Was the Nazi lesson learned?

Movie Review
Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today
Directed by Stuart Schulberg
2010, Not Rated

Not only the young soldier who filmed the big Nazi trial in Nuremberg in 1945, but the prosecutors and judges as well, intended to make sure that Hitler’s war and attendant atrocities would never happen again. It was a noble purpose that the film was intended to further. Those that are fortunate enough to view one of the six restored prints now circulating are sure to heed the lesson. Even more fortunate are those viewers who catch filmmaker Sandra Schulberg’s talks as she tours with the movie her father made.

Schulberg explains that this original filming of the first and greatest of the dozen-or-so Nazi war trials that took place in Nuremburg was a joint effort of the four main winners of World War II, including the Soviet Union. The U.S. Chief Prosecutor was American Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. His opening statements clarify the ambitious hopes of all concerned.

After decades of late-night television treatments, grainy movies of piles of corpses and starved inmates don’t shock as much as they once did. The actual voices of the questioners and the Nazi war criminals, added along with a new sound track for the new release, are, after all, only people talking. What grips the audience throughout the short film is the soaring aspiration that this, in 1945, would be the end of such universal suffering and death. These are the real perpetrators and the real representatives of those who overcame them, and, like the war itself, they cannot be ignored.

But Sandra Schulberg explains that the film was the property of the U.S. government and, until now, was never seen in the United States! A high ranking official, speaking anonymously when the film was finished in 1948, explained that Americans are simple minded people not smart enough to envision more than one enemy at a time. And the enemy that the government wanted us simple people to envision was not the Nazis but our allies, the Soviets, who are prominently featured in the movie. 

One of the most important films ever made by Americans was only shown abroad. Sometime in the 1970s, it became public property. The American print was unusable by the time that Sandra Schulberg raised the money to save it. She had to find a better print in, of all places, Germany, where the film had shown to popular audiences in theaters.  

In the Q&A session after the movie, I asked, “Since you pointed out that the purpose of the trials by all concerned was the end of wars, and especially wars generated by duplicitous means, and that goal does not seem to have been met, how can we get more people to view the film and reach the conclusions it intended?” A distinctly nervous laugh crackled through the audience. Ex-President George W. Bush lives in luxury only a few miles from our Dallas theater.

Photo of Goerring testifying, via UMKC.