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Film / Conspiracy (2001)

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15 men determine the fate of an entire people over appetizers.

"This is...more than war. There must be a different word for this."
Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger, about The Holocaust

Conspiracy is a 2001 HBO / BBC TV film that dramatizes the story of the 1942 Wannsee Conference, one of several meetings of German civil and party officials which authorised the Security Police department of the SS to organize the deportation of Jews from and to anywhere it wished as part of what would ultimately be called "Operation Reinhard" note  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. Represented are the Security Police (under Heydrich), Criminal Police, Regional Security Chief for the ''Generalgouvernement'', a representative of Hans Frank's ''Generalgouvernement'', Alfred Rosenberg's Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Office, the Party Chancellory, the Reich Chancellory, the SS Race and Settlement Office, and the Luftwaffe's Four Year Plan Organisation. All 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-equivalent) Reinhard Heydrich, the conference's ranking member, arrives and explains that they are there to discuss what to do with 'The Jews'.


Though the meeting is phrased as a discussion panel for the formulation of policy, Reinhard Heydrich quickly makes it clear that the policy has already been decided and he is there to inform everybody of their roles: namely, starting in the summer the 'unskilled' Jews currently held in Germany's eastern districts and the Generalgouvernement will be deported to extermination facilities (currently under construction) in the Generalgouvernement staffed by local police forces (under the command of the SS District Chiefs). Those who argue against this policy, either because they feel the mass execution of all 'unskilled' 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 Generalgouvernement, on the other hand, would like the process sped up so that it will not have to keep shouldering the burden of feeding so many Useless Mouths.

The film is a unique examination of the psychology and logic of genocide. It is one of very few attempts to tell the human story of those who planned elements of 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: Heydrich's "special expert" (directly subordinate to Müller, but in practice Heydrich tended to work with Eichmann over his head) and head of the SS Office for Jewish Affairs, Eichmann is the man tasked with arranging the meeting, and the operations which arise 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, making him the last surviving attendee of the conference.
  • 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, Joachim 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 Threlfall 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, Leibbrant 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 represents Alfred Rosenberg's Reich Ministry for the occupied Eastern Territories. 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 Volksdeutsch). He committed suicide in 1945 when it became apparent that Germany was about to lose the war.
  • Nicholas Woodeson as Otto Hofmann: Head of the SS Race and Settlement Office, it is his authority that is most directly usurped by Heydrich. 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 Göring. His only concern whatsoever seemed to be severe shortage of labor force, hence his appeals to spare Jews who were working on vital industrial objects. 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 Müller: Chief of the Gestapo and as such immediate subordinate to Reinhard Heydrich and a boss of Adolf Eichmann. He walked out of the Führerbunker on May 1, 1945 and was never seen again, dead or alive.
  • Ben Daniels as Dr. Josef Bühler: State Secretary of Hans Frank's Generalgouvernement (of Poland). He testified against Hans Frank during the Nürnberg trials and was later extradited to Poland, tried, 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: State Secretary of the Reich Ministry of Justice. Does not say much, but his preoccupation with Communism frequently figures into the conversation. Soon after the conference, he became Presiding Judge of the People's Court - the highest court dealing with political crimes, and brought some really ill fame upon himself when he sentenced to death dozens of people involved in the July 20, 1944 coup against Hitler. He was eventually killed in a USAF bombing raid in 1945, which just barely prevented him from giving out yet another death sentence. The man whose life was thus miraculously saved, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, later became one of Germany's top judges.
  • Pete Sullivan as Karl Eberhard Schöngarth: A young, arrogant and careerist SD Officer assigned to the Generalgouvernement. He was captured by the Allies, charged with the murder of a downed Allied airman and hanged by the British in 1946.

Not to be confused with The Conspiracy

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.
  • Aggressive Categorism: Heydrich and Stuckart are on opposite ends of this trope. Stuckart maintains that the Jews are a homogeneous population and the dividing line between them and Germans must be clear. Heydrich is in favor of a much looser definition of a Jew, basically meaning anyone he and the SS considers to be worthy of killing.
  • 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)
    Klopfer: Oh, Jesus Christ, it's worse than I thought.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • 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.
    • Stuckart is a downplayed example. He does object to the Holocaust and brutality of his companions, but not on moral grounds. Indeed, he's an unapologetic anti-Semite. He insteads object to it because the plan involves arbitrary violations of the Nuremburg Laws (co-written by himself), which cannot be accepted by any means, and suggests sterilization as a more "lawful" approach. He also thinks the approach of mass extermination will generate global outrage, whereas a legal method of sterilization will fly below the radar.
  • Argentina Is Nazi-Land: 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:
    • While the source material available to historians contains most of reservations voiced by the characters In-Universe, the arguments never reached the level shown in the film (there were no breaks during the session in Real Life, and according to Eichmann, Heydrich was actually pleasantly surprised by the lack of resistance on part of the others). However, the film takes the position that the historical record was doctored by Eichmann to create the illusion that everyone quickly and easily came to a consensus.
    • 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.
  • At Least I Admit It: Heydrich's final conversation with Kritzinger reveals that his disdain for the man isn't just because he's opposing him. It's also because he was perfectly fine with the persecution, abuse, impoverishment, enslavement, eventual sterilization and indefinite imprisonment of the Jews, but only now, when outright genocide is on the table, does he suddenly have a moral objection. Even Heydrich is visibly disgusted by this, since he has no issue with admitting what he is, what they're going to do, and why.
  • 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 to serve their own national self-interest the British and American occupation authorities ensured that the rest 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.
  • Big Entrance: In-universe; Heydrich flies over the manor at Wannsee in his personal plane, and wait for all the other attendees to have arrived before departing the airfield. The others in attendance know they're going to be kept waiting for Heydrich's arrival so he can make an impression.
    Roland Freisler: [on Heydrich] He will make his entrance.
  • Blatant Lies: Heydrich is a 'font' of these.
  • Bookends: 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 butler) turning them off in the evening after everyone has long left.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: When asked to vote endorsement of the conference's proceedings (i.e. agreeing to kill every Jew in Europe), Colin Firth's character looks straight at the camera:
  • 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 Kenneth 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 Müller 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.
    Müller: Perhaps the judge has a special love for them?
    Klopfer: Yes, yes, a special love for them...
    Stuckart: For who? For Jews? Wonderful, you don't have my credentials. Forgive me, from your uniform I can infer you're shallow, ignorant and naive about the Jews. Your line and what the party rants on about, how inferior they are, some sub-species, and I keep saying how wrong that is! They are sublimely clever. And they are intelligent as well. My indictments to that race are stronger and heavier because they are real, not your uneducated ideology. They are arrogant, and self-obsessed, and calculating, and reject the Christ and I will NOT have them pollute German blood!
  • Captain Obvious: "Hofmann, SS Race and Settlement Main Office, we deal with matters of race and settlement."
  • Chromosome Casting: Justified, as all Real Life conference participants were men (Nazi government considered politics a purely masculine field). The only female character in the film is a maid who briefly appears.
  • 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 tonote 
  • Co-Dragons: Müller and Eichmann, to Heydrich.
  • Contraception Deception: Discussed; when one Nazi official mentions that Jews and other undesirables could be sterilized instead of killed outright, another official mentions that they themselves could get a (false) certificate that they too have been sterilized, in the event of future sexual encounters.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive / Honest Corporate Executive: Kritzinger hovers uncomfortably above both tropes. While willing to exploit Jewish slave workers, keep them in squalid ghettos, and attend a conference supposedly to better exploit them, not to mention being more or less on board with their wholesale sterilization, is STILL the most moral and sympathetic man in the room given he alone has moral qualms about their wholesale extermination.
  • 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. Infamously, this is Truth in Television regarding all official Nazi documents, in which direct references to the deadly nature of the Final Solution were strictly avoided. During the conference itself, however, the participants discussed everything in very blunt terms, not at all bothering with the euphemisms, according to Eichmann's testimony.
  • 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 an extremely racist manner unsurprisingly that is inadvertently complimentary to the Jews by comparison.
    Freisler: The Russian is not a Communist, my friend. The Russian does not give a damn who runs things. I have lived amongst themnote . The Russian only cares he has a bottle of vodka to suck and some form of domestic animal life to fuck. Then he will happily sit in shit his whole life. That is his politics. I know those people. That is the distinction. I absolve the Jews of that.
  • 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.
  • Dispense with the Pleasantries: Variation. When Heydrich walks into the villa to chair the Wannsee meeting, the other senior Nazis all perform a Hitler salute. Heydrich orders everyone to forego the greeting for the remainder of the discussions to cut down on time. This immediately sets the tone for the rest of the film: Heydrich's sole objective is to remove all red tape standing in the way of the Holocaust, not to discuss policy in any meaningful sense.
  • The Dragon: Technically speaking, Heydrich is this to Big Bad Heinrich Himmler (who is, in turn, The Dragon to Greater-Scope Villain Adolf Hitler). For the purposes of the film, however, Heydrich is pretty much Big Bad on his own.
  • 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.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?:
    • Neumann works directly under Göring, Hitler's Number Two, and is in charge of economic policy for the whole country. In any sane government, he would be one of the most important people in the room. In the Wannsee Conference, he is mocked and generally ignored by everyone. Likely justified by the backdrop of the film: Göring is engaged in a power struggle with the Nazi Party and the SS, the latter two of which make up the majority of the conference. This also reflects a curious Truth in Television, in that much of the high-levels of Nazi government (including Hitler) weren't very interested in and in fact disdained economic management except as a means of fueling their military ambitions, to the point that immediately before the war Germany was in real danger of complete economic collapse.note 
    • Klopfer is very clearly under the impression that he is the most important man at the conference, and behaves as such, to everyone else's annoyance. Played with in that while the other attendees do respect his position, they regard Klopfer as — in Heydrich's words — as a "strutting, imbecilic, porcine prick."
  • 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. Müller 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 Bormann and Hermann Göring 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. Also, the very first scene of the movie is him flying into Wannsee in his plane, capturing his narcissism and flair for the dramatic. It also says something that Eichmann, who has already been established as ruthless in his own right (see below) and has been simply a polite host to the other attendees, displays absolute deference to Heydrich from the moment he walks in.
    • Eichmann has one when he forces the terrified waiter who broke the plates to pay for the damage, then asking the butler 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.
    • Kritzinger has another when he refuses to participate in the rumor-mongering about the situation in Moscow, stating bluntly that the German forces are stalled for the winter.
    Kritzinger: It is time to face reality.
    • "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.
    • Double Subverted with Alfred Meyer. He is introduced laughing and joking with the others, which is the last time he so much as cracks a smile. His actual moment comes when the meeting actually starts, cutting off his subordinate's introduction to curtly introduce himself and having to be reminded by Stuckart to actually give his name.
  • 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 shortly after the conference, although historians are conflicted on whether it was because he truly felt the Operation Reinhard was morally wrong or if the timing was just a coincidence. Be that as it may, his resignation was not accepted and he remained in his position until the very end of the war.
    • 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 Bühler 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 Hofmann 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.
    • While Neumann’s arguements against exterminating laborers could be seen as Pragmatic Villainy he is also seen agreeing with Stuckart that sterilization is preferable to mass murder.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Kritzinger is only "good" in relative terms, but in any case it's zigzagged with the story he tells about the man whose life was defined by hatred. When Heydrich retells it, Eichmann thinks for a moment before saying he doesn't understand, playing this trope straight, while Heydrich is able to explain the point Kritzinger was making, averting it (however, the original telling was offscreen, so we don't actually know whether Heydrich understood immediately or if Kritzinger had to explain it, and it would be within Heydrich's character to tell it as if he had understood the point from the start.) Of course, an intelligent psychopath like Heydrich could easily understand another person's emotions on an intellectual level, while being inwardly unaffected by them.
  • Evil Gloating: Schöngarth gives a contemptuous wink to Bühler 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.
    Freisler: The Jews go in red and come out pink, now that is progress! (He and Schöngarth crack up laughing)
  • 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 Question' that is being discussed will not involve their complete annihilation because "That possibility has been personally denied to me by the Führer!" When it looks like the discussion is progressing in this fashion, he brings this up again in outrage — and Heydrich, the chairman of the meeting, simply replies "And it will continue to be." Kritzinger finally realises 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!
    • The timetable for genocide is also impractical, as history showed.
  • 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 contrast how cultured the attendees were to the inhumanity of their purpose.
  • Foreign Remake: An English-language remake of the German film Die Wannseekonferenz which covered the same event. Aside from casting several actors with more international credentials, the difference between the two is most noticeable in the Rule of Drama: in the German version, the Nazis are pretty much all on the same page about the Holocaust and are even jovial with each other, whereas in the English version there is more vehement disagreement and infighting.
  • For the Evulz: Lampshaded by Dr. Friesler, who questions whether the meeting was even necessary, if the crucial decsion had in fact already been made. Müller's explanation is that it's just Heydrich's style: he'd rather have the chance to persuade rather than just give orders.
  • 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.
    • On a more Meta-level, the viewers with even the most basic grasp of history will definitely know or guess from the get-go what the result of the conference will be.
  • 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 as "my" before correcting himself to "the".
  • Gallows Humor: Klopfer bids Eichmann farewell with a "Shalom."
  • Government Procedural: All the main characters are government officials, and the film revolves around their proceedings, which culminates in genocide.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The unseen Adolf Hitler. It's abundantly clear the orders for Heydrich to organize the genocide ultimately come from him, and the Nazis are shown paying lip service to their dictator, but he remains a distant higher figure of the system - and it's explicitly stated that he'll never admit to having given the relevant orders in the first place.
  • Greedy Jew: Discussed Trope. There's an interesting back-and-forth between Heydrich and Kritzinger when the former gets fed up with the latter's recalcitrance to sign off on the Holocaust. Heydrich parrots the usual Nazi party line of a Jewish conspiracy controlling the banks when Kritzinger basically calls him a liar to his face. Realizing that they're never going to see eye to eye, Heydrich resorts to death threats instead to get him on board.
  • Hanging Judge: Roland Freisler of Ministry of Justice. While technically not a judge at the time of the conference (a few months later he was appointed President of the People's Court - the de facto highest court position in Nazi Germany), he is malicious, bloody-minded, and openly contemptuous of the concept of rule of law. In real life, he was at least as vile as he is played here.
  • 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 Müller).
  • Historical Beauty Update: Varies from character to character. Some are a pretty good fit for their real life counterpart, but for instance the dashing Colin Firth plays the ugly-looking Wilhelm Stuckart. Inverted with Gerhard Klopfer, who was perfectly ordinary looking in real life, but is played by an obese, unpleasant-looking actor.
  • 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 mass shootings (that they turned men into "psychopaths or neurotics.")
    • Kritzinger did testify to being ashamed of the actions of the Nazis during the Nuremberg trials, but there's no indication in history that he was as strongly opposed to the Final Solution as he is in the film. The film also glosses over the fact that he had been a Nazi since the 1930s, and had faithfully executed the government's antisemitic policies up to that point. Though it is at least nodded at; in their private conversation, Heydrich notes the hypocrisy in Kritzinger supporting every mistreatment of the Jews up to, but not including, actually killing them.
  • 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." His "other things" just so happens to be command of an Einsatzkommando unit, charged with executing Jews, Gypsies, communists, and other undesirables behind the advancing German army; essentially a mobile Holocaust unit. At a certain point in point in the meeting, he completely drops any pretense of secrecy about what he does, and he and Kritzinger have a rather frank discussion about it during their lunch break.
  • 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.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Heydrich insists on referring to the slaughter of Jews as "evacuation," even long after it's been made clear that they're talking about a massacre. After a while, the conference members all start correcting each other when they use a different term.
    • While Eichmann and Heydrich are describing their "modificaitons" to the Nuremberg Laws, Stuckart attempts to interrupt at regular intervals to make sure they're using the terminology that's actually in the laws. Naturally, since they're intending to disregard the law entirely, they ignore him.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Much of the tension at the table is provided by the rivalry between the SS, the Party Chancellery, the Generalgouvernement, 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.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: Schongarth is never punished for his role in the holocaust but does get hanged for murdering a POW.
  • Karma Houdini: As explained in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, the British and American (OMGUS, Office of Military Government United States) occupation authorities ensured that most of the participants served prison terms of no more than six years, were acquitted at trial and went free, or were never brought to trial and charged with anything in the first place. This was partly to save money, but mostly to preserve the upper-echelons of the German civil service and military so that Germany would be as cooperative and effective an alliance partner (against the nascent Eastern Bloc) as possible. To this end they also blocked some extradition requests by the postwar communist governments of Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Soviet Union et al. since they tended to execute their Génocidaires. Klopfer, in particular, is among the most repulsive characters in a film full of villains, but faced no punishment for his part in the Holocaust and lived longer than any of the others, dying of natural causes more than 40 years after the war.
  • 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 plan. After his death it was named Operation Reinhard in his honour.
    • 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.
    • Roland Freisler, who became a notoriously bloodthirsty Hanging Judge after the conference, was eventually killed during an Allied bombing raid on his way to the bomb shelter. Even more satisfying, the man who was being on trial at that time, (Fabian von Schlabrendorff), was a German Resistance member who would later take Freisler's job as one of Germany's top judges.
    • Martin Luther would himself ultimately get sent to a concentration camp. He survived long enough to be freed by the Red Army when they liberated the camp, only to immediately die of heart failure.
    • Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, author of the vehmently anti-semitic Nuremberg Laws, died in 1953 in a car accident that is strongly believed to have been a Mossad-arranged assassination.
  • Left the Background Music On: String Quintet in C Major is played on a phonograph and commented on at the ending, and the music continues on through the credits.
  • 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 Führer who's glad to oppress the Jewish people, is the only one appalled 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 or not to enact the mass killing of Jews, but a briefing in which the various departments are being told what their role in the already decided-on genocide will be. At most, Heydrich gives 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 earnestly and politely brushes it off by saying that he will take questions in a moment, but hasn't quite finished what he's saying. After a couple of rounds of this, it 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 of this is 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.
    Heydrich: 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: Several of the attendees have doctorates (in law, as was the custom for government lawyers at the time), 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 "Operation Reinhard" phase of the Holocaust was authorised, the various German government agencies are noting with coldblooded earnestness why killing the Third Reich's "undesirables" truly 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 quibbling over the minutiae.
    • Generalgouvernement's representatives point out epidemics and food shortage in the already overcrowded Polish ghettoes. While murder is not necessarily the best solution for them, they really do need to find some way of reducing the number of people if they want to avoid excessive budgetary strains and spreading infection to Germans.
    • Invoked In-Universe when several delegates favour the sterilization plan. Eventually Heydrich loses patience and states bluntly that killing is the best method of wiping out the Jews and that's what they're going with; see Stating the Simple Solution below.
  • 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.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: The only reason we have any idea what happened during the conference is because Martin Luther neglected to destroy his notes as instructed.
  • No Delays for the Wicked: Played out realistically, as invocation of this trope is in fact 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. While his estimate thankfully fell short of the mark, the trope was successfully invoked in Real Life: after Wannsee Conference the Third Reich was still plagued by bureacracy and Interservice Rivalry, but they rarely interfered with the proceeding of Final Solution.
  • 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: A variation. Neumann 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.
  • Obliviously Evil: Otto Hofmann somehow manages to get through the entire meeting without realizing that he's just receiving marching orders for a genocide. At the end, he still seems to think Heydrich's orders are merely suggestions, and that his opinions regarding sterilization will still be considered.
  • 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?
    Otto Hofmann: Come spring we will be on the move again. Keep your spirits up.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: David Threlfall as Dr. Kritzinger is one of the few actors who attempts a German accent. However, when he expresses his outrage at being lied to by Hitler, his natural British accent comes through rather clearly.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • When Eichmann's description of the gas chambers makes Hofmann sick to his stomach, Major Lange steps in to comfort him and even offers the other guests the excuse of a bad cigar. It's hardly surprising that Lange, who had been assigned to slaughter civilians by the thousand, would sympathize with not having the stomach for that sort of thing.
    • Heydrich, of all people, stops his subordinate Müller from taunting Kritzinger further.
      Heydrich: Leave him. His Führer lied to him. I think he got the message.
  • 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 Führer calls - and he won't.
    • Kritzinger is particularly frustrated by the meeting since everything Heydrich says goes against the public instructions he has received.
    Kritzinger: That we have undertaken to systematically annihilate all the Jews in Europe? No, no, no...that possibility has personally been denied to me by the Führer!
    Heydrich: And it will continue to be.
    • Eichmann removing the guest book and burning the one page used is a clear indication from the beginning that the conference is being kept as off the books as possible. He also frequently motions the stenographer to pause his recording when the conversation veers into anything that could be clearly construed in a courtroom as conspiracy to murder.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Many objections are raised to the impending Holocaust, but other than Kritzinger's, none of them have anything to do with moral concerns. Stuckart, in particular, is passionate about the the consequences of ignoring established laws, giving virtually unlimited power to the SS, and creating a tidal wave of inheritance claims. Others point out that the loss of slave labor will exacerbate labor shortages, and that diverting soldiers, vehicles and trains from the Russian front will weaken the war effort. The closest anyone gets to pointing out the horrors of genocide are concerns that ordering soldiers to kill unarmed women and children en masse would cause 'morale problems' - and then the only solution proposed is to simply change the method of killing. Encapsulated perfectly by Doctor Meyer:
    "If your method of disposing all the Jews diverts military units, and rolling stock from the Eastern Front, then it is a stupid choice. I'm not arguing priority, but method and expediency."
  • Professional Butt-Kisser:
    • Martin Luther fits the mold perfectly, shamelessly kissing up to Eichmann and Heydrich. It's telling that he can't remember Neumann's name or job title, but can remember that he works under Reichmarshall Göring.
    • Neumann is hell-bent on ingratiating himself to all of the other guests, particularly Dr. Stuckart.
    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: Schöngarth 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, Schöngarth, 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.
    • Eichmann himself was the most notable example of this trope, being completely emotionally detached from his actions; in the film he actually comes off as one of the least inherently anti-Semitic characters who even paid some Jewish rabbi to teach him some Yiddish and Hebrew words. It's no coincidence that the famous phrase "the banality of evil" was coined by Hannah Arendt in regards to him. Heydrich was arguably this as well in Real Life; in the film, however, he seems to actually believe in what he's 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 vs. 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 thinks that exterminating the Jews is 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 Hoffmann 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.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: This is the general attitude of the SS, who wish to throw out the carefully crafted categories of the Nuremberg Laws in favor of their own determinations of who is and isn't Jewish and what to do about it. When Stuckart, who wrote the law, complains, they suggest that he just make new ones.
    Stuckart: The laws of the Reich-
    Klopfer: We make the laws we need, why am I telling you this?
  • Secret Keeper:
    Heydrich: We have all become bearers of secrets.
  • "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 Operation Reinhard by off-handedly mentioning how he would hate for his subordinates to notice Stuckart's 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 Fieseler Storch).
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Downplayed. When Neumann is talking to Müller towards the end of the meeting, and Müller begins to again restate his usual speech about unity of vision and avoiding internal conflict, Neumann just holds up his hand and says "Spare me" before walking off in the middle of his sentence.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: The attendees often seem as interested in the refreshments as the subject of their discussion.
  • 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".
  • 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.
    • Schöngarth also qualifies, in a different way. Like Heydrich, he enjoys bullying others and has no apparent empathy. However, Heydrich's bullying relies on subtle threats and is coated in impeccable manners, while Schöngarth is more blunt, uses his imposing stature to intimidate others, and is openly rude and mocking to anyone he considers beneath him. Heydrich is a sociopath who masks his true nature, which Schöngarth either cannot or does not bother to do.
  • 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?"
  • Stating the Simple Solution:
    • After all the legal and manpower issues are raised, Stuckart says the easiest solution is to sterilize the entire Jewish population, letting them die out naturally.
    • After getting fed up of Stuckart's very vocal advocation of mass sterilisation, Heydrich puts him back in his place:
    Heydrich: We will not sterilise every Jew and wait for them to die. We will not sterilise every Jew and then exterminate the race. That's farcical. Dead men don't hump, dead women don't get pregnant. Death is the most reliable form of sterilisation, put it that way.
  • Straight Edge Evil:
    • Nazi official Eichmann is a very composed man who doesn't indulge in the food or cigars prepared for the attendees 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 Schindler's 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, Office of the Four Year Plan.
    Luther: Neumann, I introduce Dr. Klopfer, a close associate of the Brown Eminencenote .
    Neumann: I'm sorry?
    Klopfer: I represent Martin Bormann, Party Chairman...of the Thousand-Year-Plannote .
  • Threat Backfire: When Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart explains, almost ranting, why Operation Reinhard is 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 Nazis' 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 (who was the lowest-ranked man at the meeting, personally selected by Heydrich because of his experience of the mass killings in Latvia), 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 Müller 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, when Heydrich's point is that Germans will find new enemies among themselves.
  • Villain Has a Point:
    • When Kritzinger finally has a one-on-one conversation with Heydrich, the latter points out how hypocritical his moral objections to the Final Solution are. He's accepted everything short of outright murder prior to this, including enslavement, marginalization, and imprisonment, so why should this be any different? Even Kritzinger can't manage a response to that.
    • When Stuckart goes on a rant about how ignorant and misinformed the Nazi Party's antisemitism is, Klopfer not-so-subtly threatens to report Stuckart to a higher authority. Stuckart brushes him off, saying that the Party has no dominion over the government, but Heydrich takes him aside and very strongly implies that Klopfer wasn't just blowing hot-air, and that the Party is, in fact, dominant over the government in Hitler's esteem.
    • Several of the conference members opposed to the Final Solution make the argument that reducing the population of available labor while fighting a war is a bad idea. Josef Bühler points out that, in the Eastern ghettos at least, none of the Jews are fit for labor anyway: all of them are old or diseased, and those that aren't have never worked a day of hard labor in their lives.
  • 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.
  • Villainous Friendship: Most of the attendees are, at most, co-workers, but Eichmann and Heydrich's relationship is portrayed as being much more personal and comfortable. This is actually Truth in Television: according to Eichmann, he and Heydrich were quite close, and Eichmann was one of the few individuals that Heydrich trusted completely. It really accentuates the fact that the two are the co-architects of a genocide.
    Eichmann: [after dealing with a phone call] The Major was reluctant to leave me a message-
    Heydrich: He does not appreciate you as I do.
  • Villain Protagonist: Every character in this film is a member of the Nazi Party and a high-ranking official of a totalitarian regime engaging in wars of conquest and extermination, while their objective is to organize a continental genocide.
  • War Is Hell: Lange is the only person at the meeting who is from the Front, and it really shows. When he first appears, he's obviously absolutely delighted to be anywhere but Latvia, and his experiences have left him neurotic, subdued, and constantly distracted. The casual manner with which the other officials discuss the war frustrates him to the point of losing his temper at Heydrich of all people. His discussions with Kritzinger and Heydrich about the war are tinged with bitterness and fatigue. All of this is in spite of the fact that he himself is a committed Nazi.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue the film observes Heinrich Müller's fate is unknown. This is true: Müller is the highest-ranking Nazi whose exact fate is more or less unknown, having just vanished from Hitler's bunker in 1945 after making a comment that he would not be taken prisoner by the Soviets (which implies either suicide or some kind of escape route). To this day his whereabouts are unclear, with the main theories being that he either committed suicide/was killed in early May 1945 and subsequently buried in a mass grave - or that he survived and was recruited by the Soviets afterwards. Neither of these is considered decisively (dis)proven, but most historians tend to believe the former.
  • "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 gets a brief text exposition, with a picture of the real person, explaining their ultimate fate after the war.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Luther asks this, only to by told by Lange that soldiers break down psychologically when they're asked to kill thousands of unarmed 'enemies', including women and children, many of whom were also German nationals. Luther is unimpressed, proclaiming that he would be ready to shoot Jews personally. But then Heydrich adds that it's a waste of time, manpower, and bullets. Then he turns the subject to gas.
  • Wicked Cultured:
    • Played straight with Heydrich (an avid violin player in Real Life): he finds a record of Franz Schubert's String Quintet in C Major 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.
    • The conference as a whole: a business luncheon - held at a palatial estate in a fancy Berlin suburb, catered with mouth-wateringly depicted food and drink - convened by some of the most evil men in history for the purpose of planning mass murder on a horrifically unprecedented scale.
    • Lange overlaps this with the Cultured Warrior; the only one of the participants currently serving in frontline combat, his first words to Eichmann are to gush over the beauty of the house they're meeting in.
  • 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 features the rumors that Heydrich himself was partly Jewish in a back-and-forth between Klopfer and Müller; ultimately it neither confirms nor denies them. There were such rumors in Real Life, but there is no evidence to support them.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Eichmann expands on his obsession with Jews 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?

Alternative Title(s): Conspiracy


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