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  • Nuremberg:A Definitive Survey of the Evidentiary Films
  • William T. Murphy

Introduction

In the aftermath of World War II, legal counsels from Allied countries prosecuted the major German war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg, Germany, November 14, 1945, to October 1, 1946. The Office of Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality carried out this responsibility for the United States. This article surveys and briefly analyzes each of the films submitted during the trial proceedings that confronted the defendants. The films themselves supplemented other overwhelming evidence against them, but, as a corpus, the films require a definitive survey for scholarly cataloguing.

The Counsel produced two original documentaries for the IMT: The Nazi Plan and Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps. As it happened, the Counsel's most powerful film, the Camps documentary, appeared in another historic court case some forty years later. A Canadian court called upon me, then a National Archives and Record Service (NARA) archivist, to testify on the prosecution's behalf to support the film's admissibility in a Holocaust-denier trial. Not unexpectedly, the defense attorney challenged the testimony, a move that offers a striking contrast between the two trials in terms of how the courts judged the film. The article therefore contains a discussion of both trials.

Finally, the exhibit films formally submitted to the tribunal by Allied consuls are described in a substantial appendix. This article contains, to date, the most accurate and complete description of these evidentiary films. The monumental transcript of the IMT proceedings contains most of the historical sources for this article.1

Nazi Concentration and Prisoner Camps, Exhibit USA-79

Arguably, the most powerful film shown during the proceedings was Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps.2 Screened in the courtroom on November 29, 1945, it represented a fundamental part of the documentary evidence that Justice Robert H. Jackson, Chief U.S. Counsel, wanted to use in place of testimony from eyewitnesses. "The motion pictures were made of the camps as the Allies found them," Jackson said. "Our proof will be disgusting, and you will say I robbed you of your sleep. But these are things that have turned the stomach of the world and set every civilized hand against Nazi Germany."3

Lt. Col. George Stevens, a renowned movie director, and Lt. Cmdr. Ray Kellogg, another Hollywood filmmaker, made the film compiled from combat footage of the camps' liberation. Affidavits signed [End Page 3] by Stevens and Kellogg reproduced in the beginning of the film attested to the origin of the horrifying scenes. However, neither Stevens nor Kellogg was present in the courtroom during the IMT screening. Stevens had general responsibility for filming the camps as the Allies liberated them, and in this capacity, he wrote, "They (the scenes) constitute a true representation of the individuals and scenes photographed." Kellogg affirmed that images had not been "retouched, distorted, or altered in any respect since the exposures were made."

It is worth noting that personal production credits were not assigned to government films of this era. Officially, no one received a personal credit. In the military rank has its privileges, a fact of life that often determined the form and content of documentaries. Informal credits attributed to military productions only approximate filmmaking roles; such credits are usually intended for the interests of film historians and movie buffs. All military documentaries were effectively group endeavors. Any signs of "auteur" ownership, as a few film historians have written, challenge credulity. As a well-known example of the privileges of rank, Army Capt. John Huston initially turned in a 50-minute production of his classic wartime documentary San Pietro. The chain-of-command, however, ordered it shortened, first to 40 minutes and, with the assistance of Col. Frank Capra, eventually to 30 minutes in the final version that went on to win an Oscar.

In his courtroom introduction to the film Thomas Dodd, Executive Counsel for the United States, said that the documentary would explain in an unforgettable form what the words "concentration camps" imply. "We intend," Dodd continued, "to prove that each and every one of these defendants knew of the existence of these concentration camps."4

Dodd handed over...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 3-19
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-23
Open Access
No
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