A conversation with Sandra Schulberg, the film’s co-creator/co-producer
Let Nuremberg stand as a warning to all who wage aggressive war, Justice Robert H. Jackson said in his closing statement at the first International Criminal Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany.
“Nuremberg” is a peculiar film to critique or write about; there are two different ways to consider it. If you read the poster’s tagline and see the trailer, you’ll expect an epochal courtroom drama, which knocks almost any last half-hour of “Law & Order” on its butt. If you somehow ignore or avoid the publicity, you find a disparate experience; you find the adamant anti-war message, which Justice Jackson, the Chief Prosecutor wanted.
“The greatest courtroom drama in history” poses more than a rhetorical problem; not only does that not describe “Nuremberg,” but that was neither Budd or Stuart Schulberg’s objective in making it, nor Justice Jackson’s. He chose to use the film as evidence in his case against the Nazis. Films made to be used as evidence probably don’t lend themselves to mass audiences with ease.
To Sandra Schulberg’s mind, Mr. Jackson meant for the trial film to fill a nearly impossible order: be a comprehensive anti-war film, above and beyond the topics of war crimes or the Holocaust. But those last pieces would show their faces, even if they were incidental to his agenda against what he called “aggressive war.” And, then, he faced trial-based considerations. Above all, his and the court’s zealous efforts established what we now call The Nuremberg Principles and the prospect of filing charges against crimes against peace (as in violating treaties) not humanity.
A conversation with Sandra Schulberg answered several profound questions. And without being asked many of the questions that had been prepared, she went on to answer them either out of instinct or in an organic follow-up.
Will Wright: The poster calls the film “the greatest courtroom drama in history.” I was surprised that so much archival footage dominated the story. I expected more court room, direct and cross examinations.
Sandra Schulberg: “This goes back to how the film was constructed. It’s a very complex film! All the affidavits from my father’s [Stuart Schulberg] unit [Photographic Branch/War Crimes unit] to identify every bit of footage…”Ms. Schulberg said. “They [film crew] were sent to Germany in the months leading up to the trail, to put those together hand-to-hand with the prosecution with the film, “The Nazi Plan,” from 1945, according to imdb.
“I think the problem they ran into with the courtroom footage, they were supposed to film the courtroom themselves, but they had to turn it down ‘we can’t shoot the courtroom, we’re too busy’ with the evidentiary assignment.”
“Also they were really trying to…tell the whole story of the trial. In a way they had to explain what led to the trial. …To support the four counts of the indictment.” (They felt an obligation in 1949 to tell or remind people of the time-line of atrocities.) “So when it came to there not being a court trial film… this was a critical reason for that.”
The filmmakers also confronted unpleasant and pragmatic geopolitical considerations. America’s foreign policy agenda had been knocked around a bit.
SS: “Two, it [America] became dedicated to rebuilding Germany’s economy. So a film that reminded you of just how horrible they had been would have undermined the American support for helping Germany. …During the war, people were persuaded that Germany had to be stopped.”
“The person who was – two people – who were very disturbed by the American decision not to show it to Americans. The Russians became impatient, released “Judgment of the People,” and rented a big theater, [the] Stanley Theater, in NYC.”
“Pare Lorentz was the unsung hero. Lorentz, he hired my father to make this film. He was in charge of film, theater and music for the War Department. It was Pare’s job to supervise the making of this film. When he heard of American hesitance, he offered to buy it, so that he could release it. He was refused. He only got a print in the 1970s, getting a copy from” the U.S. National Archives.
SS: “When Jackson wanted to show the film, he thought “how on Earth do we expect to compete with the Russians?!,” Jackson wondered, when the Americans couldn’t even get the film released. “He really pushed the government to show the film.” He was finally sent a letter from the Secretary of the Army: “…It would not be useful to have the film seen.”
“They [American senior leaders] were very worried that, by that time,1949, if you showed the film to American’s, that it would undermine support for the new Germany.” So the United States, as ever, had to decide which “truth,” among the several valid, although conflicting ones, best served the nation’s and culture’s strategic agenda, even if others, like either of the Messrs Schulberg or Justice Jackson were disgusted.
WW: It’s a vital historical document?
SS: “That’s on the one hand. One is that the film leaves incontrovertible record of the Nazi crimes. And Jackson says in his opening statements. Every count of this can be proved by their own records, this avalanche of documents of the Nazis. The trail left this indelible record,” Ms. Schulberg said.
“…Another piece of this is that the principle established at Nuremberg, the crime against humanity began the precedent: ‘The Nuremberg Principles.'” There was a forty-some year gap between that and the modern trials,” such as those in Rwanda or Serbia and Yuoslavia and elsewhere.
Exposing this vehement anti-war film to fresh American eyes and minds
SS: “What I’ve learned from showing that film, in the US, they’ve never seen any of the courtroom material. They haven’t seen a succinct summary of every thing that led to this. All of the emphasis in the first third of the film was… the crimes of peace. “Let Nuremberg stand as a warning to all who wage aggressive war,” Chief Prosecutor Jackson said. “I’ve come to see this film as a really powerful message against all war. Jackson was focused on using the trial as a way of deterring future acts of aggression,” Schulberg said.
Ms. Schulberg had also been stunned by the paucity of trial footage, and what the film’s and Justice Jackson’s objective had been. The question – what constitutes crimes against humanity came into play. “These are very important pieces of the story. That’s what surprised me – how much emphasis on crimes of aggression, crimes against peace,” she said.
SS: “The lesson of the film, today, of course one learns again a great deal about World War II, we’re still dealing with these crimes against humanity. There were legal principles that established to punish those crimes.”
Comparing “Nuremberg” to iconic popular Holocaust films…
WW: How do you expect viewers to take different from better known or iconic Holocaust films, like 1993’s “Schindler’s List or 1990’s “Europa, Europa” or a recent documentary like 2004’s “Paper Clips?”
SS: “The films that you cite are fiction films” the most closest fiction film to dealing with this is “Judgment at Nuremberg” at lot of people will assume that it’s about the same trail I will be that one is about the fourth one – the third that followed the first one.”
“This film fills a big gap in the historical record…because at the time, there was no other film about the trail. This was meant to be the film that…the world should see,” Ms. Schulberg said.