Dir. Stuart Schulberg, US, 1948, 78 mins, in English
Review by Colin Dibben
A classic 1948 documentary gets a first-ever release in theUK. It’s a short, sharp, shocking investigation of genocidal Nazi power and the genocidal Nazi war machine – a film that still has the righteous power to disturb.
The 1945-6Nurembergwar crimes trials saw 22 Nazi leaders prosecuted jointly and together as representatives of a rogue nation state, by legal representatives of the allied nations:Soviet Union,USA,BritainandFrance. The Allies meshed their separate national legal codes so that they could prosecute the case – and this became the basis for all subsequent war crimes codes and trials.
Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today follows the process of the trial, which set out to legitimize itself as an event without precedent – and this makes the film profoundly interesting. The four counts of the indictment attacked every aspect of Nazi power from 1933 onwards, accusing the Nazis of conspiracy, wars of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Given revisionist attempts over 60 years to downplay the role of the Wehrmacht in genocide, it’s interesting that the film and the trial itself equate both Nazi politics and the military as criminal actions. Each count is deftly defined and simply set out – the film makes a succinct introduction to the Nazi project. In court, much of the evidence was Nazi documentation and newsreel footage. There’s a lot more of this footage inserted in the film than you might expect from a court-based documentary and it works to devastating effect – both as incriminating evidence and as testament to the sadistic impulses behind acts of human degradation. Stuart Schulberg and his team from theOSS film unit (Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of the CIA) chased up rumours of footage – in some cases only one step ahead of Nazis destroying cached material. In fact, they were so busy chasing footage that they had to give the job of filming the actual trial to the Army Signal Corps, who were then only allowed to film 25 hours footage over 10 months. This may be the reason that the actual court room footage focuses on the prosecution’s case; although there may also be propagandist reasons why we only get shots of the accused looking haughty or glum or making self-serving statements to the court – when, apparently, there were fireworks during some cross-examinations.
Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today is definitely worth tracking down. Watch this and you can dispense with many hours of half-baked tv documentaries going on about Nazi evil. Here’s where the buck stopped 60 years ago. Here’s the legal case that indicted the perpetrators of the state-sanctioned Holocaust and the murder of over three million Soviet POWs. It’s a legal masterclass from history. The lessons learned, unfortunately, still need applying today.