Stuart Schulberg's harrowing 1948 film is an important educational document.
Liev Schreiber intones the narration for this startling and powerful assemblage of archive material which uses the various indictments aimed at captured Nazi war criminals as a conceptual springboard.
Even though the infamous Nuremberg trials were intended as a fair and democratic way in which to dismantle the Nazi death machine one filthy fragment at a time, an introductory speech suggests that the mountains of evidence gathered by a pan-global team of allied lawyers was close to being incontrovertible.
Thus, the trials and the film offer a stern teaching which says that those who start a war will pay for it personally. Unlike celebrated documentaries on the Nazis and their horrendous project such as Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog, Stuart Schulberg's Nuremberg is, formally-speaking, a very conventional work. Even after a concerted effort to destroy the Nazi paper trail, this film proves, among other things, that the extent of crimes committed by the Nazi regime were such that they simply not be concealed.
And so, we’re shown footage of a post-war Germany left in a state of dangerous ruin, its people starving, homeless and on the precipice of death. We’re shown the various rallies and meetings in which controversial policies were outlined by Nazi commanders. We’re also shown famous scenes from the concentration camps, in which the emaciated corpses of the deceased are tossed and manhandled as if they were bags of garbage.
It is only in the film’s second half that we see the criminals take to the stand – among them Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Robert H Jackson, Albert Speer, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Alfred Rosenberg. Their attempts to pin all blame on Hitler are pathetic, and they make audacious claims that even while Jews, Russians and anyone who didn’t ascribe to the genealogical dictates of a German master race were being exterminated at a staggering degree, they still knew nothing of the harsh realities of their deskbound bureaucracy.
If anything, their crimes are magnified tenfold when judged against their near-total lack of guilt and willingness to accept that their game is up. Watching these newsreels, many of them depicting some of the most abhorrent atrocities ever committed to film, you’re reminded how watered down most fictionalised movie accounts of the war are.
Even the most unflinching of World War II films could never truly recapture the horror of what happened during the Nazi era, and it makes documentaries like this all the more vital.
A restored and repacked version of an important 1948 documentary.
Harrowing but education viewing.
Though its subject is specifically about the Nazis, this also says a lot about politics, law and the nature of pity.