Stuart Schulberg's "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today" brilliantly documents the first Nuremberg trial of Nazi officials – known as "The Trial of the Major War Criminals" – conducted by the International Military Tribunal from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946. This film was a crucial component in the Allies' campaign to de-Nazify postwar Germany. But it didn't receive a U.S. theatrical engagement until September 29, 2010, when the Film Forum in New York hosted the restoration created by Schulberg's daughter, Sandra, and Josh Waletzky.
It opens at the Charles today – and Sandra Schulberg will be introducing and/or discussing the film for every weekend showing. This engagement provides Baltimore moviegoers with an extraordinary opportunity to witness a vital and harrowing piece of history and explore its nuances with the person most responsible for bringing it to light.
What caused the six-decade delay?
Stuart Schulberg made the film for the U.S. War Department's Civil Affairs Division (his co-producer was the legendary documentary-maker Pare Lorentz, then head of the department's Film, Theatre and Music arm). By the time he completed it, in 1948, America's priorities had shifted. Government authorities believed that a lucid, devastating analysis of the Third Reich's crimes and atrocities, culminating in the annihilation of European Jewry, would undercut popular support for the Marshall Plan, the bold "European Recovery Program" that started rebuilding Germany and all of Western Europe in April 1948. American leaders were eager for U.S. citizens to see West Germany as an ally against their new Cold War enemy, the U.S.S.R.
They shouldn't have been so calculating or so squeamish. "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today" specifically focuses on the men who turned "just following orders" into a rule of state. It highlights the suffering of common people throughout Europe. Most important, its swift, surgical treatment of the Shoah has a concentrated potency that never veers into what some critics have dubbed "Holocaust porn."
Stuart Schulberg would go on to a distinguished news and documentary career, including years as NBC's Senior Documentary Producer. Other skilled moviemakers contributed to this movie's power, notably Stuart's older brother, Budd Schulberg, the fiction-writer ("What Makes Sammy Run?") and screenwriter ("On the Waterfront") who was the senior officer in charge of compiling filmed evidence for the U.S. prosecution.
Sandra Schulberg and Waletzky have performed miracles of healing for this restoration. This print even syncs audio recordings of the trial with the documentary's images, so that audiences can hear the actual voices of the defendants and prosecutors.
But after a half-decade of work on this restoration, Sandra Schulberg, herself an acclaimed executive producer (Philip Kaufman's "Quills," Walter Hill's "Undisputed"), says that the real executive producer of "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today" was U.S. Supreme Court associate justice Robert H. Jackson, the lead prosecutor at the first Nuremberg Trial.
Jackson sets the tone with his opening statement: "That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law, is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason."
The late Lt. Comdr. Morton E. Rome, of Baltimore, was a key member of Jackson's staff in Nuremberg. His daughter, Nancy, will attend the Baltimore premiere of "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today."
Here are excerpts from my interview with Sandra Schulberg.
Sandra Schulberg on her own first reaction to the film:
I first saw the film as a sentient adult when my friend Dieter Kosslick, director of the Berlin Film Festival, asked me to put together a retrospective of Marshall Plan films for his festival. He felt it was important to show "Nuremberg" as a scene-setter. I was disinclined because that was looking backward and the Marshall Plan films were looking forward. But the films were linked, and not just because of my father. Stuart wrote and directed "Nuremberg"; he was also head of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section. One reason "Nuremberg" was kept out of theaters in the United States was that [members of the U.S. government] were worried that it would undermine American support for rebuilding Germany through the Marshall Plan.
When I saw it then, in 2004, I wondered how Stuart and his editor, Joe Zigman, could put together such a condensed version of the rise of the Nazi party, the events of the war, and what the Nazis called "the Final Solution" -- the industrialized slaughter of the Jews. I was initially confused by the internal logic of the film, but it followed the logic of the trial. The movie's overall matrix comes from the four counts: conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, committing crimes against peace and [engaging in] wars of aggression, then war crimes and crimes against humanity.
[Supreme Court associate justice] Robert Jackson, the U.S. prosecutor, thought it was crucial to establish a legal basis to condemn governments for wars of aggression. All the evidence wouldn't have coalesced and been codified were it not for his decisions. This first Nuremberg trial laid the groundwork for twelve more Nuremberg trials – people assume the trial in "Judgment at Nuremberg" was the same trial, but it wasn't, that was just the trial of the Nazi judges.
On the film's portrayal of the Holocaust:
The section depicting the persecution and annihilation of the Jews comes relatively late in the film, with the crimes against humanity, but it's extremely powerful. Some images are awful but familiar; some have been buried for 60 years.
While Stuart was editing the film in Berlin, he found footage that belonged to a Nazi officer, Artur Nebe, of emaciated, naked people in Mogilev (then in Poland, now Belorus), in September, 1941. They were being taken off an open flatbed truck and led into a small building. Hoses, piping, were connecting the exhaust of a running car into the building. It was the first Nazi film of an atrocity being recorded at the same time it was being committed. We're seeing part of the experimentation that led to mobile gas vans and then to the creation of the gas chambers.
I am often asked, when I show the film, why don't we see any victims, why don't we hear the testimony of people who survived the camps? That was really Jackson's decision; he was really the driving force behind the trial and in many ways this movie. Once his team found voluminous records, he reasoned that they would have a better chance to convict the Nazis by using their own documents against them. He felt that the defense would do its best to impugn the testimony of eyewitnesses, so it was much more compelling to use written and filmed documents. Jackson was taking a very long view – because he was so very foresight-full, he left an incontrovertible record.
The impact of the filmed evidence at trial:
Uncle Budd [Schulberg] was the senior member of the team that put the moving-picture evidence into the films "The Nazi Plan" and "Nazi Concentration Camps." The film of "Nazi Concentration Camps" was shown first, a week into the trial, and that really shook up the courtroom. The prosecution wanted to see the faces of the defendants during the showing of the film. According to one psychologist, they didn't know if [Nazi Party Secretary] Rudolf Hess was experiencing amnesia or just feigning it at the beginning of the trial. By the evening of the day they showed "Nazi Concentration Camps," he had decided that he'd regained his memory. From then on he participated and didn't pretend he didn't know what was going on.
Stuart described, in a letter he wrote, that he had lit the dock so they could see the faces of the defendants, but there was too much light – it would have washed out the screen when they were showing "Nazi Concentration Camps." As he began to mask the lighting, the prisoners were brought in; they had to come up in groups of two, because the elevator was so small. Little Stuart -- he was the youngest man on the team -- soon found [Luftwaffe commander and original Gestapo chief] Hermann Goring stepping over him, towering over him. Goring was always the first one in the front bench. Stuart noted Goring's glee when he realized that they were going to be watching pictures. "Nazi Concentration Camps" wiped the smiles off their faces.
The new meaning of the subtitle: "its lesson for today":
The irony is that Germans learned the lessons of Nuremberg better than anyone else in the world. There's a famous quote of Jackson's, in which he says that now we're sitting in judgment of the Germans, but we must be willing to apply the same standards to our own conduct. Some people who see this film today immediately want to go back to discussing what the Nazis did -- they want to know if there are any Nazis left today who need to be prosecuted.
I try to lead them back to the present, to what Holocaust education is like in today's Germany, where it's mandatory for kids to visit the former concentration camps and read the pertinent literature. I talk about Germany's leadership role in the International Criminal Court. I don't want people to see this film as just another nail in the Nazi coffin. I want them to use it to reflect where the front lines are today -- where the Nuremberg principles are today -- what Americans need to do to galvanize our officials to support the International Criminal Court.
When I show this film to young German kids, I can't let them leave the theater thinking that they're guilty. We have a moral obligation to reassure them that they're not. [Reich Law Leader] Hans Frank, when he was trying to show repentance, said. "A thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will not be erased." I don't believe that; my father didn't believe that.
Photo of Nuremberg trial courtesy of Rome family: Lt. Cdr. Morton Rome is top left; Hermann Goring, center, foreground, has his elbow on the dock.