The entire world condemned what happened during the holocaust and the atrocities Hitler and SS unleashed on humanity. The Germans themselves suffered significantly in the aftermath of the world war and were perhaps subdued for a long while under a towering guilt. The legimitation of the guilt was done by the allies, primarily US by trying the entire backbone of Nazi Germany – whether economic, administrative or political in a series of trials famously or infamously called the Nuremberg Trials.
The 1961 Stanley Kramer movie is a powerful and moving depiction of the trials. Based on the trials of judges who carried out the Nazi law, it raises some very interesting and thought-provoking questions. Though a fictional account of the trials, the movie carries remarkable pieces of the horrible reality. There did occur a Judges’ trial, there was an infamous “Feldenstein case”, which outraged all sense of justice and the movie shows actual videos of German ghettos/concentration camps shot by American soldiers. Though all of us have heard about and shuddered at the account of Jewish miseries, no thought could match the actual image of a thousands of barely skinned skeletons lying in heaps and paraded by bull-dozers like factory trash. Watching those images leaves a lump in your throat that is difficult to swallow.
The trial raises some uncomfortable questions – Is it a crime to look away and give tacit approval to the monstrocities, even if you are only vaguely aware of them? Is it a crime to continue with a regular life when your neighbours are vanishing into the night and the faces you have known perhaps for years are slowly disappearing from the streets? If it is, then why are the Germans the sole bearers of this crime? Did not the whole world look away even as they heard Hitler’s views on ethnic cleansing? If they continued with normal lives and sometimes even lent a credibility to Hitler and his agenda, are they not equally to blame as the Germans?
The film both raised and dealt with those questions skillfully – it did not attempt to answer all of them because moral dilemmas cannot be always cleared by Q&A. However, it maintained that shifting the blame on a greater world does not absolve the active prepetrators of those crimes, even if the participation was limited to legalization of crime and not the act itself. I think the judgement of Judge Haywood was remarkably mature and a hard one.
The film had some great performances that are difficult to see in one place. Maximilian Schell as the defense lawyer was brilliant and won an Oscar for his performance. Spencer Tracy (as Judge Haywood) , Richard Widmark (prosecutor) and Burt Lancaster (defendant) suited the characters to a Tee. I tremenduously liked each of them.
A wonderful creation of cinema, the kind that makes us see the reality with greater clarity perhaps.