The Man Who Arrested Leni Riefenstahl
Years before he wrote "On the Waterfront," before that film brought him an Oscar, and before he earned the ire of many colleagues by testifying during the Hollywood communist witch hunt, writer Budd Schulberg had the distinct honor of arresting Leni Riefenstahl.
He was in Germany, assembling a film to be used at the Nuremberg trials as evidence against the Nazis. Riefenstahl, the legendary director and propagandist for Hitler, knew where the skeletons were. So Schulberg, dressed in his military uniform, drove to her chalet on a lake in Bavaria, knocked on her door, and told the panicked artist that she was coming with him.
I tried to calm her down," says Schulberg, 91, remembering in a thin, dry voice an episode more than a half-century distant. But he needed her to identify the seemingly endless gallery of faces on film that he had been collecting. So, very much against her will, he drove her to Nuremberg in an inelegant open-air military vehicle, and listened to a sad and defensive argument that would define the rest of her life, and that no one would ever believe.
"She gave me the usual song and dance," he says. "She said, 'Of course, you know, I'm really so misunderstood. I'm not political.' "
The role of Schulberg and his brother Stuart in making films that indicted the Nazis is the subject of a public conversation at 7 this evening at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Along with Stuart's daughter, Sandra Schulberg (also in the family business and producer of the film "Quills"), Budd Schulberg will discuss the frenzied months after V-E Day when the victorious allies tried to build a public, legal and permanently discrediting case against the vanquished totalitarian regime.
They were attempting to provide what the lead prosecutor at Nuremberg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, would call, in his opening statement, "undeniable proofs of incredible events." And they were doing it on the fly. Between June 1945 and the opening of the trial on Nov. 21, Schulberg's team worked through 10 million feet of film. They would fly regularly from Berlin, where they had set up a studio, to Nuremberg, where they were coordinating their material with the prosecutors preparing the U.S. part of the Allied legal case. They were, in many ways, helping to define what the Nazi era had meant -- the ideology, the ambition, the racism and the mechanics of the National Socialists' rise to power.
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