The Scariest Movie

My nominee for the scariest movie is  an 85-minute German TV movie, later released in American movie theaters. The Wannsee Conference draws its script from the minutes of the January 20 meeting called by Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Nazi SS, and 14 key representatives of the SS, the Nazi Party and government bureaus to implement “the Final Solution.” A picture of the conference room, setting for this momentous meeting, is shown above.

Heydrich described this plan as “an organizational task unparalleled in history.” This sounds like President Kennedy’s announcement of getting a man on the moon or Teddy Roosevelt’s finishing the Panama Canal after the French had failed. Heydrich’s goal was the extermination of 11 million Jews. The original in German can be seen on YouTube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYdIfOkpMos

I sat in a vast auditorium in Pittsburgh to see the film. Maybe twenty people were scattered among the seats. The old building must have had steam heat, because I remember hearing the steam come on. It sounded like gas being released in a chamber. I feel a chill down my spine even as I remember it.

As New York Times critic Vincent Canby wrote, “Charts are brought out showing how many Jews remain in each occupied country. They are the meeting’s ‘production goals.’ Someone – the sort of fellow who prompts groans at such meetings for being tiresome about small details – raises the question of the Nuremberg Laws and their definition of ‘Jewishness.’ Heydrich and Eichmann are firm. From now on there will be no more splitting of hairs. Anybody with any Jewish blood is a Jew. It simplifies the bookkeeping.”

I can’t help wondering about the timing. In June 1941, in Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s armies invaded the Soviet Union—expecting to win in three months. By December 5, with German troops only 50 miles from Moscow, the USSR started an unrelenting counterattack. Hitler could not know that he had reached his farthest point in Russia. On December 6, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941. Three days later, Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the United States, thus solving FDR’s problem of American sentiment against entering World War II.

Was the “Final Solution,” set for implementation at Wannsee, the height of confidence or an exasperated attempt to get rid of a pesky problem? Or was it a doubling down on a convenient scapegoat.

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