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The Wannsee Conference (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Wannsee Conference
Directed byHeinz Schirk
Written byPaul Mommertz
Based onWannsee Conference
Produced bySiegfried B. Glökler
Edited byUlla Möllinger
Infafilm GmbH Manfred Korytowski Munich
Austrian Television-O.R.F.
Bavarian Broadcasting Corp.
Release date
  • 1984 (1984)
Running time
85 minutes (Germany)
87 minutes (United States)
West Germany

The Wannsee Conference (German: Die Wannseekonferenz) is a 1984 German TV film portraying the events of the Wannsee Conference, held in Berlin in January 1942. The script is derived from the minutes of the meeting.[1] Since no verbatim transcription of the meeting exists, the dialogue is necessarily fictionalised. The main theme of the film is the bureaucratic nature of the genocide.[2]

The same events were later depicted in the 2001 English-language film Conspiracy.

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Set in Berlin on January 20, 1942, Die Wannseekonferenz opens with the arrival of a group of high-ranking Nazi officials at a luxurious villa on the shores of Lake Wannsee.[3] Among the attendees are SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (played by Dietrich Mattausch), SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann (played by Gerd Böckmann), and other key figures of the Nazi regime.

Led by Heydrich, the conference is convened ostensibly to discuss administrative matters related to the Jewish population under Nazi control. However, it soon becomes apparent that the true purpose of the meeting is to coordinate the systematic extermination of European Jews.

Heydrich outlines the logistical details of the "Final Solution," including the establishment of extermination camps and the deportation of Jews from across Europe to these facilities. The attendees engage in chillingly pragmatic discussions about the most efficient methods of mass murder, referring to Jews in dehumanizing terms.

Throughout the meeting, tensions arise among the participants, reflecting differing attitudes towards the implementation of the genocide. Some express moral qualms or concerns about the logistical challenges, while others advocate for ruthless efficiency in carrying out the plan.

As the conference progresses, Heydrich emphasizes the need for secrecy and coordination to ensure the success of the "Final Solution." The film concludes with the attendees departing from the villa, leaving Eichmann behind to oversee the implementation of the genocidal policies discussed at Wannsee.


The cast of the 15 participants of the conference is as follows:


Serge Schmemann, writing for The New York Times, details the production process behind Die Wannseekonferenz, noting its reliance on historical sources such as the Wannsee Protocol, correspondence from Hermann Göring and Adolf Eichmann, and Eichmann's testimony from his 1961 trial for war crimes in Israel.[4] Schmemann highlights the extensive research conducted by Manfred Korytowski, a West German-Israeli television producer, who aimed to use the film as an educational tool to impart knowledge about Germany's history to younger audiences. He underscores Korytowski's commitment to authenticity, with efforts made to ensure accuracy in details such as the dialect of German spoken (reflecting Nazi-era language rather than classical German) and the props worn by actors, including pens and watches.

While Schmemann acknowledges the film's artistic vision, he asserts that its most significant aspect lies in its depiction of the profound cynicism exhibited during the Wannsee Conference. This cynicism, he contends, echoes themes explored in other German and Austrian productions of the time, which sought to confront previously overlooked or sanitized aspects of history. This movement toward confronting the past, known as Vergangenheitsbewältigung ("coming to terms with the past"), is a central theme in German historiography. However, Schmemann observes that Die Wannseekonferenz distinguishes itself from other works in this genre by its singular focus on the perpetrators and its avoidance of sentimentalism, thereby standing apart from the prevailing tendency to absolve German guilt.


The film has a 7.7 IMDb rating from 1,300 user reviews on IMDb.[5]

Critical Response

Vincent Canby in New York Times praised the film:

“Using the secretary's notes from this meeting, along with letters written by Hermann Goering and Adolf Eichmann (a meeting participant), and testimony by Eichmann at his 1961 trial in Israel, the director Heinz Schirk and the writer Paul Mommertz have reconstructed the Wannsee conference in a short (85-minute) feature that's unlike any other Holocaust film I've ever seen.”

- Vincent Canby

His review stems from the film’s camera usage, as he calls the camera’s movements like those of a “restless impotent ghost who sees all and can do nothing.” He notes that Schirk and Mommertz are clearly intentionalists.[6]

In a critical analysis, Heinz Höhne, the editor of the German news magazine Spiegel, scrutinizes the film's treatment of historical events within the context of television production trends in 1980s West Germany.[7] Höhne critiques what he perceives as an overemphasis on "Vergangenheitsbewältigung," or "coming to terms with the past," within the television landscape. He contends that the film contributes little to an already saturated market of history-themed television programming. Höhne directs particular criticism towards the director, Mommertz, for elevating the significance of Adolf Eichmann within the narrative, suggesting that Eichmann's historical role was not as pivotal as portrayed in the film. However, Höhne's perspective on Eichmann's portrayal diverges from other assessments that laud the film's depiction. This discrepancy stems from Höhne's acceptance of Eichmann's testimony at face value, particularly Eichmann's claim during his 1961 trial that he was merely a low-ranking subordinate. Höhne references Eichmann's earlier and later contradictory statements to argue against the existence of discussions regarding mass murder during the Wannsee Conference.

Nicolas K. Johnson, in a master's thesis analyzing the film, highlights the significance of Höhne's review in offering an alternative interpretation of the Wannsee Protocol.[3] Höhne's analysis relies on accepting the veracity of the Protocol's contents without considering the nuanced language and potential alterations made by Heydrich subsequent to the conference. Eichmann's own testimony during his trial suggests that the language of the Protocol did not accurately reflect the candid discussions surrounding the topics of killing and elimination. Eichmann attested that Heydrich edited the minutes to render them more palatable to the public, deviating from the precise legal terminology typically employed. However, the absence of the original Wannsee Conference minutes precludes definitive confirmation of Heydrich's edits.

See also


  1. ^ Vincent Canby (November 18, 1987). "Film: Holocaust's birth, 'Wannsee Conference'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 9, 2013.
  2. ^ Wolfgram, Mark (2011). "Getting History Right": East and West German Collective Memories of the Holocaust and War. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 98. ISBN 9781611480061.
  3. ^ a b Johnson, Nicolas K. (December 2016). "HBO AND THE HOLOCAUST: CONSPIRACY, THE HISTORICAL FILM, AND PUBLIC HISTORY AT WANNSEE". Indiana University Graduate Journal: 65–98 – via IUPUI ScholarWorks.
  4. ^ Schmemann, Serge (November 22, 1987). "85 Minutes That Scarred History". The New York Times. Retrieved February 6, 2024.
  5. ^ Die Wannseekonferenz (TV Movie 1984) - Ratings - IMDb, retrieved 2024-03-23
  6. ^ "The New York Times - Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos". 2024-03-23. Retrieved 2024-03-23.
  7. ^ Höhne, Heinz (1984-12-16). "Eine Falle der Betroffenheit". Der Spiegel (in German). ISSN 2195-1349. Retrieved 2024-03-23.

External links

This page was last edited on 17 June 2024, at 20:40
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