FILM REVIEW with VIDEO: “Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today” is horrifying, riveting

Of all the World War II documentaries, “Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today” is the first. It’s also the official one about the first Nuremberg trial, and has been withheld from U.S. distribution until now.

When the war was over and the top Nazi brass charged with crimes against humanity, prosecutors wanted to make their case using the Nazis’ own records.

Stuart Schulberg (with U.S. government funding) was assigned the task of sifting through the records in Berlin and assembling the film.

“The war was over, but there was no peace,” the narration begins as we see scenes of utter devastation. “Despair crouched over the continent.”

Schulberg lays out the Nazi plan of conquest matter-of-factly, using written records and describing the methodical progression of lies, threats, and invasions used on the way to world domination.

Some of the images here will be familiar. Others may not – skeletal prisoners in hospital beds being used for “medical” experimentation; an improvised gas chamber using automobile exhaust; Jews being marched naked through the streets.

It’s chilling to see these 22 Nazis with headphones, all staring straight ahead or down, never looking at each other, occasionally called upon to testify. Some deny all, others seem repentant, a few claim they were as duped as the German people who allowed this to happen.

This film was assembled by Schulberg’s daughter Sandra from the only available copy – the German one (the film was widely shown in Germany in 1948-49 as part of the de-Nazification program). The soundtrack had to be reconstructed from scratch, using the soundtrack on the print as a guide. Liev Schreiber recorded the original narration.

There seems to be only speculation about why this film was suppressed in the U.S., but political expediency may be a reasonable guess. The U.S. government may not have wanted to highlight German crimes when the Marshall Plan (which would rebuild much of Germany) was about to take effect. Or perhaps the plan was to focus public attention on the threat of Soviet communism (the U.S.S.R. was quickly becoming our enemy by 1948).

Chief U.S. prosecutor and Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson made the now-famous opening and closing statements. In closing, he said, “Let Nuremberg stand as a warning to all who plan and wage aggressive war.”

“Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today” is horrifying but required viewing.

The details

The film opens Friday, June 10, at the Landmark Ken Cinema in Kensington.

Sandra Schulberg, producer of the restoration, will appear at showings on Friday and Saturday, June 10-11.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.