Poisonous masterpiece: “The Wannsee Conference” by Matti Geschonneck

For a moment, just a moment, something like light seems to fall into this film. Finally, one hopes, someone will stand up and ask: What are we actually doing here? Are there no more rules, no norms? At the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart contradiction, State Secretary in the Reich Ministry of the Interior. What is being discussed here is not compatible with the current legal situation. scruples? Stuckart is obviously not afraid of the top representatives of the terror apparatus, such as Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller and Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Main Office. The fate of the European Jews is discussed, more precisely the organization of the fate that National Socialist Germany has long intended for them: death. Eleven million dead Jews are desired, and the mass is the problem for those present: logistically. But obviously problems like this are no reason for the gentlemen to lose their composure, because problems are there to be solved. In addition there were salmon sandwiches and filter coffee. The invitation for January 20, 1942 read: “Breakfast meeting”.

80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference on ZDF: Director Matti Geschonneck: A film without consolation.

Director Matti Geschonneck: A film without consolation.

(Photo: Jörg Carstensen / picture alliance)

The longer Stuckart speaks, argues, debates, the clearer it becomes: This is a film without consolation. The top official just wants to advance his ministry’s interests, defend the legislation that distinguishes between quarter and half Jews, but he’s not doing it to save the people. Don’t expect empathy. Stuckart had already helped shape the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935. This morning at Wannsee is about ranking battles among department heads, about questions of competence and responsibility among authorities. It is – in this respect – a completely normal conference. There is no light in this round. In the presence of a secretary, 15 men discuss how they can murder as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The ZDF film The Wannsee Conference does not show them as monsters. That’s what makes her so monstrous.

Up-and-coming men with specialist knowledge are at work here, which they now want to contribute

Geschonneck had told his actors, who play the 15 participants in the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, that they shouldn’t play Nazis. It’s men who are struggling with one another at a conference for solutions, for disputes over rank, demarcations of competence, the departments’ own interests – it’s what most people will know from official meetings, and you can be alarmed. Except that this is not about new products. Instead, it is about the largest mass murder in history, for which the concentrated power of the warring German Reich mobilized enormous resources. The goal: to kill as many Jews as possible in Europe, including newborns, for no reason other than that they were Jews.

How this is supposed to happen is discussed in peace in this film. The Wannsee Conference on ZDF lasts as long as the Wannsee Conference 80 years ago, about 90 minutes. Geschonneck has directed a profound film – calm, controlled, orderly. terrifying.

“What happens when the spoken word becomes action?” asks Oliver Berben, producer of Constantin: “That’s not a historical question.” Not in times of verbal radicalization like in our often hysterical days. The Wannsee Conference in 1942 would have been unimaginable twenty, even ten years earlier – but the evil spirit, the hatred, the degenerate language: all of that was there long ago. These words had long since become deeds when the gentlemen discussed the further organization of the extermination in their breakfast meeting.

Geschonneck’s film is about how a dictatorship works – no, how exactly this dictatorship works. Which consisted only to a small extent of commanders and executioners. It needed the many people from the lower level – and, as in this film, the still relatively numerous people from the middle level, from the Prussian (military) academies and departments. Unscrupulous, energetic, cowards, accountants, people of all kinds, some very eloquent, flushed to the top or at least in the middle, people who want to become even more or at least don’t get beaten up, who are willing to contribute their specialist knowledge now, theirs expertise. They are all extremely conscientious executives in the context of the mass murder they are organizing, always constructive in their criticism to the point of white nose, but everything is for the cause. And so the wheels of the machine turn.

80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference on ZDF: Interplay of an ensemble as a dark ballet: from left Fabian Busch as Gerhard Klopfer, Thomas Loibl as Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger, Godehard Giese as Wilhelm Stuckart, Simon Schwarz as Martin Luther, Matthias Bundschuh as Erich Neumann and Arnd Klawitter as Roland Freisler.

Interplay of an ensemble as a dark ballet: from left Fabian Busch as Gerhard Klopfer, Thomas Loibl as Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger, Godehard Giese as Wilhelm Stuckart, Simon Schwarz as Martin Luther, Matthias Bundschuh as Erich Neumann and Arnd Klawitter as Roland Freisler.


For Matti Geschonneck, this is perhaps the most personal approach to the dictatorship that had a profound impact on his family’s life. His father Erwin Geschonneck, who later became a well-known and then legendary actor in the GDR, survived three concentration camps as a communist resistance fighter from the artistic circle around Kurt Tucholsky and Bertolt Brecht, as well as the tragic sinking of the passenger ship Cap Arcona, which was overcrowded with prisoners, by the British Fighter-bomber in the Bay of Lübeck in 1945. This father, who died in 2008 at the age of 101, remained a committed communist throughout his life the expatriation of Wolf Biermann from the GDR occurred and went to the Federal Republic.

The film is an invaluable ensemble effort, complete with camera and screenplay

What was still present for the director Matti Geschonneck, born in 1952, the time of ideologies and their ongoing traumata, is often unimaginably distant for younger people today. Friederich Oetker, another producer of the film, sees the problem that “young people today have a problem with the classic form of docu-drama on television”, this mixture of documentary and re-enacted scenes, which is very popular with public broadcasters and reliably looks ridiculous, which is why it should be noted that not only younger people have a problem with it: in these formats, documentary eagerness almost certainly meets bad art, miserable dialogues meet strange costumes, city theater lighting and too much make-up.

The solution: Not bad, but great art.

Geschonneck now knows about the violence, about the sheer, even staggering volume that rages in the precise, effective, yet always poisoned calm during this small management conference at the blue-grey Wannsee. And although it is a pure work of art that Geschonneck shot (no dialogue has been handed down with certainty, it is all based on Adolf Eichmann’s protocol or statements made by the historical figures on other occasions), it is only because of this that it becomes such a great work of art that everything , that every second of this utterly amazing film is subordinate to accuracy. Of course, this is rich in effects, one shouldn’t be mistaken – but an effect is something other than the clumsy shine of an effect.

80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference on ZDF: Adolf Eichmann, played almost astonishingly robotically by Johannes Allmayer, and minute taker Ingeburg Werlemann (Lilli Fichtner).

Adolf Eichmann, played almost astonishingly robotically by Johannes Allmayer, and minute taker Ingeburg Werlemann (Lilli Fichtner).


Geschonneck never falls for the incomparable horror of the subject: Instead, Theo Bierkens’ camera absorbs every detail, facial expressions, pencils, the geometric arrangement of utensils and uniforms, gliding evenly over the neat criminal heads. This masterful camera, literally microscopically examining itself through the layers, actually produces an adagio, sometimes even a largo, because you actually only notice after a while, long after Matthias Brandt introduced the conference events as a speaker from the off at the beginning: This is a film in which the camera and editor (Dirk Grau) create the music on their own. Otherwise we only hear the brief monologues and sharp dialogues that the screenwriters Magnus Vattrodt and Paul Mommertz have attributed to the gentlemen; balancing, calculating, releasing for consideration, the horror German of the Nazi administration superstars, known from countless correspondences, in which people are “carried in” for transport – sometimes subtle and violet-scented, treacherously handing over responsibility to the other side of the table and very suggestively only wrinkling their noses, if someone gets silly or tries.

It’s a film that you can’t get rid of, that you can’t shake off – an ensemble performance, and the ensemble here doesn’t just mean the actors, but the ensemble means the interaction of everyone involved in this dark ballet. The stunning Thomas Loibl in his always slightly astonished portrayal of the industrious State Secretary Kritzinger, the fantastic Johannes Allmayer in his almost amazingly robotic portrayal of the industrious Eichmann. . . all of these actors, including Arnd Klawitter, Jakob Diehl, Maximilian Brückner and Philipp Hochmair, make up a highly accurate group of up-and-coming men; It’s also a thoroughly brilliant acting performance, but also because of this script, this camera – this direction.

Once Stuckart and Heydrich take a little break. There they stand at the window, the mastermind and the executor of the genocide, looking out over the wintry idyll of the Großer Wannsee. In January 1942, there is no trace of the war here, the pits full of corpses, the mass shootings, the SS killer troops in the Soviet Union. The two men ponder: one could live here, visit one another in the summer, the children would play by the lake.

“A nice thought,” says Heydrich. If only there were peace. After the “Final Victory”. Then they go back to the meeting.

The Wannsee Conference, ZDF, January 24, 8:15 p.m., and already in the ZDF media library


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