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.
Not to be confused with The Conspiracy. Another German film based on the same events, also called Die Wannseekonferenz, was released in 2022.
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.
- 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 just 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. Additionally, Martin Luther, whose minutes are the most direct historical source for the events at the conference, is portrayed as a shameless ass-kisser who is more than likely to have simply refused to record any defiance or reluctance that the other participants may have displayed.
- 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.
- The tagline and the narrator in the opening states that the attendees "in an hour, changed the world forever". However, they didn't. While it's a common misconception that the Final Solution was decided at Wannsee, it was in fact set in motion months earlier, and the Belzec camp in eastern General Gouvernement (the first camp dedicated solely for killing large numbers of people and a blueprint for other death camps) had been under construction since 1 November 1941. The Holocaust was already decided on, and no one at Wannsee could do anything to prevent it from happening, no matter what. The latter part of the movie correctly shows that the point of the meeting was to ensure that the various agencies would cooperate to make it run smoothly, and to establish the SS as the decisive force.
- 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.
- 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. Everyone is aware of this, but Heydrich is able to get away with this due to the only times he does tell the truth being to deliver veiled threats as to what will happen if they don't play along.
- 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 butler) 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 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!
- 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.
- 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 initially used by Heydrich when discussing the future policy of the regime One member asks what the difference between "emigration" and "evacuation" is, and Heydrich responds that they will not be addressing that point just yet. Lange eventually gets so pissed off by this he confronts Heydrich, asking if mass killings were meant by "evacuation". Heydrich simply responds that they were. Later, other euphemisms are used by the participants as well, such as "sausage making" and "putting a period at the end". 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.
- 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...in 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'd 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]" in direct reference to what will happen to the widows that their "relocations" will create.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.
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 a conspiracy to commit 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.
- 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.
- Historical Ugliness Update: Gerhard Klopfer was perfectly ordinary looking◊ in real life, but is played by an obese, unpleasant-looking actor◊.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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. Heydrich is unimpressed — after relaying the story and the warning to Eichmann and Müller, he simply remarks that he will not miss the Jews.
- Let's See YOU Do Better!: Comes up when Luther criticizes Lange's soldiers for not being able to stomach murdering, one-by-one, literal kilotons of Jews. Lange snaps back in true military fashion to ask if Luther would like to enlist himself. That backfires when Luther instantly agrees. Heydrich irritably shut the whole thing down: shooting that many people in small batches is a farcical waste of resources.
- 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◊.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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: 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.
- 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.Otto Hofmann: 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 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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 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 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Wham Line: When Kritzinger indignantly states that the possibility of annihilating all the Jews in Europe has been "personally denied to me by the Führer," Heydrich calmly replies "And it will continue to be." The look on Kritzinger's face shows that this is the point where he has realised, for the first time, that Hitler has lied to him about the genocide, and will go on lying to him, and that it doesn't matter what he does or says: it's going to happen anyway.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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".
- Whenever the killing of Jews is explicitly mentioned, Eichmann gestures to the stenographer to stop typing.
- 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.
Stuckart: He enjoyed it so much he went mad.
Heydrich: Look at the world and tell me the pleasures of sanity.