'Nuremberg': Suppressed 1948 documentary on first Nazi trial can now be seen at the Varsity
A movie review of "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today," an extraordinary 1948 documentary about the first war-crimes trial of Nazi leaders. Stuart Schulberg's film, which was immediately suppressed by the U.S. government, was restored by his daughter, Sandra Schulberg, and Josh Waletzky — and can now be seen at the Varsity.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today,' a documentary written and directed by Stuart Schulberg, restored by Sandra Schulberg and Josh Waletzky. 78 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains numerous unsettling images of Nazi war crimes). Varsity.
Sandra Schulberg will appear with Dee Simon of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center at the 7 p.m. screening Feb. 25.
There's no shortage of documentaries about the Nazi reign of terror. Some have illustrated how the eradication of millions of people — not to mention massive campaigns of imprisonment, slavery, plundering and looting — took not just widespread madness but supreme organization.
Add to that list the astonishing "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today." But the film, produced in 1948, doggedly underscores a related observation: Holding conspirators involved in perpetrating phenomenal crimes against humanity takes its own protracted, patient and thorough process.
"Nuremberg" follows the first war-crimes trial in history, convened in November 1945. Standing accused were 24 prominent Nazi officials including such familiar names as Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess and Albert Speer.
Legendary Hollywood director John Ford's OSS film team assigned Stuart Schulberg (later a movie and television producer) and his brother Budd Schulberg (screenwriter of "On the Waterfront") the task of finding and compiling hours of footage of Nazi atrocities to show during the courtroom drama.
Cameramen also shot 25 hours of the trial. Stuart later assembled "Nuremberg" from both sources, resulting in a methodical account of the legal proceedings — including the defendants' denials and the sharp oratory of Supreme Court Justice and U.S. Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson — while incorporating sickening footage of the suffering Hitler's men created.
Difficult as images of tortured bodies and human remains in a death-camp oven are to watch, the fact that "Nuremberg" can be seen at all is testimony to the strenuous efforts of Sandra Schulberg, Stuart's daughter.
While the film was shown in Germany upon completion, it was immediately suppressed by the U.S. government in apparent deference to new Cold War priorities, i.e., pro-German, anti-Russian. The decision not to release "Nuremberg" drew rebukes from Jackson, columnist Walter Winchell and others, and launched a Washington Post investigation. Sandra Schulberg recently unearthed a 1948 letter from Secretary of the Army Kenneth Royall to Jackson stating the film had "no significant value."
Schulberg and her team spent years restoring "Nuremberg," which reaches its peak when we hear Jackson systematically pick apart defendants' claims of naiveté, juxtaposed with horrifying footage of what happened in Europe. Despite official efforts, this is a film that can't be dismissed.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
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