Sunday, December 9, 2012

Interval Five - A Dark "Conspiracy"

A Review of the Motion Picture Conspiracy 

Those pictured on the DVD-disk are (from the left) Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich, and Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann. Heydrich is SS-Obergruppenfuhrer, and in addition to being a general officer, holds several other high offices in the German chain of command. He was considered to be third most powerful man in the Reich, ranking only after the one and two of Hitler and Himmler. He was also a man of uttermost cruelty, and natural born sadist whom Hitler (who should know!) labeled as “the man with the iron heart.” And there is no doubt that Heydrich was the man who launched the Final Solution that culminated in the deaths of six million Jews. That, plus a couple of million others deemed by the Nazis as undermenschen—the Romani (gypsies), and the Sentis

Conspiracy is based on notes taken by Adolf Eichmann at the Wannsee Conference, a meeting held at the Wannsee villa located just outside of Berlin. The date was January 1942. The Wannsee villa was, and still is, a lovely place, and is now a Holocaust museum— a fitting end for its role as the location of the Wannsee Conference. The participants were 15 in number, most of whom represented second-tier leaderships of the Nazi party. Reinhard Heydrich had called the meeting and chaired it, and supplied the agenda. His goal? –their unconditional acceptance. 

A review like this can only touch the most representative highlights, ones which can, it is hoped, bring out underlying horror of what, on the surface, appeared to be a normal” business conference. They had all gathered, and Heydrich was the last to attend, as he was forever making a “grand entrance. “ Below we see Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich— a man may smile and smile and be a villain. 

Kenneth Branagh

Reinhard Heydrich


Heydrich calls the meeting to order and calls on each participant to identify themselves.  

Note: Excerpts of the dialog will be offered to indicate the content and interplay of the meeting participants. 

The meeting begins-- 

Heydrich: We are standing still in Russia. The Americans have joined the war. These matters place a further demand on our economy and food supply. We cannot store these Jews. So the question is: What do we do with the staggering number of Jews overwhelming us? The Jews must be removed from our living space. And the inevitable solution is what we will discuss this afternoon. 

What about our friends, the Italians, you ask? In the last analysis, if they do not purge their Jews, then we will go down there and accomplish it for them.

Dr. Kritzinker: Seventy- five percent of your Jews have never even picked up a pencil. And now— building roads…?

Heydrich: They will become ‘casualties.’ [Which meant that they would die of exhaustion from overwork, rotten food, and weather extremes.]

(Eichmann is called away to answer a phone call for Heydrich. Eichmann, to the called: “This meeting is not taking place. We will not take phone calls from anyone. Unless the Führer calls. And he won’t. Understood?”) 

Heydrich finds that Dr. Kritzinker to be an obstacle. He takes him aside: 

Heydrich: You’ve taken a position--you deserve a response. It is a cold winter. It looks like a longer, harder war. The Jews are in the way.
Dr. Kritzinker: And how can I, being one rather peripheral figure in your grand plan, be in your way?

Heydrich: You underestimate your influence. I do not. You’d be a hard man to down, but certainly not impossible. Did I hear you say earlier “be practical?” (Yes.) Well now this is the moment to be practical until such time that Germany can afford your philosophy, which is, what?—impoverish them, exploit them, imprison them-- just do not kill them. And you are one of God’s noblest men! I find that truly remarkable. Sitting at the table, I will again ask for your agreement to what has been proposed. 

Dr. Kritzinker: And I must answer now?
Heydrich: Oh, you will answer now—or you will answer…later.
Dr. Kritzinker: I will not oppose you.
Heydrich: I want more than that.
Dr. Kritzinker: Of course.
Heydrich: Good, now we understand each other.
(“I am) Neumann, Director of the Office of the four year plan.” “And what is your plan? That we will be in the White House in four years?”
Heydrich: Jews over 65 years will be moved into Ghettos, possibly Terezin, along with war veterans awarded the Iron Cross.
Comment: “I hear Heydrich has a little Jew blood in him.” Response: “Why don’t you ask him?” A later comment: “It is his father.” [But nobody dared to ask him!] 

Then they got to the crux of the meeting—the whole intent of purpose of it—to initiate the Final Solution!

Eichmann Reports-- 
We have used injections, and tried electrocution, but most effectively, we have used carbon monoxide gas. Areas are constructed that resemble a shower room or bath, and the subjects are brought in naked, as for a bath. Outside, are stainless steel tanks of carbon monoxide gas. Seventh-three thousand two hundred and seventy-three have been gassed in this program We also directed the construction of 20 mobile gassing trucks, using redirected carbon monoxide exhaust back into the trucks. In each truck, you can get in 40 to 60 Jews—a hundred is more effective--…and the carbon monoxide, what it does as it kills, --uh, the bodies come out pink. 

That got a big laugh around the table. “Now we turn red Jews into pink Jews! That’s progress!"

Eichmann went on-- 

We now have three camps where permanent gas chambers will be operating: Belzik, Sobibor and Treblinka. And Auschwitz…we are turning that camp into a major processing center. We have four camps where permanent gas chambers will be operating: When the buildings are completed, we expect to be able to process 2,500 an hour…not a day…an hour. At 24 hours a day, that is 60,000 a day. And that means the processing of 21,900,000 Jews a year! 

And, for disposal of the bodies, large commercial gas ovens will be used that leave little residue.

Those around the table are incredulous, and disturbed. Hard men though they are, they are appalled at first. Then they realize that their major problem—the Jews –would be gone from all Europe under the control of the Third Reich.
“So, 60,000 Jews a day will go up in smoke.”

Heydrich: We can achieve that. (All pound the table with great enthusiasm) The machinery is waiting. Feed it! Get the trains rolling.
Heydrich has a final word: Good! We have accomplished something!

The Meeting was over.  Eichmann destroyed the notes, gathered the folders, and left.  It was Eichmann who, upon the death of Heydrich, took on the responsibility of following Heydrich’s orders.  And that he was effective at the task is shown by the fulfillment of the Final Solution, and the six million dead. 

All those in attendance destroyed their copies of the records of the meeting; all but one, that is—Martin Luther. His copy was found by American forces. And that single sole copy was the basis for the movie Conspiracy.
Heydrich went on to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to deal with the Czech partisans, where he earned the title The Butcher of Prague. Not long after, as he was being transported in an open top car and with only a driver, Heydrich was attacked by two Czechs who had been trained in commando tactics by British operatives.  They shot Heydrich and threw a bomb at him. Although wounded, he followed them, tried to shoot it out with them. But he was mortally wounded, and died a week later. Hitler commented on the stupidity of what he did in traveling unprotected. But he gave him a huge funeral service, with all Berlin participating. 

And in retaliation for the death of Heydrich, the village of Lidice where the Czechs had hidden was destroyed, and all inhabitants killed. The total number that paid the price of Heydrich’s assassination was 13,000 men, women and children.

To read further--
Read a description of the Wannsee Conference by the USHMM-- the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. And while you’re there, view the 2011 National Days of Remembrance Ceremony, which is solemn and beautiful tribute to those who, at the risk of their lives, saved Jews from the Holocaust.
If you would like to learn more about Heydrich, read "Hitler's Hangman".
NOW—a little about the movie itself— 

The Cast of Conspiracy

Kenneth Branagh: Reinhard Heydrich
Stanley Tucci: Adolf Eichmann
Barnaby Kay: Rudolf Lange
Peter Sullivan: SS. Col. Eberhard Schöngarth
Ben Daniels: Dr. Joseph Büeller
Ewan Steward: Dr. Georg Leibbrandt
Brian Pettifer: Dr. Albert Meyer
Kevin McNally: Undersecretary Martin Luther
Colin Firth: Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart
Nicholas Woodeson: SS Lt. Gen. Otto Hoffmann
Johathan Coy: Erich Neumann
David Threlfall: Dr. Wilhelm Kritzinger
Ian McNeice: Dr. Gerhard Klopfer
Owen Teale: Dr. Roland Freisler
Brendan Coyle: SS Major Gen. Heinrich Müeller

[1] Brendan Coyle can be seen currently playing the part of the imprisoned valet in the PBS production Downton Abbey. 

Director: Frank Pierson Writer: Loring Mandel

According to IMDb, Conspiracy won a Golden Globe, six other wins and 17 nominations.

The director, Frank Pierson, died at 87 soon after directing Conspiracy. He was a former Movie Academy president, and a script writer in addition to being a remarkable director. It is a challenge for director to deal with a large cast such as that of Conspiracy. Pierson met the challenge beautifully.

Conspiracy is available from your local dvd source, or at Barnes and Noble and Amazon

Now for something different, but not much—

It is said that there was a sign at the entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau which read, in effect: 


In view of the starvation diets the prisoners were subjected to, was this a bit of ironic humor? Or, perhaps the erection of this sign was a kindness, in that new arrivals would think “If they are concerned about my diet, this mustn’t be such a bad place.”

Now, what’s to come?

Genia has been lost, and now is found, as described in Episode Five. But the man who found her and brought her back to the house of Albert Wachter can mean death for all of them, for he is—SS General Heinrich Strassel!—the greatest threat to the Jews in all Europe

We’ll learn what happened in the next thrilling Episode Six of A Ball for Genia, which will be published on Monday, December 17. Following that, let’s suspend the playing of A Ball for Genia until Monday, January 7, when we take up the next interval—Interval Six. 

In the meantime, let’s all enjoy the holidays. First, Hanukkah, and the eight-day Re-dedication, which begins on December 9. And Christmas, with all the joy the season brings and the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. 

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