By Bob Fisher
Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today premiered at The Hague, home of the International Criminal Court, in November 2009, followed by a presentation at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2010. The New York Film Festival hosted the US premiere this past September, 62 years after the original documentary was produced.
The 80-minute film is a restoration of a documentary that Stuart Schulberg directed and wrote and Pare Lorenz produced about the war crimes trial of top Nazi officials, conducted in Nuremberg, Germany in 1945 and 1946. The officials were tried by an International Military Tribunal with prosecutors from France, England, the United States and Russia.
Schulberg's daughter Sandra oversaw the restoration of Nuremberg, with the assistance of Josh Waletzky. "We added no new content," she says. "We reproduced it frame for frame with a reconstructed soundtrack re-recorded by Liev Schreiber."
Sandra Schulberg is a third-generation filmmaker. Her grandfather, B.P. Schulberg, was head of Paramount Pictures during the 1930s and a producer of such movies as Wings, which won the first Oscar for Best Picture. After producing Nuremberg, her father produced de-Nazification films for the US military government in Germany and served as chief of the US Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section in Paris. He subsequently produced his brother Budd Schulberg's screenplay, Wind Across the Everglades, and returned to his first passion, news. He produced The David Brinkley Journal and The Today Show for NBC Television, as well as numerous documentary specials, including The Angry Voice of Watts.
"A common question I am asked is, ‘Why did you do this now?'" Sandra Schulberg says. "The Nazis and the Nuremberg trials have been history for 65 years. My answer is that I believe there are important lessons to be learned about prosecuting people who commit crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity. We are committed to distributing this documentary to the widest possible audience."
US Supreme Chief Justice Robert Jackson, the chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trial, wanted to use German propaganda films and photographs as evidence in the courtroom. He asked the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) for assistance. Its Field Photographic Branch, headquartered in Washington, DC, was led by Hollywood film director John Ford. Ford sent a team led by Budd Schulberg and Ray Kellogg to supervise that endeavor. Stuart Schulberg, a young Marine Corps sergeant, was part of the team.
They found a treasure trove of films and still pictures documenting atrocities, including the personal archives of Hitler's still photographer. Budd Schulberg apprehended filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl at her home in Austria and brought her to the editing room to identify Nazis in propaganda films. The German footage was edited into a four-hour film called The Nazi Plan, which was shown at the trial, in addition to a one-hour film shot by British and American troops documenting conditions at concentration camps.
A separate unit composed of Army Signal Corps cameramen filmed 25 hours of the trial, including questions posed by the prosecutors, as well as testimonies and comments by lawyers and witnesses.
On October 1, 1946, 12 defendants were sentenced to death--three to life imprisonment and four to 10-to-20 years in prison. In addition, three defendants were acquitted, one committed suicide and one was too frail to stand trial.
The making of the official documentary about the trial became contentious soon after the verdict was rendered, with US military officers in Berlin vying for control with Lorentz, who was chief of Film/Theater/Music for the US War Department's Civil Affairs Division. Lorentz commissioned Stuart Schulberg, who was a civilian, to prepare a treatment. Schulberg was subsequently given a contract by the US Department of War to write and produce Nuremberg. After Jackson approved the script, Schulberg and editor Joe Zigman began production in Berlin in April 1947.
"After the trial, my father found footage in the Berlin apartment of an SS officer named Arthur Nebe, which is considered to be the first film of the gassing of human beings by the Nazis," Sandra Schulberg says. "It showed several very emaciated men and one woman being helped off the back of a flatbed truck and walked into a tiny brick building by a man and a woman wearing white coats. You can see pipes running from a parked car into the building." That footage is included in Nuremberg: Its Lessons for Today.
The Soviets produced their own film about the Nuremberg trial, Sud Narodov (Judgment of the People), which was shown in German theaters in 1947.
Nuremberg premiered at a cinema in Stuttgart in November 1948 with the title Nurnberg und sein Lehre. It subsequently played throughout Germany in 1949.
The first hint that the US government didn't intend to release Nuremberg in the United States was published in a column titled "Hall of Shame" that Walter Winchell wrote for the New York Daily Mirror in April 1949. The Washington Post subsequently published a series of three stories about the suppression of the documentary.
Schulberg traces her inspiration for restoring Nuremberg to 2003, when she was preparing to present several films about the Marshall Plan at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival. The head of the festival set the stage for that retrospective by showing Nuremberg.
During the early stages of her research, she found boxes of her father's documents in her mother's apartment that told the story of the making of Nuremberg. The documents included a telegram from Lorentz to her father saying that he was resigning his position at the War Department effective June 1, 1947. His role as production supervisor was assumed by Eric Pommer, chief of the Motion Picture Branch at Military Government in Berlin.
Schulberg also found a 1949 letter from Lorentz's attorney to the Department of the Army, offering to buy the film so he could release it himself; the offer was refused. In addition, she found documents verifying that Jackson approved of her father's script and a semi-final cut version of the documentary.
Documents were also unearthed indicating that, during the 1970s, the Army turned one 35mm and several 16mm prints over to the National Archives. One of the articles published in The Washington Post reported that Army officials objected to accusations that they had suppressed the documentary. They said it was shown freely in Germany and that a 35mm rough print was available for private screenings at the Pentagon and by small groups of lawyers and moviemakers in various cities. Several 16mm prints in Signal Corps libraries also were available for screenings by bar associations, church groups and schools. But the decision not to release Nuremberg in theaters or on television meant that the vast majority of Americans never saw the film.
The Washington Post stories quoted an unnamed Army official saying, "Forget the Nazis and concentrate on the Reds." People in the government were afraid public opinion in support of the Marshall Plan would be undermined. The stories also reported that the military hierarchy was opposed to war crimes trials being conducted by an independent court. The Washington Post quoted Jackson as saying that the New York City Bar Association wanted to show Nuremberg to members, but was unable to obtain a copy from the Pentagon. The Russian documentary was screened instead.
"We did this project as individuals, not as an institution," Schulberg points out. "I had a hard time raising the money, but from the beginning, my collaborator, Josh Waletzy, and I had tremendous cooperation from people at NARA [US National Archives and Records Administration]." The original negative and sound recordings were either lost or destroyed. "We got the best 35mm print that NARA owns out of cold storage in Kansas," she says. "When the print was shipped to us, we were taken aback because it wasn't good enough quality to use to make a new negative; it was very high-contrast. We learned that the German National Archives had lavender prints, which are very low-contrast. They very generously shipped us a lavender print, which looked very good and had enough details to allow us to make a restored negative at Colorlab in Rockville, Maryland.
"Liev Schreiber did an incredible job of re-recording the narration of the original film in English," Schulberg continues. "Whenever possible, we cut away parts of the narration and substituted original audio from the trial, including comments--in their own voices--made by witnesses, prosecutors and the people on trial. Because the original narration paraphrased their comments almost verbatim, it was possible to insert the actual voices without changing the content of the film.
"Numerous audience members who have seen the film at festivals have been very moved," she notes. "They come up to me after screenings, shake my hand, thank me for the restoration and say that they are going to tell everyone they know about the film. It seems to strike people as both compelling and relevant.
"I hope Americans will see it in the context of today," she adds, "and perhaps put pressure on the Senate to ratify the Rome Treaty that established the International Criminal Court agreement. This experience has taught me that people in Germany have learned the lessons of the Nuremberg trial better than anyone. They really have taken the principles to heart."
Schulberg says that a DVD release will follow the theatrical run, which is expected to continue through February 2011. She wants people to be able to play the film with the original German and English soundtracks, as well as new versions that have been created in Spanish, Farsi, Hebrew and Arabic. French, Polish, Russian and Swahili versions are also planned, and a restored German version is in the works. Schulberg's plans for the DVD include the evidentiary films Nazi Concentration Camps and The Nazi Plan that were shown at Nuremberg, as well as interviews with Nuremberg prosecutors and eye witnesses. Schulberg plans to archive the restored film and all of the documents and other research materials at either NARA or the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.
Schulberg is currently working on a book entitled The Celluloid Noose, about the hunt for Nazi films and the making of Nuremberg, and uses the first-hand accounts of Budd and Stuart Schulberg and Lorentz.
Bob Fisher has been writing about documentary and narrative filmmaking for nearly 40 years, mainly focusing on cinematography and preservation.
Update: Nuremberg launches its national theatrical release January 20 at the Circle Cinema in Tulsa, OK. Here are the other openings in January and February:
San Francisco, CA - January 21, 2011 - Landmark Opera Plaza
Berkeley, CA - January 21, 2011 - Landmark Shattuck
San Jose, CA - January 21, 2011 - Camera 3 Cinema
San Rafael, CA - January 28, 2011 - Rafael Film Center
Minneapolis, MN - February 4, 2011 - Landmark Lagoon
Atlanta, GA - February 18, 2011 - Landmark Midtown Art
Seattle, WA - February 25, 2011 - Landmark Varsity
Columbus, OH - February 26 & 27, 2011 - Wexner Center for the Arts
For more info: www.nurembergfilm.org