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The Legal Watch, Episode 4: Judgement at Nuremberg

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Posted on April 27, 2023

“Judgement at Nuremberg” is a 1961 American courtroom drama film directed by Stanley Kramer. The movie, taking place in 1948, tells the story of a military tribunal that is convened in Nuremberg, Germany after World War II to prosecute high-ranking Nazi officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland and others, the film deals with the trial of four German judges accused of crimes against humanity for their role in the Nazi’s forced sterilization and euthanasia programs. Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) arrives in Nuremberg to preside over the trial, which is controversial because it focuses on the role of the judiciary in the Nazi regime. The judges claim that they were simply following orders and that they had no knowledge of the atrocities being committed. However, as the trial progresses, it becomes clear that they were complicit in the crimes and that they played an active role in implementing the Nazi’s policies. The film is based on the actual trials that took place between 1945 and 1949 and is known for its powerful portrayal of the horrors of the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Here, our Cherry Hill injury lawyers break down themes in the movie that relate to personal injury and the lessons that can be learned from them. 

Personal Responsibility 

The film is a testament to the consequences of blindly following authority and the importance of personal responsibility. After following the judges in the film who were being prosecuted for their involvement in perpetuation Nazi crimes, viewers see the progression of their admittance of guilt. This theme is also explored in the character of Ernst Janning, a respected jurist who is one of the defendants in the trial. Janning is shown to be a man of great intellect and moral integrity, but was also complicit in the crimes of the regime. Through Janning’s character, the movie begs the question of whether the most well-intentioned people can be held responsible for the actions of a larger group. As an overarching message, the film makes it clear that individuals must be held accountable for their actions, regardless of the orders they were given or the circumstances they were operating under. 

Moral Courage 

Throughout the film, we see the characters grapple with the complex moral and ethical questions surrounding the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the responsibility of those who carried out the orders. Additionally, over the course of the trial, Judge Haywood faces pressure from both the German government and his own government to deliver a quick and decisive verdict. However, he remains steadfast in his commitment to justice and refuses to be swayed by outside pressures. His moral courage is contrasted with the actions of the judges, who were willing to go along with the Nazis’ policies in order to advance their careers. The Nazi regime was able to perpetrate its atrocities in part because so many looked the other way in fear of speaking out. This film teaches the importance of standing up for what is right, especially in the face of adversity. 

Personal Injury 

The trial focuses on the impact of the Nazis’ policies on individuals and their families. “Judgement at Nuremberg” features a powerful scene in which a survivor of the concentration camps, Mrs. Bertholt (played by Marlene Dietrich), gives her testimony. She recounts the horrors that she endured, including the loss of her family, her forced sterilization, and her brutal treatment at the hands of the Nazis. Her testimony highlights the profound personal injury, trauma, PTSD, and other harm caused by the Nazis’ policies and the role that the judges played in perpetuating these atrocities. The movie creates an accurate depiction of how the Nazis’ actions caused immense physical and psychological harm to millions of people through concentration camps and gas chambers, where millions of Jews were tortured, starved, and ultimately killed. Her testimony also exemplifies the importance of witness accounts and statements in pursuing justice in a broken system. Through another character, Irene Wallner, “Judgement at Nuremberg” shows that individuals have a responsibility to use their positions of power and influence to uphold justice and protect human rights. This film is a wonderful reminder of the importance of attorneys’ work to fight for justice and hold individuals and institutions accountable. 

Take-Away 

“Judgement at Nuremberg” is a powerful and though-provoking movie that deals with themes related to justice and human dignity. The film provides several lessons about the importance of empathy, accountability, and tolerance in promoting healing and preventing harm. It emphasizes the need for individuals and societies to recognize and value the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, and to take responsibility for their actions in promoting justice. The deep, influential message of the movie is that human dignity is a fundamental right that must be protected at all costs, and that justice and accountability are powerful and necessary tools in achieving this goal. Another lesson is the importance of tolerance and acceptance. The movie depicts the widespread prejudice and intolerance that existed in Germany during the Nazi regime, which ultimately led to the Holocaust. It highlights the need for individuals and society to embrace diversity and to reject hatred and intolerance in all forms. It emphasizes the importance of creating a culture of acceptance and inclusion, where all individuals are valued and respected, regardless of their race, religion, or background. This film is a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with audiences today, reminding us of the importance of learning from history and working toward a better future for all.

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