Thursday, May 5, 2016

Movies as History-

Or What Really Happened at the Wannsee Conference.


This is the story of the original 12 Angry Men, the Nazi Regime's "best and brightest".
Of course, the Third Reich went far beyond anger and the incredible hubris that became the legacy of a nation for half a century is a most important part of the history.

The Wannsee Conference was a gathering of a dozen high ranking Nazi officials. Heads of departments and military branches. It was convened to decided what to do with the overwhelming number of Jews that had been rounded up and were being kept isolated in ghettos and camps. We are all familiar with the names of the men that led the party, or we should be, but one thing that never fails to amaze me is that, while so many of these men were narcissists and sociopaths,  as they rose to the top, they were able to cooperate and accomplish so much. The heads of the departments in the Nazi regime were a mixed bag of emotional and psychological cripples.

The movie "Conspiracy", attempts to recreate the meeting that developed the "final solution".
It is heavily cast with top actors from both Britain and the US and is a collaboration between the BBC and HBO. Most of the film is set in a gorgeous villa and the action, as in "12 Angry Men", is mainly dialogue that takes place around a table. The story is captivating from the very beginning and the men are portrayed as we have come to expect.

Heydrich is played by Kenneth Branaugh, and his delivery of the character's legendary ability to alternatively persuade and bully is excellent.
Stanley Tucci plays Adolph Eichmann, and he is a very convincing second to Heydrich.

How accurate is the movie version of this story though? We need to be careful not to use film, exclusively, to inform ourselves of historical events, and when we do supplement our understanding with a film, we need to read reviews and actual accounts to balance potential bias and agendas that may be held by the creators.
There is an excellent review of this film from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. You can read it HERE. The reviewer claims that the movie stays close to the documentation and testimony that was found after the War, and that any dramatic license taken is simply to help develop the characters beyond the limits of the conference itself, which helps us understand more of who they were and why they thought the way they did.
The story line is absolutely heinous and diabolical and even worse, as we now know, it's true. It's rated R for good reason, and it's not family-fare, but I would say important enough to show to high school history students.

We can't ever forget the evil that was done in that place at that time. We need to be sure that we don't let political or cultural mores bend the truth, or make it about something that it wasn't.
A film of this quality can be a good resource to look to.