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Schulberg presents “Nuremberg” years after its creation

Maija Gustin | Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tonight, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center will be hosting a very special event, sure to be one of the hallmarks of its Fall 2011 season. At 7:30 p.m., filmmaker Sandra Schulberg will present her restoration of her father’s important documentary, “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today.”

The film follows the events of the infamous Nuremberg Trials, held over the course of 11 months in the aftermath of World War II. It is most notable for the prosecution of various political and military leaders of the Nazi government and for the use of the charge of “Crimes Against Humanity” in response to the Holocaust and other serious offenses not prosecutable under the charge of “War Crimes.”

Marine Corps Sergeant Stuart Schulberg, as well as his brother Budd Schulberg, was asked by military officials to compile and provide much of the photographic and video evidence used by Justice Robert H. Jackson against the Nazi leaders in these trials. The head of film at the War Department’s Civil Affairs Division, Pare Lorentz, then commissioned Schulberg to make a film of the Nuremberg Trials themselves.

What came together was a fascinating documentary that provided unprecedented insights into the course of the trial. It features not only footage from the trial itself, but also clips from the Nazi films used by the prosecution to support their charges.

“Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today” proved a remarkable glimpse into the trial and the importance of the Allied governments’ decision to hold a trial, rather than execute Nazi war leaders. Unfortunately, much of its significance was lost on American audiences, who never had an opportunity to see the completed film.

The film was suppressed by the U.S. government under ambiguous circumstances. Sandra Schulberg writes, “‘Nuremberg’ became a victim of the Cold War. By the time it was completed in 1948, we were enemies with the Soviets, yet the film shows us as allies … In April 1948, the Marshall Plan was enacted by the US Congress. European recovery was the new policy, and Germany’s industrial and agricultural resources were essential to that recovery. This public policy shift required a new public relations campaign that stressed the importance of rebuilding Germany and looking forward.” Presenting a film that might bring up buried feelings about Nazi Germany suddenly seemed counter-productive and efforts were made to prevent the film’s release.

In an effort to protect the legacy of her father’s work, Ms. Schulberg discovered a document that substantiates these claims of governmental suppression. She writes, “It is a letter from Secretary of the Army Kenneth Royall, and it is addressed to Justice Jackson. Jackson had wanted the film made so that the whole world could see what had happened at Nuremberg.” The letter reads, “In this country no general release is under consideration. It is my opinion that the theme is contrary to present policies and aims of the government.”

Over 60 years later, Sandra Schulberg is now presenting “Nuremberg” to American audiences for the first time. The process of restoring the film, though, has been a painstaking one. Ms. Schulberg’s first challenge was finding an adequate print to use as the basis of restoration. She was determined that no film footage would be changed, and after a lengthy search, she was provided with a high-quality print from the German Bundesarchiv.

The sound provided another challenge to the “Nuremberg” restoration team. Ms. Schulberg writes, “Our goal was to create an international soundtrack that would permit modern audiences to hear the voices of the English-, French-, and Russian-speaking prosecutors, and those of the German witnesses, defendants and defense attorneys.”

Due to the footage obtained from the original trials, Stuart Schulberg and the other filmmakers working on the original “Nuremberg” had to insert voiceover narration throughout much of the film to offer explanation not presented by the filmed events. Therefore, much of the sound from the trial itself was obscured by this narration.

Sandra Schulberg and her partner on “Nuremberg,” Josh Waletzky, decided to take original sound recordings from the trial and add them with a new narration, done by Live Schreiber, to create the soundtrack.

“The newly-reconstructed soundtrack gives you the feeling of being in the courtroom, and — thanks to the fact that my father’s original narration told you verbatim what the courtroom participants were saying — we managed to do this without changing the content of the original film,” Ms. Schulberg writes.

The Notre Dame community has been vital to the restoration and presentation of “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today.” Professor Jill Godmilow of the Film, Television and Theatre department invited Ms. Schulberg to screen the unrestored version of the film several years back at Notre Dame. It was through this screening and an association with Professor Luc Reydams of the Political Science Department that the “Nuremberg” restoration received generous funding from the Nationaal Archief of The Netherlands. A final philanthropic donation provided the final piece of funding and the restoration began in full and Ms. Schulberg was able to present “Nuremberg” as part of the Erasmus Prize Ceremony in 2009.

Though Ms. Schulberg did not choose the title “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today,” (it was the title of Stuart Schulberg’s original film) it has proved relevant yet. She writes, “I’d like to stress that I think Germany has learned the lessons of Nuremberg better than any other country in the world, including the U.S. Germany is now in the forefront of support for the International Criminal Court, while the U.S. is not even a member.”

The U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Issues, Stephen Rapp, attended the U.S. premiere of “Nuremberg” in June and Ms. Schulberg sees this as a sign of positive changes within the Obama administration toward the ICC. She writes, “My hope is that ‘Nuremberg’ will help awaken American interest in the legacy court of Nuremberg, which really is the ICC, and want to become involved as world citizens and as a nation in supporting the international rule of law.”

Ms. Schulberg also believes that her father’s film contains a powerful anti-war message, one that she hopes contemporary audiences will learn from. She writes, “The first Nuremberg Trial is probably best known for creating the breakthrough indictment of ‘crimes against humanity’ (Count 4), which had never been prosecuted before. But Jackson was even more focused on the ‘crime of aggression’ (Count 1), the very act of starting war … My father chose to end ‘Nuremberg’ with Jackson’s words to this effect: ‘Let Nuremberg stand as warning to all who plan and wage aggressive war.’ Thus, I have come to see Nuremberg not only as a compelling film about the conduct of the trial — what some have called the greatest courtroom drama in history — but also as a powerful anti-war statement. I hope audiences take that anti-war statement to heart.”

“Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today” will be screened tonight at Notre Dame in collaboration with Indiana University/Purdue University Fort Wayne, where the film will be presented Sept. 15.

Steven Carr, Director of the Advanced Holocaust Studies at IU/P Fort Wayne, writes, “Given the tenth anniversary of 9/11, this film is as powerful and as timely as ever. If there were ever a time to see a film about the importance of international human rights and learn in person from the daughter who went to the trouble to restore a film her father directed and that the American public should have seen but didn’t, the tenth anniversary of 9/11 should be it.”

The Notre Dame screening of “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today” will be held in the Browning Cinema at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center tonight at 7:30 p.m. Sandra Schulberg will be present to screen her new restoration.

Contact Maija Gustin at mgustin@nd.edu