Students will watch a clip of the 1984 German film Die Wannseekonferenz, witnessing how Nazi officials controlling various facets of German bureaucratic life worked together to make decisions surrounding the minutiae involved in organizing the genocide of 11 million people.
The Holocaust was a gradual application of violence and destruction, culminating in a meeting where the final outcome and details were meticulously planned by Nazi authorities. Almost every part of the German government was involved.
- 1How normalized must violence against Jews be for people to speak so callously about genocide?
Give the students a brief overview of the lead-up to the Wannsee Conference, including a short history of the development of internment camps and ghettos. Explain that the Holocaust was a gradual process of violence and oppression; the end result of a series of events throughout the 1930s and WWII, and implemented by various groups throughout the Nazi sphere. There was no direct order signed by Adolf Hitler from the beginning. Many different people were in charge of its organization. The Wannsee Conference served to iron out details of mass extermination of the Jewish people. Despite everyone knowing what was happening, there was never a direct order for murder.
Watch the first 30 minutes of the 1984 German film Die Wannseekonferenz, available with subtitles. (Suggested stop time 31:22). Ask students to take note of details that may have surprised them, as well as key words or phrases, such as “final solution” and “Jewish question.” Stop the video at the following intervals and talk about the topics underneath, or take this time to answer any questions your students may have.
Pause movie at 10:06
- Attitude in the way people discuss these very serious topics.
- Confusion over racial versus religious definition of Jew.
- What problem did they have with the train in Riga? What was the concern?
Pause movie at 19:15
- Discuss this quote: “Shared knowledge means shared responsibility. Shared responsibility means shared liability” 13:16
- What are your thoughts about the conversation had about feeling sick at the sight of the executions and him saying, “It proves we Germans are human.”?
- What does he mean when he says, “If X, then Y”?
Lead the class in a discussion about what details may have surprised or stood out to them about the depiction of the Wannsee Conference – for example, how people casually discussed mass murder interspersed with laughter and socializing; the scene where we see one SS official paying fetch with a dog while his colleague complains that his “top secret” documents about Jewish mass killings are being circulated amongst everyone.
Wisconsin Academic Standards
This lessons meets the following Academic Standards required by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.