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'Nuremberg': Trials and Tribulations on Way to Screen

April 28, 2011 By:
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Sandra Schulberg

Judgment of "Nuremberg" has been long in arriving.

But now, 63 years after the documentary made at the behest of the U.S. War Department and the Office of Strategic Services was completed and shown in Germany -- but shoved into a cubbyhole committed to oblivion in the States -- it is premiering this weekend at the Ritz at the Bourse.

Restored and restating one of the most important trials of the 20th century, "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today" offers just that -- as well as what it provided more than six decades earlier.

The lessons are not lost on Sandra Schulberg, whose father, Stuart Schulberg, and uncle, Budd Schulberg, were two members of the OSS team (along with such notables as Ray Kellogg) responsible for this timeless but somehow lost-to-time documentary of the trial of war criminals of Hitler's heinous ring.

"Death by hanging!" was the fate awaiting many of the noxious Nazis in the German city where the trial was held in 1945 and 1946.

But why was the public literally left hanging for so many years, as the film found its way to German screens immediately but not to American audiences?

It is a puzzlement of mazes and mistakes as well as guarded secrets that secrete somewhat a distrust of the American public to handle two enemies at one time.

As one journalistic wag reasoned of what would be a six-decade delay, Americans -- by postwar, taken up with the sinister Soviets -- could only handle one enemy at a time.

And had the public here seen "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today" then, the reasoning went, there is little doubt they would have marshalled forces to derail what was the Marshall Plan of redevelopment of Germany.

A viewing of this film in 2011 sets back the calendar on its ear and year, to a time when Nazi atrocities were carried out with ease and sleaze by barbarians at the gates of Auschwitz and Mauthausen.

The film, hailed by at least one critic as "one of the most historic films never seen," shows off horrid war atrocities in film clips -- the inclusion at the trial a startling effective tool by Nuremberg's chief U.S. prosecutor -- defended by shrugs of shoulders by seemingly even-tempered men in suits and ties who just years earlier, in their spiffy uniforms and with sadistic temperaments, had shrugged off Jewish humanity as one geared for the ash heap.

Heaps of praise have since come Sandra Schulberg's way, as well as filmmaker Josh Waletzky (director, "Partisans of Vilna"), who have restored some sense of sanity -- as well as the print/soundtrack itself -- to the injustice of this "Nuremberg" left unattended.

Meant to Be

Producer Schulberg shoulders a responsibility that she shares with her father and other filmmakers, calling it "bashert" to have brought "Nuremberg" through trials and tribulations over the past eight years or so.

"It was meant to be -- bashert -- on two levels," she says, one being "that I 'inherited' the documentary," a soiled copy of which was found in her late father's files, "and the other is that I am a movie producer.

"The project would have been daunting for a dentist or a lawyer, but not for a movie producer. It is well within my competence. I didn't have to worry as being identified solely as Stewart Schulberg's daughter; I have a long career behind me as a producer."

And a future, apparently, as well. The final product on the Ritz screen -- replete with title cards from the original German shoot -- is a frightening a reminder of, as Wordsworth once said, "what man has made of man."

There is a poetic justice that "Nuremberg" finds a screen on the 50th anniversary of the release of the feature film, "Judgement at Nuremberg," the fictionalized account of a later Nuremberg trial (there were 12 in all.) The one refreshed onscreen by Schulberg is probably the most historically prominent, with such Hitler henchmen as Rudolf Hess and Herman Göring at the docket of life and death.

In a way, the opening now is a vindication for those whose original roles have not been tarnished by time: Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, whose role as an articulate and defiantly dynamic U.S. chief prosecutor is only enhanced with viewings; original producer Pare Lorentz, whose frustration with the inability to get the film shown in the United States led to his stepping down from his position as chief of the Film, Theater and Music Section of the War Department, where the late filmmaker became "one of the leaders of the American documentary tradition," avers Schulberg; Ray Kellogg of the OSS; and Joe Zigman, the original film's editor.

And, of course, her father and Bud Schulberg, the latter who would go from on the war front to make "On the Waterfront."

Schulberg's father's fight was diminished somewhat by another assignment and another battle he was asked to lead by the U.S. government: What did you do in the postwar, Daddy? After "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today" was finished, "he was asked to stay in Europe and make de-Nazification films," says his daughter.

In covering the history of "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today," did Sandra Schulberg discover a coverup? "I would not have said that before, but I know now" -- having seen what she calls a "smoking letter" of an order signed by the then Secretary of the Army, Kenneth C. Royal, revealed by author John Q. Barrett in his book about Justice Jackson -- that the film was held so as to not hold up the implementation of the Marshall Plan.

The filmmaker can understand Royal's reasoning. She herself "had some hesitation" before proceeding with the documentary's restoration, fearing it would also restore past hates and "remind Americans -- Jews in particular -- of the Nazi horrors.

"But Germany has learned its lesson since Nuremberg and should get tremendous credit" for the about-face it has taken since the war, morally and politically, she claims.

The nuances of Nuremberg are not lost on others: Argentina, with its long hated history of dictatorial rule and "disappeared" protesters, has welcomed the film as has Guatemala, which recently hosted a screening of the film translated into Spanish.

Its message is not lost in translation or in transition to other countries. More than anything, says Schulberg, "the echoes of Nuremberg," and now this movie, sound the alarm for potential victims of suppressed states as they dance up to the precipice of prejudice and see how to avoid that fatal fall.

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