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A scene from Nuremberg: Its Lessons for Today. Stuart Schulberg’s 1948 film was never shown in North America.
A scene from Nuremberg: Its Lessons for Today. Stuart Schulberg’s 1948 film was never shown in North America.

Restored documentary highlights Nuremberg trials Add to ...

Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today is the original holocaust film. The 1948 documentary by Stuart Schulberg chronicled the post-war prosecution of Nazi war criminals in Germany, but the English version of the film was never completed and thus never shown in North America. Until now.

On April 18, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is presenting the North American premiere of the prescient film, which has been restored by the director's daughter, independent producer Sandra Schulberg. "I felt it was my duty and a historical imperative to restore the film," says Ms. Schulberg, who is scheduled to attend Sunday's screening. "I'm surprised how powerful an impact it's had so far. Many people are familiar with the cinematography, but have never seen it in the context of the trial."

Army cameramen filmed only 25 hours of the 11-month trial, but a complete sound recording was made. In addition, a special OSS unit commanded by Hollywood director John Ford - which included Schulberg and his older brother Budd (best know for writing On The Waterfront) - was dispatched to Europe to find incriminating photographic evidence to use at trial. During this urgent search, German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl was caught and used to identify Nazi officers in the found footage.

Shortly following the 1946 verdicts against two dozen senior Nazi officials, Stuart Schulberg was commissioned by the U.S. Department of War to create a film, but his process was hampered by political squabbling, which contributed to the film's suppression in the United States. The briskly-paced, 78-minute doc follows the trial structure, layering courtroom material, narration and excerpts from the films showing the Nazi's rise to power and their concentration camps.

Although the German and unfinished English versions are in the public domain, original negatives and sound elements had either been lost or destroyed. "It took a long time to get the right advice from the right people," said Ms. Schulberg, who worked with several collaborators to locate image, sound, music and text sources.

But Ms. Schulberg's biggest discoveries were 300 pages of letters her father (a TV documentary pioneer who died in 1979) wrote during the OSS hunt in 1945. "Budd [who died last year]had a great memory to the end, but when he saw these letters he was overwhelmed," laughs Ms. Schulberg, currently completing a book about the Schulberg brothers' exploits. "My father was a lowly sergeant, continually frustrated because they sent him on ahead without enough support. So he wrote long complaining letters to my mother, which are incredibly detailed."

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival, which includes the sidebar event People of the Comic Book, runs April 17-25. TJFF box office: 416-967-1528.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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