Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today was intended for release in 1948 (just two years after the conclusion of the eponymous trial), but for mysterious reasons, that release didn’t happen for another 63 years. No matter. You can just as easily apply the title’s built-in study questions to today’s today: the perils of religious persecution, the easy violence of dehumanization, the importance of balancing humanity and warfare. Clearly, we have not done our homework.
The film’s promotional poster, with oddly trivializing bravado, crows that it’s “the Greatest Courtroom Drama in History” (but have they seen Law & Order: Trial by Jury!?). Nuremberg is a dry and narrow but fascinating account of the Nuremberg trials, pairing actual footage from the courtroom (Hermann Göring covering his face as he hears his charges, stenographers tap-tap-tapping away, the American prosecutor winning ) with painful images of forced marches, mass graves, and living skeletons subject to medical experimentation. It’s a sort of Nazi CliffsNotes—an illustrated list of what they did, in chronological order, without much exploration of how or why.
Toward the close of the trial, Nazi labor chief Robert Ley professes his contrition: “With our anti-Semitism, we violated a basic commandment of God’s creation. It is hard to admit mistakes. The existence of our entire nation is at stake. We must have the courage to rid ourselves of anti-Semitism. God has taught me that in my cell in Nuremberg.” World War II: a “mistake”! Ooooooops! Our bad, you guys! Ley hanged himself in his cell before he could be executed.