Film: Nuremberg – Its Lessons for Today / Nuremberg / Nürnberg und seine Lehre (1948)

February 4, 2016 | By

NurembergItsLessonsForToday_posterFilm: Excellent

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Genre:  Documentary / WWII / Third Reich / Nuremberg Trials

Synopsis: Restored 1948 documentary on the Nuremberg Trials where leading figures in Hitler’s regime were prosecuted and sentenced to death or imprisonment for crimes against humanity.

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After the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, one of the U.S. Government’s efforts to de-Nazify Germans was via film screenings, and Stuart Schulberg, younger brother of esteemed novelist (What Makes Sammy Run?) and screenwriter (On the Waterfront) Budd Schulberg, made his first and only effort as director (reportedly with some uncredited aide from co-producer Pare Lorentz) with this documentary that assembled courtroom footage from the Nuremberg trials and newsreel footage to chronicle the prosecution of key Nazi party figures, including Herrmann Goring, Karl Donitz, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, and Rudolf Hess.

Thought lost, the 1948 film, originally screened exclusively to German audiences, was restored from various surviving German prints, and actor Liev Schreiber re-recorded Schulberg’s original narration in English for a 2009 theatrical release.

Lessons also includes the actual voices of American, British, French, and Soviet prosecutors, as well as several of the accused Nazi war criminals, and Schulberg interweaves rare material from concentration camps as recorded by John Ford’s film unit when they visited camps, and the horrors of Hitler’s Final Solution were splayed out in full detail.

Lessons isn’t for the faint of heart nor stomach, and yet it’s an important document and supplement to Stanley Kramer’s better-known WWII drama, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), in which fictional characters encapsulate the trial and conviction of judges and complicit officials involved in the torment and murder of innocent Jews. Where the Kramer-directed and Abby Mann-scripted drama distilled the horrors for world audiences (if not American audiences, who were denied the Lessons doc), Schulberg’s film provides a three-part structure that contextualizes events, namely Hitler’s repeated and documented non-aggression treaties and peace pronouncements contrasted by outright invasions within months or years; the mass extermination of millions in a staged plan ultimately involving killing camps erected and managed on an industrial scale; and the trial where the defendants refute accusations of being complicit in Hitler’s mad yearnings and attempts at global conquest.

There’s a naïveté and stark insanity in Hitler’s belief that one country, scarred by WWI and a pair of vicious depressions, felt justified in claiming whole countries out of some warped sense of entitlement, plus a later plot to carve up the world with other delusional regimes and exterminate whole populations because they were deemed sub-human and “worthless eaters,” and yet the Nazis’ bureaucratic nature ensured paper trails which enabled prosecutors to successfully win several cases against leading scoundrels like former WWI flying ace Goring, who signed official documents for invasions and ruthless conquests.

Schulberg’s film has outlasted its original purpose of aiding in the de-Nazification process; it’s a perpetually portentous chronicle that unfortunately remains relevant as subsequent regimes and religious zealots around the world continue to massacre innocents in the name of race, religion, tribal quarrels, or whatever deep-seething hatred perpetuates a need to wipe out a populace and all traces of their existence and ancient culture.

Kramer’s film offers a series of dramatic arcs that elicit a variety of emotions, whereas Schulberg’s film puts things as plainly as a stark history lesson, contrasting Nazi lies with negligent and lethal actions, and when the final statements are made by the accused, those sentenced to hang are among the regime’s chief (im)moral architects claiming vague knowledge or outright ignorance of crimes against humanity and peace, making their ignominious demise appropriate.

Schulberg’s film is available via Sandra Schulberg’s website in educational and private sale prices on DVD and Blu-ray.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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