Posted by: L | May 27, 2007

The hare was shot by the hunter in the field: Nuremberg and innocence

Just watching – intermittently – Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) – with Montgomery Clift in the role of the mentally defective man questioned by Maximilian Schell (who won an Academy Award for his performance) about his sterilization under the Nazis. Clift is riveting in his scene but to my mind Schell is even better as counsel for the defense.

In the scene following, there is a dialogue about the culpability of ordinary people in the government’s actions. I don’t necessarily agree, given the power of the government to propagandize and coerce and its apparent immunity to criticism. But it still makes you think..

“There are no Nazis in Germany – the Eskimos invaded and took over the country. It wasn’t the fault of the Germans; it was the fault of those damn Eskimos…. ”

And in a later scene about the concentration camps:

“They say we killed millions of people..millions..how could it be possible? How?”

And the response:

“It’s not the killing that’s the problem..it’s the disposing of the bodies…”

And after Marlene Dietrich denies knowing anything about what was going on,

“As far as I can tell, there was no one who knew anything…”

A lot of interesting performers in the film – Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster, Spencer Tracy, William Shatner and the son of the conductor Otto von Klemperer. (A friend writes to tell me that he is T.V.’s Colonel Klink (in Hogan’s Heroes). I’ll take his word for it… 

Other quotes stand out:

“Once again it was done for love of country..”

“Maybe we didn’t know the details. But if we didn’t know, maybe it was because we didn’t want to know….”

“But if he is to be found guilty, there are others who went along who also must be found guilty”

“Why did we succeed, your honor? What about the rest of the world? Did it not know the intentions of the Third Reich, did it not read the words of Mein Kampf? Where is the responsibility of the Soviet Union….where is the responsibility of the Vatican…….where is the responsibility of Winston Churchill? Where is the responsibilty of those American industrialists who helped Hitler?Is Germany alone guilty…

the whole world is as responsible for Hitler as Germany is.

Ernst Janning said he was guilty..if he was guilty, then his guilt was the world’s guilt no less, no more.. ”

More:

“What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights?”

And this, again, about the camps:
“Break the body, break the spirit, break the heart..”

But the best line may be at the end, when Burt Lancaster calls Spencer Tracy into his cell and says, “I never thought it would come to this,” and Spencer Tracy responds,

“The first time you convicted an innocent person you knew it would come to this.”

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