Wednesday, 27 June, 2012
Last Wednesday, 20 June 2012, Charlie from the HMDT team attended a screening of Nuremberg: its lesson for today, at the Barbican Centre in London. The film is a documentary produced in 1947 about the Nuremberg Trials, the Allied Powers’ prosecution of leading Nazis responsible for the Holocaust and war crimes.
Despite being produced in 1947 with intentions to show it to the American public, Nuremberg: its lesson for today was suppressed at the time of its release by US authorities. The film subsequently disappeared from public awareness and only a few copies remained in archives. In 2009, Sandra Schulberg, daughter of the film’s original director Stuart Schulberg, completed the delicate process of having the film restored. The result is a superb rendering of a film which depicts the full significance of the Nuremberg Trials, both at the time of their happening and today.
The film opens with the post-war destruction and deprivation wrought by the Nazis in Europe. We are introduced to the desire of European people to bring justice to those responsible for such appalling crimes. Whilst the film is faithful to the exact footage used in 1947, a new narration has been provided by Liev Schreiber, director of Everything is illuminated.
The first half of Nuremberg gathers evidence of the appalling extent of Nazi crimes. The film depicts both the territorial aggression and diplomatic deception that preceded the start of World War Two, and crimes against the victims of Nazi Persecution such as disabled people, political opponents, the civilian population of Poland and Russian Prisoners of War.
Harrowing footage of the Holocaust is featured in the film. The film was created in part to demonstrate the full horrors of Nazism and there is footage taken from the death and concentration camps where millions of Jews were murdered across Europe. Significantly, much of the film shown during these segments was shot by the Nazis themselves. The footage demonstrates not only the extent of Nazi crimes, but crucially their execution as official policy.
The scope and official nature of these acts is crucial to the second half which turns to proceedings at Nuremberg. Despite the volume of evidence against them, many of the Nazis on trial claim that they were unaware of the full extent to which their murderous policies were being undertaken. Yet, the prosecution by Soviet, American, French and British lawyers demonstrates the implausible façade of such a defence. Ultimately, for most of the Nazis on trial at Nuremberg, their guilt would be proven beyond any doubt and as the film draws to a close, we witness the passing of their sentences.
Prior to the screening on Wednesday, humanitarian law expert William Schabas discussed the trial procedure at Nuremberg and how it has informed more recent genocide trials in Rwanda and Bosnia. Professor Schabas defended the Nuremberg trials and noted their considerable achievements against the complexity of restoring peace and justice in the aftermath of World War Two and Nazi crimes.
That both the film and The Nuremberg Trials as a process have a significant relevance today can perhaps best be demonstrated in the closing statement at the trial of U.S. Chief Prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson. As the film ends, Justice Jackson’s words narrate the final frames:
‘This trial is part of the great effort to make the peace more secure. It constitutes juridical action of a kind to ensure that those who start a war will pay for it personally. Nuremberg stands as a warning to all those who plan and wage aggressive war.’