Notes of a Reporter at Large • 02-03-11 | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 03 February 2011 17:17

Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

“Nuremberg” is a documentary film about the trial of Nazi big shots before an international military tribunal for crimes against humanity duirng the Second World War. Nuremberg was picked as the site for the hearing because it was the German city where Hitler designed the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, depriving Jews of German citizenship and forbidding marriage or sexual relations between Jews and “citizens of Germany.” Those laws, and the massive Nazi Party rallies in the Bavarian city during Hitler’s rise to power and from 1933 through 1938, preordained the mass murders of millions which, today, is known as the Holocaust.

I have a particular interest in the documentary because it was produced and written by an old boss of mine, Stuart Schulberg. In the 1970s, Stuart ran the NBC Today Show when I was one of his writer-producers. A superb journalist, he paid more attention to stories that the public should know about rather than what focus groups targeted. When ratings for a new competitor, ABC’s Good Morning, America, began gaining ground on Today, Stuart was fired. (He died in 1979 at 56.)

Back in the summer of 1945, he was in the Navy; and, along with his brother, Budd (who would write the movie classic “On the Waterfront”), they set out to find films and photographs to be used as evidence in the trial against Hitler’s top lieutenants at Nuremberg. In a hunt for evidence, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Reels of film were snatched from fires thought to have been set by one of the German film editors assisting the brothers. Budd Schulberg personally apprehended Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favorite film-maker, at her Austrian chalet to work alongside him in the editing room as a material witness.”

When the film was finished — directed and written by Stuart — it was distributed in 1948 all over Germany but never shown in the U.S. Washington probably feared inciting anti-German feelings at a time when the U.S. was building an anti-Communist alliance in western Europe in the early days of the Marshall Plan and the Cold War.

As they say, the past is prologue. Sandra Schulberg, Stuart’s daughter, a filmmaker and Columbia University professor, saw a German-language version of her father’s film at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival. Her interest deepened when she took inventory of her father’s papers. Today, thanks to his daughter’s efforts, Stuart’s magnum opus is restored. It has been playing in theatres in New York, San Francisco, Berkeley and San Rafael, among other cities.

“We had to start over from scratch,” she told the Journal interviewer. Only 25 hours of film footage were shot of the trial but the entire proceedings were recorded on audio. Matching sound and image was an act of creative will and filial love.

Stuart hesitated over a title. First he wrote, “Day of Wrath,” and then “A New Day Dawns.” Finally, on the final script dated April 1948 — he wrote in pencil, “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today.”

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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