Decades later, justice for brothers’ ‘Nuremberg’

Restored film of first trial of top Nazis premieres in US

Stuart Schulberg (left, with brother Budd) was commissioned by the US War Department to make a documentary about the first war crimes trial of top Nazi leaders. Stuart Schulberg (left, with brother Budd) was commissioned by the US War Department to make a documentary about the first war crimes trial of top Nazi leaders. (Photo Courtesy of Schulberg Productions And Metropolis Productions)
By Loren King
Globe Correspondent / January 23, 2011

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Stuart and Budd Schulberg are renowned figures in television and cinema history — Stuart produced “David Brinkley’s Journal’’ and “Today’’ for NBC in the 1960s and his older brother, Budd, wrote “On the Waterfront’’ and “A Face in the Crowd.’’ But their most enduring legacy might be “Nuremberg,’’ the 1948 documentary commissioned by the United States military about the first war crimes trial of Nazi leaders in 1945, just six months after the end of World War II. Although released in Germany, the film was withheld in the United States for six decades until Sandra Schulberg, Stuart’s daughter, restored it.

“Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today’’ opens Friday at the Kendall Square Cinema with Sandra Schulberg present for question-and-answer sessions on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Schulberg first learned of the documentary in 2003 while going through papers in her mother’s apartment. “Nuremberg’’ had never been “lost,’’ she said, as much as it was “actively shelved’’ by the United States government for various political reasons including the advent of the Cold War and skittishness over the images of the Nazi death camps in the documentary. “A 16mm print sat on my father’s shelf near his TV for more than 20 years. But that was useless for restoration,’’ said Schulberg. Eventually she tracked down a 35mm print that had been stored in government archives at a facility in Nebraska. She then embarked on a five-year effort to raise money to restore the original 35mm film.

“I’m not a historian or a Holocaust scholar but watching my father’s film for the first time, in 2004, I felt as though I got new insight into the rise of the Nazi party. Growing up, I knew about my father’s later career in television, but like many children, we didn’t talk about what happened before I was born,’’ she said. “By the time I became interested in this film, in 2004, my father was long gone. I was lucky I could ask Budd.’’

To her great sadness, Budd Schulberg died in August 2009 before restoration of “Nuremberg’’ had been completed. “But he knew that I’d accomplished it and he was very happy,’’ she said.

As part of director John Ford’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Strategic Services Field Photographic Branch/War Crimes Unit, Budd and Stuart Schulberg were dispatched to Europe to compile footage from Nazi propaganda films, newsreels, and private movies that hadn’t been destroyed by the Germans at the end of the war. The assembled footage was used as evidence during the first Nuremberg trial of the top Nazi war criminals. There were later trials of lesser Nazis; “Judgment at Nuremberg,’’ the 1961 feature film, deals with the trial of Nazi judges. The United States War Department, with direct input from Justice Robert H. Jackson, the US prosecutor at Nuremberg, commissioned Stuart Schulberg to complete a documentary about the first trial that attempted to hold accountable some 22 principal architects of Nazi atrocities, including Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, and Albert Speer. For Sandra Schulberg, it was essential that the restored film allow audiences to hear the voices of the Nazis as well as Jackson’s famous opening statement that outlined the mission and importance of the historic tribunal.

“My vision from the beginning was to use the original soundtrack and narration,’’ said Schulberg. The new narration, spoken by Liev Schreiber, “contains very minor changes’’ from Stuart Schulberg’s original, she said. Since the surviving film had only a German soundtrack, the biggest challenge for the restorers was to create an English soundtrack from courtroom recordings. For that task, Schulberg turned to editor, composer, and filmmaker Josh Waletzky, who directed the acclaimed 1986 documentary “Partisans of Vilna,’’ about the Jewish partisan movement in Lithuania during World War II.

Waletzky said the Nuremberg courtroom testimony was originally recorded on cylinders, then transferred to reels. He had to synchronize the sound with visual footage, a painstaking but important process. “The goal from the beginning was to get us as close into that Nuremberg courtroom as possible. It was tricky because the filmmakers recorded everything over the 10-month trial, but filmed only 40 hours,’’ he said.

Schulberg and Waletzky wanted to hear the actual voices of the defendants as they delivered their denials and the impassioned words of the US, Soviet, French, and British prosecutors, even if the sound and image were not in sync. “We wanted to preserve the exact intention of the original filmmakers as closely as possible using the audio in the original ‘loose sync’ style,’’ said Waletzky, who also supervised the recording of the film’s original score, re-created by composer John Califra from musical cues made by the film’s original composer, Hans-Otto Borgmann, whose many credits included Nazi propaganda movies.

For Schulberg, the restoration and long-delayed showing of “Nuremberg’’ in the United States is part of the rich legacy of her father and uncle but also a “vindication’’ for Pare Lorentz, the film’s original producer. “This is a posthumous tribute to Pare Lorentz. He was more disturbed than my father was about what happened to the documentary,’’ she said. “Pare resigned [as head of Film, Theatre and Music in the War Department’s Civil Affairs Division] in frustration over the bureaucracy that would not release the film in the United States. He was personally outraged and tried to buy back the rights and release it himself. I think it had a bigger psychological impact on Pare than on my father, who went on to make de-Nazification films as part of the Marshall Plan in Germany after the war.’’

Schulberg said she is struck by the impact the documentary is having in countries that are facing their own history of war crimes, such as the former Yugoslavia and Guatemala. She said 2,000 Guatemalans packed a theater last year for a Spanish-language screening of “Nuremberg.’’

“The film resonated for them because of the atrocities and disappearances their country endured in the 1980s,’’ she said. “It’s vital that people remember the innovative legal groundwork established at Nuremberg that attempted to hold people accountable for crimes against humanity and acts of aggression. Nuremberg is a mirror into which we all must look, individually and as nations.’’

Loren King can be reached at

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