"Nuremberg": A lost war-crimes documentary lives again





Maybe the title of the documentary "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today" sounds a little pedantic and old-fashioned. That's because the "today" in question is not, like, today but 1948, when this film was completed by a United States military team and shown in occupied Germany. A compact and devastating record of the history-making trial -- held in the symbolic birthplace of the Nazi Party -- that held two dozen leading Nazi officials to account for the crimes of the Holocaust and other World War II atrocities, "Nuremberg" was never shown in U.S. theaters, and the master negative and soundtrack were destroyed, for reasons that remain mysterious. (But which can, I believe, be deduced from the evidence.)

Viewed cynically, the immediate purpose of "Nuremberg" was to convince the defeated German population that the blame for their material privation and collective despair lay not with the victorious Allies but with the deranged criminal regime that had led their nation into war in the first place. But writer-director Stuart Schulberg (an Army sergeant and the brother of famous screenwriter Budd Schulberg) clearly had larger goals in mind. For one thing, the Nuremberg trials presented a startling example of postwar global cooperation, with Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson serving as lead prosecutor alongside a team of British, French and Soviet colleagues. (This release is the result of a lengthy restoration process led by Sandra Schulberg, the director's daughter, and Josh Waletzky.)...

"Nuremberg" does indeed contain a "lesson for today," but the lesson takes the form of an emotional roller-coaster ride, and its ultimate message is more than a little murky. Was Albert Speer, the dapper Nazi architect who was the only defendant to discuss not merely his own crimes but the evils of an authoritarian regime, really a reflective intellectual or just an eloquent spinmeister ingratiating himself to a new master? Did the limitations and hypocrisies of the Nuremberg process undermine its lofty goal of shining the light of reason and justice on some of history's cruelest crimes? (Whatever its flaws, Nuremberg was more than a kangaroo court: Two defendants, diplomat Franz von Papen and banker Hjalmar Schacht, were acquitted and released.)...


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