrich a story about an old friend who had an abusive father but a doting mother. The man was unable to cry at his mother's funeral, but was strangely broken down in tears and sobbing uncontrollably at his father's funeral. It was because his father's hatred defined the man's life more than his mother's love ever did, rendering him an empty shell who had lost his purpose when the object of his hatred was gone. This ties into a warning that Kritzinger is trying to give Heydrich about his anti-Semitism.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: Heydrich has a personal talk with Major Lange about the duties of soldiering. Heydrich seems to view himself as some sort of impromptu mentor figure to Lange, as he tries to convince Lange that all the death they're causing (including annihilating an entire people) is for a "better future". Given Heydrich's sociopathic qualities it's doubtful that he actually believes it himself and was instead just turning up the charm, but Lange takes the message at face value.
- Victory Is Boring: After Heydrich blackmails Kritzinger into submitting to his authority, Kritzinger warns him where his genocide will lead by telling Heydrich a story about a man whose life was rendered meaningless after his goal in seeing the abusive father whom he hated finally die was completed. Heydrich later discusses the same matter with Mueller and Eichmann, and wonders what they would do with an ideology and creed built around hate if all the Jews in the world were eradicated. Eichmann doesn't know the answer, but the point goes right over Heydrich's head, who bluntly states that he won't miss them.
- Villainous Glutton: Dr. Klopfer is an obnoxious, obese Nazi who indulges himself with the food and other niceties prepared for the attendees in the villa. He's still mowing down leftovers when the other Nazis have already departed.
- Villain Protagonist: Every character in this film is a high-ranking official of a totalitarian regime engaging in wars of conquest and extermination, while their objective is to organize a continental genocide.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Heydrich and Eichmann get a brief narration at the end describing what happened to them during the remainder of the war. The entire cast each get a brief text exposition, with a picture of the real person, explaining their ultimate fate after the war.
- Why Dont You Just Shoot Them?: Luther asks this, only to by told by the man doing the shooting that soldiers break down psychologically when they're asked to kill thousands of unarmed 'enemies', including women and children. Heydrich and others add that it's a waste of time, manpower, and bullets. Then he turns the subject to gas...
- Wicked Cultured: Played straight with Heydrich: he finds a record of Franz Schubert's C Major Sextet and comments "The adagio will tear your heart out." Later on, when Heydrich has left, Eichmann averts it: he puts the record on at the adagio and listens to it for a moment. The butler stops and listens to it too.
Eichmann: Does it tear your heart out?
Butler: (smiling) Beautiful, sir.
Eichmann: I have never understood the passion for Schubert's sentimental Viennese shit.
- Would Be Rude to Say "Genocide": The words "extermination" are almost never used, and are not written down as such by the secretary. Instead, everything is couched in euphemisms. Interestingly this was before the specific word "genocide" to denote such mass slaughters was coined. Coupled with the Translation Convention, Kritzinger and Lange struggle to come up with something that would encapsulate it as "war" is thoroughly insufficient and settle on "chaos".
- You Are What You Hate: The movie touches on the rumors that Heydrich himself was partly Jewish in a back-and-forth between Klopfer and Mueller. Ultimately it neither confirms nor denies them.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Eichmann expands on his anti-Semitic obsession by telling a story about how he arranged with a Rabbi to teach him Hebrew, even paying the man out of his own pocket after his superior denied him the funds. The Rabbi was suddenly deported, and Eichmann notes that if the Rabbi had asked him he would have protected the man... until his lessons were complete.
- You're Insane!: Actually "We're insane", danced around but not said outright by some of the conspirators.
Heydrich: Nietzsche advises the secret to enjoying life is to uh... live dangerously.
Heydrich: Look at the world and tell me the pleasures of sanity.
Kritzinger: It is night in Moscow already. Soon it will be dark here. Will the dawn come within any of our lifetimes?