NUREMBERG: ITS LESSON FOR TODAY – The Review
A compact, conclusive primer on the criminality and rise of the Nazi party, NUREMBERG: ITS LESSON FOR TODAY, is actually a recovered documentary from 1948 written and directed by the late Stuart Schulberg (brother of Budd, the writer of ON THE WATERFRONT) that, though U.S.-sponsored, was never released in this country. Thought lost for many years, Schulberg’s daughter Sandra Schulberg and her fellow documentarian Josh Waletzky have now restored the film using a decent print that they discovered with the help of the German Bundesarchiv (Germany’s National Archive, headquartered in Berlin). Enlisting the vocal talents of actor Liev Schreiber, the narration has been re-recorded, this time in English and the result is an interesting documentary that combines footage of the trial of Hitler’s commanders who survived the war – Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Julius Streicher, etc. with a concise flashback history of the rise and fall of the Nazi Party. The result is a film that never sheds new light on the subject but I’m sure was quite eye-opening when it was made just three years after World War Two ended.
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of International military tribunals hosted in a World Court at the Palace of Justice in the city of Nuremberg Germany in 1946 . They were held by the conquering Allied forces of World War II, and were most famous for the prosecution of the leaders of the defeated Nazi Party. NUREMBERG: ITS LESSON FOR TODAY covers a lot in 80 minutes, starting in 1945 with the opening statements of Justice Robert H. Jackson, was one of four lead Allied prosecutors in the Nuremberg trial. These defendants were accused of “Crimes against Peace of the World” and were considered living symbols of arrogance and cruelty. The film shows archival footage to illustrate exactly what the Nazis did, in chronological order, without much exploration of why they did it. The history lesson begins with the burning of the Reichstag building, the assembly location of the German Parliament in 1933, which was the Nazi’s pretext for seizing power which they continued to do for the next decade through fraud, deceit, intimidation, and coercion. Under the Third Reich, Germany soon left the League of Nations, enacted compulsive military service, and its factories began churning out the tools of war. They eventually annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia by making their leaders offers they couldn’t refuse, making it easier to conquer Poland and set off the global conflict that would become the Second World War.
Nothing’s new in NUREMBERG: ITS LESSON FOR TODAY, especially to WWII buffs, but it’s an informative and well-illustrated overview and the footage, especially the Holocaust atrocity stuff that dominates the second half, still packs a dramatic punch. It’s skillful in its editing, smartly jumping to the trial footage at the right moments to keep things in context. The defendants are shown smoking and some are holding their heads in their hands while the blasphemies they are accused of are read aloud including crimes involving the use of slave labor and “The Final Solution”. NUREMBERG: ITS LESSON FOR TODAY was suppressed by our government not because Americans were too squeamish about the death camp footage but because by the time it was completed in 1948, we were enemies with the Soviets, while the film shows us still as allies. At a time when politicians were nurturing a fear of Communism, the film became a political hot potato, thus a victim of the Cold War. NUREMBERG: ITS LESSON FOR TODAY would make a good background-providing companion piece to JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG, a 1961 drama starring Burt Lancaster and Spencer Tracy that was a dramatization of the later trial of some judges who used their offices to conduct Nazi sterilization and cleansing policies. While not as moving and or as affecting as some of the many Holocaust docs, NUREMBERG: ITS LESSON FOR TODAY still drives home the horror and the justice that transpired over six decades ago, half a world away, and is recommended.
4 of 5 Stars
NUREMBERG: ITS LESSON FOR TODAY Opens today in St. Louis at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Theater