Judgment at Nuremberg Is a 1961 Film Term Paper

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Judgment at Nuremberg is a 1961 film, which gives a fictionalized account of the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials. It stars Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Werner Klemperer and William Shatner. The movie was written by Abby Mann and directed by Stanley Kramer. The film does not depict the trial of the military and political leaders of Nazi Germany who were held responsible for the crimes against humanity committed during World War II or the Holocaust as a whole; rather, the film depicts the trial of certain judges who carried out the laws promulgated by the Nazi state. Such a trial did actually take place.

The film was inspired by the Judges' Trial before the United States (U.S.) Nuremberg Military Tribunal in 1947. It won the Academy Award for Best Actor (Maximilan Schell) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Spencer Tracy), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Montgomery Clift), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Judy Garland), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.

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The trial takes place in 1948 long after the trials of the major German military generals when most people had lost interest in such proceedings. Writer Mann chose to write about the trial of German judges, the people who above all, should have seen the evil of Hitler and his followers coming. "This issue, deceptively simple in basic moral terms but highly involved and perplexing when set against hard realities, is the question of how much responsibility and guilt the individual must bear for crimes committed or condoned by him on the order and in the interest of the state."

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Assigned to the trial as Chief Judge is Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy), a low profile justice, who by his own admission, was not the original or subsequent choice. The prosecutor is Col. Tad Lansing (Richard Widmark) an "army man" who vows to convict the four ex-German Judges. Defending the accused is Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell) who must convince the court that the defendants were acting only for the love of their country. Among the defendants are respected Judge Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) who has written several books on law accepted the world over. Lawson accuses the defendants of signing orders for the sterilization of innocent men and the execution of those who opposed to the Reich and the extermination of the Jews. He puts Rudolph Peterson (Montgomery Clift) on the stand as a victim of sterilization. Rolfe manages to expose the pitiful Peterson as mentally challenged. Later Irene Hoffman (Judy Garland) is put on the stand to explain her alleged affair at the age of 16 with an elderly Jew. As his coup de grace, Lawson shows a film depicting the horrors of German concentration camps.

In between the sessions, Judge Haywood strikes up a friendship with Madame Bertholt (Marlene Dietrich) the widow of a former German general, in whose former home the judge is staying. In spite of their differences they begin to grow fond of each other.

The army pressures Lawson to ease up, and suggests that acquittal or light sentences would best serve American interests, since this was the time that the blockade of Berlin was beginning. Judge Haywood is also pressured to go easy on the sentencing.

When the Tribunal renders judgment, all are found guilty and all receive life imprisonment. Judge Hayward affirms the value of a single human life, and the responsibility of the justices, and by implication the German people, for their actions and inaction. Hayward later talks to Janning in his cell, and Janning tells Judge Hayward that he truly didn't know, that he didn't know that it would come to the mass executions. In a powerful moment, Judge Hayward tells him that it "came to it" the first time Janning signed the order for the execution of a man he knew was innocent.

Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood... The reason I asked you to come. Those people, those millions of people... I never knew it would come to that. YOU must believe it, YOU MUST believe it.

Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

The Judges' Trial (or the Justice Trial, or, officially, The United States of America vs. Josef Altsttter, et. al.) was the third of the twelve trials for war crimes the U.S. authorities held in their occupation zone in Germany in Nuremberg after the end of World War II. These twelve trials were all held before U.S. military courts, not before the International Military Tribunal, but took place in the same rooms. The twelve U.S. trials are collectively known as the "Subsequent Nuremberg Trials" or, more formally, as the "Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals" (NMT).

The defendants in this case were 16 German jurists and lawyers. Nine had been officials of the Reich Ministry of Justice, the others were prosecutors and judges of the Special Courts and People's Courts of Nazi Germany. They were, among other charges, held responsible for implementing and furthering the Nazi "racial purity" program through the eugenic and racial laws.

The judges in this case, heard before Military Tribunal III, were Carrington T. Marshall (presiding judge), former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, James T. Brand from Oregon, Mallory B. Blair from Texas, and Justin Woodward Harding as an alternate judge. Marshall had to retire due to illness on June 19, 1947, at which point Brand became president and Harding a full member of the tribunal. The Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution was Telford Taylor; and his deputy was Charles M. LaFollette. The indictment was presented on January 4, 1947. The trial lasted from March 5 to December 4, 1947. Ten of the defendants were found guilty; four received sentences for lifetime imprisonment, the rest prison sentences of varying lengths. Four persons were acquitted of all charges.

The public considered the sentences generally too light. Most of the convicts were released already in the early 1950s; and some (Lautz, Rothenberger, Schlegelberger) even received retirement pensions in West Germany. Rothaug, who was found guilty only on count three of the indictment, was found not guilty on counts 2 and 4. In sentencing him to life in prison, the court commented in its judgment that, "Oswald Rothaug represented in Germany the personification of the secret Nazi intrigue and cruelty. He was and is a sadistic and evil man.... In his case we find no mitigating circumstances; no extenuation."

The Nuremberg trials had a great influence on the development of international criminal law. The International Law Commission, acting on the request of the United Nations General Assembly, produced in 1950 the report "Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nurnberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal" (Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. III). The influence of the tribunal can also be seen in the proposals for a permanent international criminal court, and the drafting of international criminal codes, later prepared by the International Law Commission. The Nuremberg trials initiated a movement for the prompt establishment of a permanent international criminal court, eventually leading over fifty years later to the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Judgment at Nuremberg is fundamentally a courtroom drama which does not follow the common cinematic practice of depending on character development in order to build or maintain interest. Here the characters are revealed rather than developed. They are not the principal interest of the film, but their stories and reactions are used to develop the true interest and purpose of the film - a debate to discuss where guilt lies for the growth of Nazi Germany, and how political and legal measures were allowed to develop into brutality and atrocity on a massive scale.

This debate, then, is the subject of the film and it is not sidetracked by "entertainment." We are gripped by tales of human tragedy, told with sincerity and dignity, as various characters give their accounts of suffering or recount their experiences as evidence in the trial. There are no cinematic "tricks" to maintain audience interest. Beautifully structured by Abby Mann, the natural drama of the courtroom and its proceedings are allowed to unfold and speak for themselves.

There are breaks in the proceedings, as we follow Judge Dan Haywood's experiences in trying to get to know and understand the German people and all they have been through. There are also occasional scenes between other characters, though their purpose is not really to develop character or even to add a little levity - these scenes shed further light on the debate itself, through the actions and reactions of the characters. In a way, to have dramatized the tale even further, would only have been to cheapen it.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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