Nuremberg film offers context, historic value

Original poster for Nuremberg's 1948 German release.

Filmmaker Sandra Schulberg described "Nuremberg: A Lesson for Today" as a "long-lost movie."

That is no offhanded exaggeration.

The documentary was the U.S. goverment's film about the Nuremberg trial that brought Nazi leaders to court. It was made by Schulberg's father, Stuart Schulberg, who was part of John Ford's OSS War Crimes film team.

The resulting documentary was shown in Germany in 1948 and '49, as part of the Allies' de-Nazification efforts.

It was supposed to be screened in America, too - but it was never was.

In 2009, Sandra Schulberg and Josh Waletzky restored the film and saw that it was finally shown in the U.S.

On Sunday, it was screened in New London, as part of the 18th annual International Jewish Film Festival of Eastern Connecticut.

Sandra Schulberg was at the screening and spoke as part of a discussion panel that also included former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, who is now chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. Dodd's father, Thomas, was a primary prosecutor at the Nuremberg trial.

Exactly why the documentary wasn't screened in America back in the 1940s was a bit of a mystery. Schulberg said that, at the time, the Washington Post ran three long, investigative pieces on why the film was buried. No one would speak for attribution, but reporter John Norris wrote that it seemed the theory was that Americans were too simpleminded to keep more than one enemy in mind at a time.

What that meant: By the time "Nuremberg" would have been shown here, America was invested in rebuilding Germany. And, although the Soviet Union was an ally in the film, the country was America's new enemy by the late 1940s.

Schulberg said "Nuremberg" was therefore deemed "too dangerous, too impolitic" to be shown.

"This film became a victim of the Cold War," she said.

The original English negative of "Nuremberg," in fact, disappeared. When Schulberg and Waletzky wanted to restore the film, they had to work from the German print and reconstruct the soundtrack using the original sound from the trial. Actor Liev Schreiber reads the narration.

"Nuremberg" follows the trial, with footage from the proceedings. As the program notes say, the trial established the "Nuremberg principles," "laying the foundation for all subsequent trials for crimes against the peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity."

The documentary delves, too, into the Nazis' expansion of power through lies and aggression, and it documents their cruelty. The film includes scenes of Holocaust atrocities - impossibly emaciated, naked corpses being casually tossed into a pit; prisoners being led into a building where an early, make-shift gas chamber was set up, with a pipe running from a motor vehicle's exhaust pipe into the building.

That latter sequence was something Stuart Schulberg discovered after the war in the Berlin apartment of an SS agent.

Stuart Schulberg and his brother Budd were, in fact, sent to Germany to search for Nazi films that could be shown in the courtroom. The Nuremberg trial called upon footage that the Nazis themselves had shot, often as propoganda films or newsreels.

Dodd spoke Sunday about the trial's importantance. At the time, some people wanted summary executions, but important values were at stake in following the rule of law. The rule of law, he said, is a hallmark of who we are as a people.

Dodd talked, too, about his father's work at Nuremberg. Thomas Dodd wrote letters every day to his wife, who was back here in Connecticut. Chris Dodd discovered those letters in 1990 and turned them into the book "Letters from Nuremberg: My Father's Narrative of a Quest for Justice."

Chris Dodd said "Nuremberg" helps to ensure the trial will be a living memory.

"It should have been shown years and years ago. ... Every generation needs to learn these lessons," he said.

Jerry Fischer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, said, "This is a remarkable film. This is a remarkable contribution to the historical record."

The Schulberg brothers - Stuart at left, Budd at right - worked in the same OSS film unit throughout the war and during preparation for the Nuremberg trial.
The Schulberg brothers - Stuart at left, Budd at right - worked in the same OSS film unit throughout the war and during preparation for the Nuremberg trial.
Sandra Schulberg, daughter of Nuremberg's writer-director Stuart Schulberg,  restored the 1948 film with collaborator Josh Waletzky.
Sandra Schulberg, daughter of Nuremberg's writer-director Stuart Schulberg, restored the 1948 film with collaborator Josh Waletzky.
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