Released and restored after a decades-long shelving, “Nuremberg” was made during the denazification period to serve as an official account of Nazi atrocities and of the landmark trial where chief Nazi perpetrators were judged and sentenced.
Originally shown only in postwar Germany, this 1948 documentary still makes a weighty, stirring impression.
A product of both artistic and governmental design, the film was written and directed by Stuart Schulberg, who worked with the Office of Strategic Services’ John Ford-headed Field Photographic Branch.
Schulberg was assigned, along with his future-screenwriter brother, Budd, to assemble Nazi-related footage that could be used as evidence against the Nazis on trial in Nuremberg.
The project also included filming the trial itself, to show that the trial was fair and to document the historic 1945-46 proceedings, which established the foundation for future trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The finished documentary, officially titled “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today,” combines all of the above into a weaving of Nazi history, Nazi horror, and post-Nazi efforts to determine what happened and punish the guilty by a means affirming the return of civility and reason.
Long unreleased in the United States for reasons never identified concretely (a Cold War mentality objecting to the depiction of the Soviets, our then-allies, as good guys may be responsible), the restored film’s visual and audio improvements are the result of efforts by Sandra Schulberg (Schulberg’s daughter) and Josh Waletzky. Narration by Liev Schreiber has been added.
As one might expect from this combination of courtroom action, history lesson, and documentary technique, the film suffers from tonal incongruities.
But altogether, it is a comprehensive, compelling account of the first Nuremberg trial and the events prompting it.
A gold mine of substance is packed into just 80 minutes, from Hitler’s country-by-country conquest plan to images of rubble-strewn postwar Europe. The death-camp footage, some of it taken from Nazi reels, remains horrifying and serves what still feels like an urgent purpose in terms of substantiating the charges against those responsible. (The defendants, who collectively lie, blame their offenses on dead superiors, and express remorse that can’t disguise their hope for leniency, include Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer and Hermann Goring, among others.)
Also notable are the statements of prosecutor Robert H. Jackson, who calls the trial a “warning to all who plan and wage aggressive war.”
While it’s hard not to reflect sadly on how humankind would conduct itself in the 20th century’s ensuing decades, there was indeed something constructive and momentous about what transpired at Nuremberg, and this film deserves applause for presenting it.
Three and a half stars
Written and directed by Stuart Schulberg, restored by Sandra Schulberg, Josh Waletzky
Running time 1 hour 20 minutes
Note: Sandra Schulberg will speak at all screenings Friday at the Shattuck in Berkeley and Saturday at the Opera Plaza in San Francisco, and will be joined by representatives from the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center and Goethe-Institut San Francisco at select screenings.