Filmmakers for the Prosecution: A “Story Behind the Story” of the Nuremberg Trials
Growing up, Sandra Schulberg knew very little about her father’s work during World War II. Like many men returning from war, he didn’t talk about it much. After her mother died, she found among her mother’s things boxes and boxes of materials related to the Nuremberg trials, the international tribunal by which Nazi government and military officials were tried in an international court for their crimes.
Tucked in among the photos and documents, she found a 16mm film. It was a documentary that followed the trial from beginning to end, and it turned out that her father, Stuart Schulberg, had been the chief filmmaker behind it. U.S. officials had wanted to show the world that, despite the enormity of Nazi crimes, impartial justice had been done according to due process, and her father, still in his twenties at the time, had been given the task of creating an official documentary. He completed the film in early 1948, but for complicated political reasons, it was shown in Germany but never released in the U.S. It might have been forgotten forever after that, but for Sandra’s care with her mother’s belongings and curiosity about her father.
Sandra had known nothing about these things, and as part of the years-long process of making sense of her father’s work, she restored the film and released it in 2010 under its original title, Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today. Much of it consists of footage shot by Stuart and his team inside the courtroom.
Here is the trailer:
Condemned by Their Own Words
Sandra and her team have now produced a follow-up film, Filmmakers for the Prosecution. Filmmakers for the Prosecution tells one of the stories behind the story of Nuremberg. The legal strategy at Nuremberg involved using the defendants’ own words and recordings to convict them. Whether out of arrogance or something as mundane as bureaucratic recordkeeping, the Nazis had gone to great lengths to document their activities. These would be presented as evidence, and in fact, the courtroom was intentionally arranged so that a large screen could be placed at a central focal point.
Filmmakers for the Prosecution tells the story of the films that were shown in the courtroom. Stuart Schulberg, along with his older brother, Budd, were part of an OSS team sent to Germany to locate the Nazi archives, sift through them, and use what they found to make films pertaining to the charges that would be brought. It was a monumental task.
For months, they scoured Bavaria and southern Germany. In more ways than one, it was a race against time, as the trial was set to begin in the fall, meaning they had a hard deadline to meet, while they also had to stay ahead of bad actors in Germany who were feverishly trying to destroy evidence. But with the help of informants and other “lucky breaks,” they acquired thousands of images and hundreds of newsreels, which they then worked into two films.
The first one, shown a few weeks into the trial, was an hour-long compilation of footage shot by Allied forces liberating the concentration camps. I won’t go into the details; everyone has seen some of this imagery by now, but here is how Yves Beigbeder, assistant to a French Judge at Nuremberg who was in his early twenties at the time, described the scene in the courtroom after it was shown:
It was extremely disturbing. These horrific images were being shown at the very beginning of the trial, and they provoked considerable emotion, even among the defendants, who could no longer say that it hadn’t happened. … It was an abomination. It created a terrible shock. Even the defendants who had been saying, “We didn’t know about it …” even they were forced to confront the horror.
Some of the defendants were visibly troubled. Others sat in stunned silence. Most had little to nothing to say. In a lecture given near the end of his life. Budd Schulberg’s voice still trembled when he talked about it.
Two more weeks into the trial, the second film was shown. “The Nazi Plan” was a three-plus hour-long montage of motion picture evidence substantiating the charge that the war and atrocities committed by the Nazis had been premeditated. Much of the footage had been taken from the Nazis’ own archives.
There was really very little that could be said in their defense. Their own words and actions, although carried out by functionaries, were unspeakably damning.
Here is the trailer for Filmmakers for the Prosecution:
Learning from History
The trial went on for several more months and included typical trial proceedings, including eyewitness testimony, but there’s no question that the films had a profound effect, as they went far beyond what any written word or eyewitness testimony could convey.
Is this film relevant for today? Here Sandra Shulberg’s response:
Filmmakers for the Prosecution deals with important and fascinating issues about how film is used to “write history.” It also has particular relevance to the war in Ukraine. Eli Rosenbaum, one of our main protagonists, is now America’s newly-appointed Counselor for War Crimes Accountability, picking up the mantle from Ben Ferencz, our only surviving Nuremberg prosecutor. As both of them say, “We still haven’t learned the lessons of Nuremberg.”
My take after watching it was to recall the phrase coined by Hannah Arendt, a Holocaust survivor who attended the 1961 trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem. (Eichmann had managed to escape being captured after the war and lived in hiding until the Israeli government captured him and brought him to Israel to stand trial.) Arendt was struck by the strangeness of the thought that the small, slightly balding, bland bureaucrat standing accused was the same man who had committed horrific crimes on a massive scale. She coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe the idea that great evil can look so very … ordinary.
“Eichmann is in all of us.”
The same was true of the Nuremberg defendants as they appeared in the Schulberg films. And according to the biblical witness, the same is true of all of us.
In 1994, Charles Colson made that point using the words of another witness to Eichmann’s trial:
Among the witnesses called to testify against Eichmann was a small, haggard man named Yehiel Dinur. He had survived brutal torture in the death camp at Auschwitz. Dinur entered the courtroom and he stared at the man who had presided over the slaughter of millions— including many of Dinur’s own friends.
As the eyes of the victim met those of the mass murderer, the courtroom fell silent. Then, suddenly, Dinur literally collapsed to the floor, sobbing violently.
Was he overcome by hatred? By memories of the stark evil that Eichmann had committed?
No. As Dinur explained later in a riveting interview on “60 Minutes,” what struck him was that Eichmann did not look like an evil monster at all; he looked like an ordinary person. Just like anyone else. In that moment, Dinur said, “I realized that evil is endemic to the human condition—that any one of us could commit the same atrocities.”
In a remarkable conclusion, Dinur said: “Eichmann is in all of us.”
Eichmann is in all of us. We say, “Never Again,” and most every one of us means it when we say it. But if Never Again is going to hold true, this is the real lesson that needs to be learned.
**Filmmakers for the Prosecution opened on January 27th. Click here for information about showings.Terrell Clemmons
is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.• Get SALVO blog posts in your inbox! Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/post/never-again