Yesterday, I went to see the film entitled Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today which is playing in American theaters now. The film is a restoration of the film which was originally written and directed by Stuart Schulberg specifically for the de-Nazification program of the American Military government of Germany, and first shown to German audiences in 1948. In other words, this film was INTENDED as a propaganda film to brainwash the German people so that they would accept the Allied contention that every German, without exception, was to blame for World War II, and every German must change his thinking to the American world view. It wasn’t enough for the Allies to destroy every German city and town with bombs, it was also necessary to destroy the German people for the sake of American hegemony.
But I didn’t know the original purpose of the film before I entered the theater. I thought that this was a new film, newly constructed out of old film footage, for American audiences today. The title threw me off. The word Today in the title refers to 1948, which was two years after the end of the Nuremberg IMT. But I thought it literally meant Today, as in the Spring of 2011.
My first thought, after seeing the film, was that there should be an ex-post-facto law passed, making it a crime to make such a film. My second thought was that this film will surely win an Academy Award.
The person who accompanied me to the theater said that this film is nothing special — it is just the same old propaganda that you see every day on the History Channel. That’s true; this is the official history that the History Channel promotes.
After learning that this film is a restoration, made by Sandra Schulberg (the daughter of Stuart Schulberg), of the film made by her father in 1947 and first released in 1948, my opinion is that the film desperately needs an introduction to explain it to today’s audiences.
I did a little research online and found this explanation, given here by Sandra Schulberg, for why she didn’t include an introduction:
SM: Why didn’t you add a brief introductory passage explaining this to viewers?
SS: (Laughing) We considered umpteen versions of opening explanatory credits. I had input from the Holocaust Museum and Josh and people at DuArt Labs, and we tested it on some other people close to the production. There was no simple way to do it. What I didn’t want to do was oversimplify it. We ultimately decided it was impossible. We did think of bringing in a well-known actor or television commentator. It might have seemed like the right thing to do, but I had to look at this as a historical document that would exist in perpetuity. Any choice one would make of a spokesperson to fill that role today might seem irrelevant or peculiar 40 or 50 years down the line. Ultimately, we thought it best to let the film stand alone as its own document.
I totally disagree. Today’s audience for this film will be (1) young students who are studying the Holocaust, and (2) old people, like me, who were alive when the Nuremberg IMT took place. I was only 13 years old at the time, but I clearly remember seeing film footage of the trial in the newsreels that were shown before every movie. I was already interested in history at that young age.
The film was originally commissioned by the U.S. government; the original was made by Stuart Schulberg, the brother of Budd Schulberg. For his film, Stuart Schulberg used footage taken at the Nuremberg IMT and combined it with footage from two documentaries, one of which was the footage from the concentration-camp atrocities film made by Budd Schulberg, which was shown at the IMT on November 29, 1945. Budd Schulberg was with the OSS in World War II.
Wikipedia gives this definition of the OSS: “The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The OSS was formed in order to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines for the branches of the United States Armed Forces.”
The restored film, made by Sandra Schulberg and Josh Waletzky, is narrated by Liev Schreiber. These are the same words that are in the original narration but were re-recorded for the restored film.
The first part of the film, which drones on and on ad nauseam, tells the American version of the start of World War II. It tells about how Germany wanted to conquer the world and how the “Master Race” wanted to rule the world. The narrator says that “Two of the world’s mightiest nations—the United States and Soviet Russia—blocked the Nazi drive for world supremacy.” What about the British? Oh, that’s right, the British lost their empire after they foolishly declared war on Germany in 1939 and then didn’t fight until 1940. The film tells about how Germany invaded Denmark and Norway but doesn’t say WHY Germany decided all of a sudden to start up its conquest of the world again after a long period called the “sitting war” or Sitzkrieg, which followed the defeat of Poland in 1939.
As I watched the first part of the film, I kept thinking “This was not part of the Nuremberg IMT.” For example, there is a lot of footage on the German boycott of Jewish stores on April 1, 1933. The German boycott lasted one day and it was an attempt to stop the world-wide Jewish boycott of German goods which started as soon as Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany and continued until the end of the war.
The burning of books in Germany is also shown in the film. Was it a war crime to burn books? There are more books banned in Germany today than there were books that were burned by the Nazis.
The movie was not shown to American audiences in 1948. That should be explained in an introduction. By 1948, America had turned against the Soviet Union and the Cold War had started. America was now an Ally of Germany. The war crimes trials at Dachau stopped and War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 at the former Dachau concentration camp was closed. From the end of World War II to 1948, the American people were taught to hate the Germans, but all that changed in 1948. The lies told in this film no longer served a purpose in 1948, now that Germany and America were Allies.
During the first half of the film, I was mentally making notes and waiting for the German defense which would tell the German side of the story. After all, this was a trial where the Germans were given a chance to defend themselves. But the German defense was not really shown. There was a very short film clip showing Goering as he says that he knew nothing about the extermination of the Jews. Later, Robert Jackson, the American prosecutor, makes fun of Goering for saying that he didn’t know about the German plan to kill all the Jews.
The testimony of Goering was the highlight of the Nuremberg trial. I was looking forward to seeing it and hearing it. I was disappointed that more of his testimony was not shown. Robert Jackson almost quit after Goering’s testimony — that’s how good it was.
The German defense part of the film mainly shows the German defendants expressing remorse and admitting their guilt in their final statements. You don’t see Rudolf Hess loudly saying “Nein” when he is asked whether he pleads guilty. Kaltenbrunner is shown on the witness stand, but this part is totally confusing because it doesn’t show the important part of his testimony.
The Nuremberg IMT was totally unfair to the Germans and this film is even more unfair; it is completely one-sided and disingenuous. Here is the trailer for the film, so you can get an idea of what I am talking about: