Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Judgement at Nuremberg

I was born two years after World War Two ended but much of my early childhood was shaped by the war none the less. In 1961, the year Judgement in Nuremberg was released, I was 14 years old, already on what would be a lifelong journey to understand the roots of World War Two and to try to comprehend how such evil could have been done.

Two experiences sent me in that direction: I read Last of the Just by Andre Schwarz-Bart, and I met Adam. Adam was a concentration camp survivor who, in his new American life, delivered housecleaning products to neighborhood families including my own. One day Adam saw me reading Just of the Just. Somehow we started talking. When I think back now, I groan inside at the artlessness of my questions and remember gratefully how much he shared with me.

I had a chance to see Judgement in Nuremberg again recently and was struck anew by the words of the verdict given by the presiding judge. The words are fiction-- written by Abby Mann-- yet sadly relevant for today. The men on trial are not the originators of the Holocaust, but are judges who carried out the laws of the Reich.

I found a script of the movie online and here share it with you.

Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute

the gravamen of the charges in this indictment.

Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation..

in a nationwide, government-organized system...

of cruelty and injustice... in violation of every moral and legal principle...

known to all civilized nations. The tribunal has carefully studied the record...

and found therein...abundant evidence to support...

beyond a reasonable doubt...the charges against these defendants.

Herr Rolfe... in his very skillful defense... has asserted that there are others...

who must share the ultimate responsibility... for what happened here in Germany.

There is truth in this.

But the tribunal does say... that the men in the dock

are responsible for their actions

Men who sat in black robes... in judgment on other men.

Men who took the enactment of laws and decrees

the purpose of which was the extermination of human beings.

Men who, in executive positions... actively participated

in the enforcement of these laws... illegal even under German law.

The principle...of criminal law in every civilized society

has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder..

any person who furnishes... the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime...

any person who is an accessory to the crime... is guilty.

Herr Rolfe...further asserts that the defendant Janning..

was an extraordinary jurist... and acted in what he thought

was the best interest of his country. There is truth in this also.

Janning, to be a tragic figure.

We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion

for the present torture of his soul...must not beget forgetfulness...

of the torture and the death of millions by the government of which he was a part.

Janning's record and his fate... illuminate the most shattering truth

that has emerged from this trial. If he and all of the other defendants

had been degraded perverts… if all of the leaders of the Third Reich.

had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events

would have no more moral significance... than an earthquake,

or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown...

that under a national crisis... ordinary, even able and extraordinary men...

can delude themselves into the commission of crimes...

so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination.

No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them.

Men sterilized because of political belief.

A mockery made of friendship and faith. The murder of children.

How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country, too...

who today speak of the protection of country... of survival.

A decision must be made in the life of every nation... at the very moment

when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat.

Then it seems that the only way to survive

is to use the means of the enemy... to rest survival upon what is expedient,

to look the other way.

The answer to that is: Survival as what?

A country isn't a rock., It's not an extension of one's self.,

It's what it stands for.

It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult.

Before the people of the world... let it now be noted...

that here in our decision, this is what we stand for:

Justice... truth... and the value of a single human being.

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