I told you I’d pick something serious to talk about today, and I wasn’t kidding!
(Kindly forgive the fact that Alec Baldwin stars. It’s actually a good movie, in spite of him.)
Nuremberg is the story of the first and most famous trial of Nazi war criminals, which began in November 1945 and ended in September 1946. The highest Nazi officials–men like Hermann Goering, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Albert Speer–were judged by an international tribunal for 1) “Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace,” 2) “Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace,” 3) “War crimes,” and 4) “Crimes against humanity.”
Alec Baldwin plays Justice Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor. His duty is to prove the guilt of the Nazi defendants–but Hermann Goering (Brian Cox) nearly succeeds in undermining Jackson’s efforts while insisting upon his own innocence.
To make matters worse, Goering, who was once Hitler’s right-hand man, is charming to a fault, yet scathingly contemptuous of the tribunal, Jackson, and even the condemning evidence piling up against him and his fellow Nazis. His arrogance emboldens many of his colleagues, who follow his lead without question.
Two Nazis, however, take radically different courses. Hans Frank, directly involved in the mass murder of Polish Jews, wallows in self-loathing and remorse, while Albert Speer, the brilliant former Minister of Armaments, eloquently accepts his guilt and that of the German people.
There’s your plot. Now I’m going to tell you what I don’t like about this movie, and then I’ll tell you what I do like.
The biggest thing I hate about this movie is that they add a really corny and unnecessary romance between a married Jackson and his secretary. We fast-forward through it, not only because it’s adultery (adultery that NEVER took place, by the way), but also because the horrible script makes us gag.
Thankfully, this rubbish doesn’t affect the story at all. Just fast-forward and spare yourself the nausea 🙂
Another thing I take serious issue with is the conclusion of the movie itself. According to one character, an American psychologist, the root of evil is “a lack of empathy.” Wrong. A lack of empathy is merely a by-product of evil, and evil is more accurately defined as “the violation of God’s Law.” Sin is sin because it defies the Law of God–nothing more, nothing less.
What the Nazis did was wrong not because they were incapable of empathy with their victims, but because they shook their fists in God’s face and broke, as all men do, the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God . . . and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Those are the two drawbacks. Now I’ll give you my strong reasons for recommending Nuremberg to anyone interested in World War II and the history of the Holocaust. Thanks to the fact that my daddy is a World War II buff himself and passed this interest of his to all of us, Nuremberg is a movie I’ve seen and enjoyed countless times in spite of my caveats.
Firstly, I recommend this movie because it’s firmly based on an actual historical event (unlike Judgement at Nuremberg, which I’ll review not next week, but the week after). The characters are all “real” ones and, for the most part, were cast remarkably well. Brian Cox, for example, looks so much like Hermann Goering, it’s creepy.
Secondly, it’s fairly clean. The morally objectionable parts (the aforementioned romance and a few snippets of mild language) can be easily skipped or muted. Be aware, though, that there are graphic testimonies from the concentration camps, including the infamous video from the camps, and two Nazis commit suicide. For the sake of my youngest siblings we skipped the concentration camp video and the suicides this go-round.
Thirdly, I never cease to be intrigued by the character of Albert Speer.
Speer (played by German actor Herbert Knaup) is the most three-dimensional character. He’s not a disgusting caricature like Julius Streicher, and he isn’t drop-dead boring like Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Justice Jackson. But he’s not Gollum-ish, either, a la Hans Frank, torn between two selves.
On the contrary: Speer, a pragmatist who followed Hitler for a time, now throws off his pragmatism and tears it to shreds, thus becoming the only German defendant with any moral courage. He takes full responsibility for what happened in Germany, at the risk of alienating himself from his countrymen, incurring Goering’s wrath, and getting the death penalty.
Even Justice Jackson’s platitudes don’t have nearly the same effect as Albert Speer’s painful honesty and admission of guilt, which (in my personal opinion) makes him the tragic hero of the film. Bizarre, isn’t it? And yet I can’t describe him any other way. Yes, he was still guilty–but it makes a whole lot of difference when you know you’re guilty and resist any temptation to shirk that guilt, then condemn yourself on the witness stand, only reluctantly admitting (because you don’t want to make yourself look good) that you actually tried to assassinate Hitler, and then thank your judges for delivering justice upon you and your colleagues.
That’s why I find him so fascinating.
(Note to the filmmakers: if you’d trashed that stupid romance and given Albert Speer more screen time, your movie would’ve been ten times better. Thank you.)
William Shirer, author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and a journalist at the trials, wrote that Speer:
“made the most straightforward impression of all and . . . during the long trial spoke honestly and with no attempt to shirk his responsibility and his guilt.”
He was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but was given only 20 years imprisonment. The court, after examining the evidence, ruled that
” . . . in the closing stages of the war [Speer] was one of the few men who had the courage to tell Hitler that the war was lost and to take steps to prevent the senseless destruction of production facilities, both in occupied territories and in Germany. He carried out his opposition to Hitler’s scorched earth program . . . by deliberately sabotaging it at considerable personal risk.”
Nuremberg is worth watching if only to see the sharp contrast between Goering and Speer. One insisted on blind loyalty to Hitler even to the end, while the other had the guts to admit and accept his guilt like a man.
I have more thoughts about these trials, but I’m going to confine them to my movie review of Judgement at Nuremberg, which goes into some deeper issues about the everyday man in Nazi Germany. I think, though, that this image sums up the message of both movies:
True moral courage defies and defeats pragmatism. Be this guy no matter the cost, whether you’re in a position of authority or if you’re just an ordinary person. Evil only triumphs when good men do nothing.