The first Nuremberg trial (formally known as the International Military Tribunal) was convened November 20, 1945, in Nuremberg, Germany, to try the top Nazi leaders. The verdict was rendered October 1, 1946. The lead U.S. prosecutor, and the driving force behind the organization of the trial, was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. During preparation for the trial, Jackson made the bold and historic decision to use film and photo evidence to convict the Nazis. But these films had to be found.
A special OSS film team was formed for this purpose, under the command of Hollywood director John Ford. Brothers Budd and Stuart Schulberg, sons of the former Paramount studio chief B.P. Schulberg, were assigned to this special OSS search team that was dispatched to Europe.
The search for incriminating film was conducted under enormous time pressure, and they encountered sabotage along the way. They found two caches of film still burning, as though their guardians had been tipped off, and began to suspect leaks from their German informants, two SS film editors.
Just in time for the start of the trial, they found significant evidence, which, in close collaboration with Jackson’s staff of lawyers, they edited into a 4-hour film for the courtroom called The Nazi Plan. Jackson also presented their compilation of U.S. and British images from the liberated concentration camps, entitled Nazi Concentration Camps.
Justice Jackson had wanted a film made of the Trial from the beginning. Its purpose was to be a dual one: 1) to show the German public that the Nazi leadership had been given a fair trial and had, essentially, “convicted themselves,” and 2) to create a film for posterity that would offer an enduring lesson for all mankind.
It was planned that Ford’s OSS unit would take charge of the filming, but they were so busy assembling footage to show at the Trial, that they had to decline responsibility. Thus, at the last minute, responsibility was shifted to another branch.
Army Signal Corps cameramen and still photographers filmed the Trial, but shot only 25 hours over the course of 10½ months.
In the winter of 1946, Stuart Schulberg and his editor, Joe Zigman, were commissioned by Pare Lorentz (head of the Film/Theatre/Music in the Civil Affairs Division of the U.S. War Department of War) to create a documentary about the trial.
Schulberg and Zigman found themselves terribly constrained by the available footage. Crucial coverage simply did not exist. On the other hand, a complete sound recording of the trial was made. In an article that Stuart Schulberg wrote in 1949, he described the frustrating process:
”The greatest technical difficulty involved the use of original recorded testimony from the trial itself. It was important, if the film’s authenticity was to be convincing, that Goering and his colleagues speak their lame lines of defense in their own, well-known voices...It became necessary to secure the wax recordings of the proceedings stored in Nuremberg, to re-record the pertinent words on film and then to synchronize that sound recording with the lip movements of the respective defendants.... Many weeks after the original request, the records arrived from Nuremberg. The discs were re-recorded on film in half of one day, and about a month later the meticulous job of ‘dubbing’ the original voices of the defendants was completed.”
(Stuart Schulberg, Nurnberg, Information Bulletin, No. 164, June 28, 1949, Office of Military Government for Germany, Berlin.)
Just as the impetus for the trial had come from the Americans, so the Americans sought from the beginning to control production of the film about the trial. But, in the fall of 1946, disagreements about the script and filmmaking process arose, not only within the four-power Documentary Film Working Party (DFWP), but also between the U.S. Military Government in Berlin and the War Department in Washington.By the spring of 1947, Pare Lorentz, Chief of the Film, Theater, Music (FTM) Section of the War Department’s Civil Affairs Division (and creator of The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River) had finally won control of the film, and was sending his writer-director designate, Stuart Schulberg, to Berlin.
Schulberg and editor Joseph Zigman completed the 78-minute film in Berlin in early 1948, and chose as its final title, Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today. It was shown to West German audiences for the first time in November 1948, in the city of Stuttgart. Because of the Soviet Blockade of Berlin, the premiere in that city was delayed until May 1949.
For more information on the original filmmakers including links to their biographies, please visit the 1948 Film Credits page.