German director and film ‘The Conference’ on the Holocaust: ‘dismay naturalness of planning’

A German film about the 1942 Wannsee conference, where the mass extermination of Europe’s Jews was planned, and which included among its participants high-ranking officials of the Nazi dictatorship, such as Reinhard Heydrich, who led the meeting at the age of 38 years old, recommended by Adolf Eichmann, 36, will be exhibited next Monday at the Universidad de Los Andes.

We are talking about “The conference” (2022), by the German director Matti Geschonneck, which will be screened in the Aula Magna of the Library building of the said study house on Monday 23 January at 19:00, in Avenida Monseñor Álvaro del Portillo 12.455, Las Condes.

The activity is free and there is free parking, upon registration here.

industrial slaughter

The conference of senior officials of Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship was held precisely on January 20, 1942, in the middle of the European winter, in a villa on the banks of the Wannsee, one of the lakes near Berlin.

World War II was just over two years old and the Nazis were occupying large parts of Europe and the then Soviet Union, at the height of their power.

The war will begin to take a turn in the second half of that year, in the battle of Stalingrad, where the German army will suffer a serious defeat from which it will never recover.

The conference focused on “the efficient execution of a massive industrial massacre of 11 million people, a procedure undoubtedly unique in history,” the director points out in an interview with The meter.

Director Matti Geschonneck. Credit: Michael Kramer

Methods and times

Specifically, representatives of the Army, the SS, the Chancellery, the Nazi Party and the German Ministry of the Interior discuss the modalities and also the recipients of the conference during the film. One of the key debates in the film is determining who is Jewish and who is not, in the light of the racial laws that the Nazi dictatorship had approved in 1935.

Geschonneck says that for his project he relied on a 15-page document that recorded the speeches of the participating officials, all men, with the precise exception of the secretary who drafted the minutes.

The tape also considered other documents, such as the diary of the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, and the notes of the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. The director was also recommended by historians.

On the other hand, “the choice of actors, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice were chosen by the director”.

banality of evil

The director says he was struck by the “formality of the meeting where, after all, the lives of thousands of people were decided”.

How to explain today that “coldness” of its participants?

“This is for me the horror of that one and a half hour meeting of National Socialist high officials, mostly jurists, the naturalness of the procedure, the search for bearable methods of murder, more bearable for the murderers, of course. Not there was moral thoughts on the part of the participants,” he analyzes.

“We wanted, with our means, to bring to light what human beings are capable of, what we are capable of,” he adds.

a single stage

The entire film takes place practically on a single stage, as if it were a stage show. How does the director manage to capture the audience’s attention?

“I think what’s decisive is perhaps the tone of the film,” replies the director.

“We gave that ‘breakfast date’ the character of a production meeting: you know what you want, you just don’t know how. And we should be aware of that: it was once today,” he concludes.

Regarding the choice of actors, in a cast devoid of big stars, he said that the age of the performers corresponds to the surprising youth of the original participants.

“It wasn’t just physiognomy or naturalistic description of the characters. For me, the cast also has a lot to do with intuition,” since the events were fictionalized, he adds.

The fate of the participants

After watching the film, the viewer is left with the question of what happened to the participants, mostly strangers.

Heydrich, the most senior Nazi leader in occupied Czechoslovakia, would die a few months later after being attacked by local resistance, while Eichmann managed to escape to Argentina after the war ended.

In 1960 he was captured by Israeli intelligence and transferred to the Jewish state to stand trial. Sentenced to death for crimes against humanity, he was executed in 1962. His ashes were thrown into the Mediterranean Sea.

As for the other participants, they faced various fates.

For example him gauleiter Alfred Meyer committed suicide in 1945. Roland Freisler and Heinrich Müller died in 1945 during fighting in Berlin. Rudolf Lange committed suicide in February 1945.

Josef Bühler was sentenced to death in 1948 by a Polish court. Karl Eberhard Schöngarth was sentenced to death in 1946 in the Netherlands. Martin Luther, meanwhile, died in May 1945 in a Berlin hospital.

Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger was taken prisoner after the war and released for health reasons. He died in 1947. Erich Neumann was also interrogated after the war, but also released on health grounds. He died in 1951.

Wilhelm Stuckart was convicted in the Wilhelmstrasse Trials, although his sentence was considered completed. He died in 1953 in a car accident.

Otto Hofmann was sentenced after the war to 25 years in prison, but was released in 1954. He died in 1982. Georg Leibbrandt was also investigated after the war, but never tried. He died in 1982. The same thing happened with Gerhard Klopfer: he was tried, but acquitted, and died in 1987.

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