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Archive for January, 2022

The Wannsee Conference

Today is the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee conference—one of the most infamous dates in the history of humanity—as I am reminded in this Wall Street Journal review of historian Peter Longerich’s book, Wannsee: The Road to the Final Solution. Fifteen men in a laid-back 85-minute meeting, deciding how to go about exterminating the Jews—every last one of them that Nazi Germany could get its hands on—or, it should be specified, to exterminate them more efficiently than had been the case over the previous six months, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, when SS-led Einsatzgruppen murdered 1.5 million Jews with bullets. Gas was more efficient, so the Nazis determined.

Reading the WSJ article reminded me of a 1984 German TV film, Die Wannseekonferenz, that I came across in 2020 on YouTube, which reenacts the Wannsee conference based on the single remaining copy of the minutes taken by the stenographer. The film, which is worth 85 minutes of one’s time, may be watched with English subtitles here.

On the general subject, the next time you, dear reader, are in Berlin, make sure to set aside a few hours of your time to visit—if you haven’t already—the Topography of Terror. And the next time I’m in Berlin, I will take the S-Bahn to Wannsee to visit the Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz.

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Sidney Poitier, R.I.P.

He was my favorite actor when I was 11/12-years-old, and with In the Heat of the Night, which came out when I was that age, my very favorite movie—I saw it at least five times—followed by To Sir, with Love, which I saw maybe three times (the first time, I took a couple of buses across the city of Milwaukee on a blustery November Sunday afternoon to a theater in a shopping center I’d never been to). And then there was of course Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Of his earlier films, some of which I saw over the subsequent years, the one that stayed with me was The Defiant Ones, and which I had the opportunity to watch again last year on ARTE.

Sidney Poitier’s very first film, Joseph Mankiewicz’s ‘No Way Out’, from 1950, I only learned about in December 2020, from a Facebook post by political scientist Peter Dreier, which begins:

If you’re looking for a fascinating film to watch during COVID, I recommend the 1950 noir-ish film, “No Way Out,” perhaps the most direct attack on racism for a Hollywood film up until that time. I’m amazed and somewhat embarrassed that I didn’t know about this film until this week, when I came upon it by accident, but once I saw it, I recognized that, in historic context, it was/is an amazing and bold film for its time. You can watch the film on YouTube.

Dreier’s post was published by the Forward under the title “How a forgotten Sidney Poitier film helps explain our current political moment.” The film is indeed worth the watch.

UPDATE: John McWhorter has a most interesting column in the NYT (January 14), “Sidney Poitier and the Black voice.”

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