By Erica Ayotte
Judgment at Nuremberg – dir. Stanley Kramer – 1961
“But this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men—even able and extraordinary men—can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atro cities so vast and heinous as to stagger the imagination.” –Judge Haywood
The late Abby Mann’s Academy Award-winning screenplay depicts a fictionalized account of a real-life Nazi war crime trial that took place in Nuremberg, Germany after World War II. Based on the “Judges’ Trial” of 1947, Judgment at Nuremberg is the story of four German judges who were tried by a U.S. tribunal for carrying out Nazi law. These judges mainly were responsible for furthering the Nazis’ “racial purity” program. Although Judgment was shot in black and white, the answers to the moral questions this film posits are not as straightforward. The horrific crimes of the Holocaust are portrayed as purely evil; yet the judges who are in part culpable for maintaining the Nazi state are not portrayed as one-dimensional, evil beings. Central to this perception are the questions: are Nazi judges legally and morally responsible for war crimes by enforcing the laws of their own country? Does an individual have the obligation to oppose the state when the state is unjust? Who defines justice?