Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today, a 1948 documentary, was once deemed by Universal Studios as “too gruesome” for the American public. Now, thanks to the director's daughter, this remarkable film is finally being shown in American theaters.
Originally commissioned by the U.S. War Department’s Civil Affairs Division, Nuremberg was directed by Stuart Schulberg, younger brother of Budd Schulberg. The brothers were part of the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA. Budd, who would later author such Hollywood classics as On The Waterfront, supervised two film compilations to be used by the U.S. prosecution team. Stuart artfully weaved sections from those films into the courtroom footage, creating Nuremberg.
The film played in Germany before being shelved for various political reasons, including a fear that it might permanently ruin Germany’s image in America. A decision by the Truman administration further quashed efforts to show it in this country.
In 2003, Stuart Schulberg’s daughter Sandra and partner Josh Waletzky undertook a five year mission to restore the 78-minute film. With a painstakingly reconstructed soundtrack using original sound from the trial, a new recording of the original music score, and narration by Liev Schreiber (the voice of most HBO documentaries), the restored film is stunning.
Nuremberg shows how the international prosecutors built their case by using the Nazis’ own films and records. The familiar images of mass graves are even more startling here, with the victims seemingly stacked liked kindling, along with mountainous piles of shoes, gold teeth, and personal items taken from death camp victims. A shot of confiscated shaving brushes seems especially poignant, as if the Nazi’s first step in destroying a person’s humanity was to take their vanity.
As critic Roger Ebert said of Shoah, the nine-hour documentary which also has resurfaced in recent months, films like this are important in that they allow one generation to tell the next what it has learned.
Nuremberg also shows, as the defendants deny culpability, what evil looks like when it's backed into a corner.
Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today has been well received since its New York premiere in September 2009, much to the relief of Sandra Schulberg.
“I had wondered how much of this was going to be new,” Schulberg said. “Some of the images have been recycled countless times, but to my enormous surprise and relief, many of the experts who screened it were very impressed; some of the footage has never been seen before, and even the footage that is familiar has a new impact when it is viewed within the context of the trial.”
A two disc DVD edition of Nuremburg is being planned for next year, which will include the two films supervised by Budd Schulberg: The Nazi Plan, which consists of the German Reich’s own films, and Nazi Concentration Camps, which used footage shot by Allied forces. The DVD will also include interviews with Nuremberg prosecutors, Budd Schulberg, and the restoration team.
Stuart Schulberg died years ago, but Budd died in 2009. He was aware of his niece’s efforts.
“He was thrilled,” said Schulberg, acknowledging that the film’s release is bittersweet without her uncle being here to see it.
Schulberg plans to make Nuremberg available to human rights groups and secondary schools. A Spanish language version of Nuremberg had great impact recently in Guatemala, where human rights issues have surfaced since the Guatemalan Civil War. It’s a sign, perhaps, that the film's life will extend beyond its current theatrical run.
“Personally,” said Schulberg, “I hope it lasts another 60 years, to make up for the 60 years it was buried.”
- Don L. Stradley