Terrifying. This BBC–HBO co-production dramatised the meeting, held near Berlin in 1942, at which the Nazi regime formally decided to murder six million Jews. Its most frightening aspect was its air of corporate normality, as departmental heads argued for their own interests, the strong bullied the weak, and the shrewd decided where to place their loyalty. To them, the Jews of Europe were a “storage problem” to which a quick, economical solution was required. Change the subject matter, and it could have been a council planning committee or a divisional strategy review.
Kenneth Branagh gave a tour de force (and Emmy-winning) portrayal of personal dominance as SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the plan’s chief architect. He steamrollered his way through the meeting, brushing aside diversions and bringing objectors into line with carefully-aimed flattery and intimidation. The outcome, after just 90 minutes, was exactly what he’d planned, with the whole system now collectively responsible for the ambitions of its most forceful faction.
Conspiracy showed how terrifyingly close to everyday behaviour the Holocaust actually was; these men weren’t, for the most part, raving psychopaths, they were ordinary bureaucrats and managers acting in a context where government propaganda (or “spin”, to use the modern term) had given genocidal racism legitimate status.