By Don Simpson | October 4, 2010
Director: Stuart Schulberg
Writer(s): Budd Schulberg, Stuart Schulberg
Commissioned by Pare Lorentz (head of Film, Theatre & Music at the U.S. War Department’s Civil Affairs Division), Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today was written and directed by Stuart Schulberg (of John Ford’s Office of Strategic Services Field Photographic Branch/War Crimes Unit). Completed in 1948, Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today was never released in U.S. theaters (reportedly in an effort to not distract Americans from their newly found hatred of Communism) but it was shown in Germany as part of the Allies’ de-Nazification campaign.
Newly restored by the original director’s daughter, Sandra Schulberg, along with Josh Waletzky, a new 35mm negative was created from the best existing print at the German National Film Archive and the soundtrack was reconstructed using original sound recordings from the trials (Liev Schreiber also provides narration). The resulting restoration — concisely titled Nuremberg — is a priceless historic artifact that, in keeping with its original newsreel aesthetic and tone, concisely documents the Nazi war crimes and the subsequent Nuremberg Trials.
In the extremely rare Nuremberg trial footage, eleven Nazi war criminals (including Martin Boorman, Hans Frank, Hermann Göring, Rudolph Hess, Alfred Jodl and Albert Speer) sit in the courtroom, hiding behind dark sunglasses. Prosecuting attorneys support their accusations with vehement yet poetic speeches; defense attorneys attempt to plead the innocence (or at least naivety) and regret of their clients, and the defendants offer feeble pleas of contrition.
Craftily utilizing footage from Nazi propaganda films (but this time the footage is edited from the point of view of the Americans), Nuremberg traces Hitler’s aggression from the Reichstag fire through the Anschluss and the invasion of Poland while pausing to contemplate the ultimate horrors of the Nazis’ industrialization of death — from the Holocaust to the euthanizing of Germany’s own aged and disabled (the “useless eaters”). The Nazi’s own propaganda films thus provide indisputable evidence of their war crimes; the remaining question for the judges is how to most appropriately delegate the guilt and determine the most suitable punishment.
Nuremberg concludes with a sound bite from Justice Robert H. Jackson’s closing statement from the trial: “Let Nuremberg stand as a warning to all who plan and wage aggressive war.” In this context, the Nuremberg trial seems to have failed. Aggressive wars have been waged since the Nuremberg trials, yet no one has been punished. (What about the Iraq War?) The atomic holocausts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must have been fresh on everyone’s minds at the time of the Nuremberg trials, but no one was punished for those horrendous acts. This leads me to wonder what Jackson’s definition of “aggressive war” might be?