Ian Bu­ruma

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Ian Bu­ruma

The Mem­ory of Jus­tice a doc­u­men­tary film di­rected by Mar­cel Ophuls, re­stored by the Academy Film Archive in as­so­ci­a­tion with Para­mount Pic­tures and the

Film Foun­da­tion; avail­able on HBO


The main Nurem­berg war crimes tri­als be­gan in Novem­ber 1945 and con­tin­ued un­til Oc­to­ber 1946. Re­becca West, who re­ported on the painfully slow pro­ceed­ings for The New Yorker, de­scribed the court­room as a “citadel of bore­dom.” But there were mo­ments of drama: Her­mann Göring un­der cros­sex­am­i­na­tion run­ning rings around the chief US prose­cu­tor Robert H. Jack­son, for ex­am­ple. Jack­son’s open­ing state­ment, how­ever, pro­vided the trial’s most fa­mous words:

We must never for­get that the record on which we judge th­ese de­fen­dants to­day is the record on which his­tory will judge us to­mor­row. To pass th­ese de­fen­dants a poi­soned chal­ice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must sum­mon such de­tach­ment and in­tel­lec­tual in­tegrity to our task that this Trial will com­mend it­self to pos­ter­ity as ful­fill­ing hu­man­ity’s as­pi­ra­tions to do jus­tice.

How well hu­man­ity lived up to th­ese words, af­ter a good num­ber of bloody con­flicts in­volv­ing some of the same pow­ers that sat in judg­ment on the Nazi lead­ers, is the sub­ject of The Mem­ory of Jus­tice, the four-and-a-half-hour doc­u­men­tary that has rarely been seen since 1976 but is con­sid­ered by its di­rec­tor, Mar­cel Ophuls, to be his best—even better, per­haps, than his more fa­mous The Sor­row and the Pity (1969), about the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of France, the Vichy govern­ment, and the French Re­sis­tance.

Near the be­gin­ning of The Mem­ory of Jus­tice, the vi­o­lin­ist Ye­hudi Menuhin de­clares that the bar­barism of Nazi Ger­many can only be seen as a univer­sal moral catas­tro­phe: “I pro­ceed from the as­sump­tion that ev­ery hu­man be­ing is guilty.” The fact that it hap­pened in Ger­many, he says, doesn’t mean that it can­not hap­pen else­where. This state­ment comes just af­ter we have seen the Nazi lead­ers, one af­ter the other, de­clare their in­no­cence in the Nurem­berg court­room.

We also hear a for­mer French para­trooper re­call how the French in Al­ge­ria sys­tem­at­i­cally tor­tured and mur­dered men, women, and chil­dren. There are grue­some im­ages of the Viet­nam War. And Telford Tay­lor, US coun­sel for the pros­e­cu­tion at Nurem­berg, won­ders how any of us would cope with the “de­gen­er­a­tion of stan­dards un­der pres­sures.” Later in the film, Tay­lor says that his views on Amer­i­cans and Amer­i­can his­tory have changed more than his views on the Ger­mans whom he once judged. Such jux­ta­po­si­tions are enough to send some peo­ple into a fury. The art critic Harold Rosen­berg ac­cused Ophuls in th­ese pages of be­ing “lured... into a near-ni­hilis­tic bog in which no one is guilty, be­cause all are guilty and there is no one who is morally qual­i­fied to judge.”1 Ophuls, ac­cord­ing to Rosen­berg, “triv­i­al­ized” the Nazi crimes and “di­luted” the moral aw­ful­ness of the death camps.

This is to mis­un­der­stand what Ophuls was up to. The film never sug­gests that Auschwitz and the My Lai mas­sacre, or French tor­ture pris­ons in Al­giers, are equiv­a­lent, let alone that the Viet­nam War was a crim­i­nal en­ter­prise on the same level as the Holo­caust. Nor does Ophuls doubt that the judg­ment on Göring and his gang at Nurem­berg was jus­ti­fied. Ophuls him­self was a refugee from the Nazis, forced to leave Ger­many in 1933, and to flee again when France was in­vaded in 1940. In­stead he tries, dis­pas­sion­ately and some­times with touches of sar­donic hu­mor, to com­pli­cate the prob­lem of moral judg­ment. What makes hu­man be­ings who are nor­mally un­ex­cep­tional com­mit atroc­i­ties un­der ab­nor­mal cir­cum­stances? What if such crimes are com­mit­ted by our fel­low cit­i­zens in the name of our own coun­try? How does our com­mit­ment to jus­tice ap­pear to­day in the light of the judg­ments at Nurem­berg? Will the mem­ory of jus­tice, as Plato as­sumed, make us strive to do better?

Ophuls does not di­lute the mon­stros­ity of Nazi crimes at all. But he re­fuses to sim­ply re­gard the per­pe­tra­tors as mon­sters. “Be­lief in the Nazis as mon­sters,” he once said, “is a form of com­pla­cency.” This re­minds me of some­thing the con­tro­ver­sial Ger­man novelist Martin Walser once said about the Auschwitz tri­als held in Frank­furt in the 1960s. He wasn’t against them. But he ar­gued that the daily hor­ror sto­ries in the pop­u­lar Ger­man press about the grotesque tor­tures in­flicted by Nazi butch­ers made it eas­ier for or­di­nary Ger­mans to dis­tance them­selves from th­ese crimes and the regime that made them hap­pen. Who could pos­si­bly iden­tify with such brutes? If only mon­sters were re­spon­si­ble for the Holo­caust and other mass mur­ders, there would never be any need for the rest of us to look in the mir­ror.

It is true that Ophuls does not in­ter­view for­mer Nazis, such as Al­bert Speer and Ad­mi­ral Karl Dönitz, as a prose­cu­tor. His role is not to in­dict, but to un­der­stand better what mo­ti­vates such men, es­pe­cially men (and women) who seem other­wise quite civ­i­lized. For this, too, Rosen­berg con­demned him, ar­gu­ing that he should have bal­anced the views voiced by th­ese crim­i­nals with those of their vic­tims, for other­wise view­ers might give the old rogues the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

There seems to be lit­tle dan­ger of that. Con­sider Dönitz, for ex­am­ple, who makes the bizarre state­ment that he could not have been anti-Semitic, since he never dis­crim­i­nated against Jews in the Ger­man navy, for­get­ting for a mo­ment that there were no known Jews in Hitler’s Kriegs­ma­rine. When Ophuls asks him whether he re­ally be­lieves that there was no con­nec­tion be­tween his fe­ro­ciously anti-Semitic speeches and the fate of the Jews un­der the govern­ment he served, the ad­mi­ral’s tight lit­tle mouth twitches alarm­ingly be­fore deny­ing ev­ery­thing in the harsh yelp of a cor­nered dog. This speaks for it­self, and needs no “bal­anc­ing” by another voice.

Ophuls is a su­perb in­ter­viewer, po­lite, cool, and re­lent­less. His tone is of­ten skep­ti­cal, but never moral­is­tic or ag­gres­sive. This al­lows him to get peo­ple to say things they may not have di­vulged to a more con­fronta­tional in­ter­locu­tor. Al­bert Speer was re­spon­si­ble for, among other things, the ghastly fate of countless slave la­bor­ers pulled from con­cen­tra­tion camps to work in Ger­man ar­ma­ments fac­to­ries. Re­spond­ing to Ophuls’s quiet prob­ing, this most slip­pery of cus­tomers speaks at length about the moral blind­ness and crim­i­nal op­por­tunism that came from his ruth­less am­bi­tion. Un­like most Ger­mans of his gen­er­a­tion, Speer be­lieved that the Nurem­berg tri­als were jus­ti­fied. But then, he could be said to have got off rather lightly with a prison sen­tence rather than be­ing hanged. Where Dönitz is shrill and de­fen­sive, Speer is smooth, even charm­ing. This al­most cer­tainly saved his life. Telford Tay­lor be­lieved that Speer should have been hanged, ac­cord­ing to the ev­i­dence and cri­te­ria of Nurem­berg. Julius Stre­icher was ex­e­cuted for be­ing a vile anti-Semitic pro­pa­gan­dist, even though he never had any­thing like the power of Speer. But he was an un­couth, bul­let­headed ruf­fian, de­scribed by Re­becca West as “a dirty old man of the sort that gives trou­ble in parks,” a man one could eas­ily re­gard as a mon­ster. The judges warmed to Speer as a kind of re­lief. Com­pared to Stre­icher, the vul­gar, strut­ting Göring, the pompous mar­tinet Gen­eral Al­fred Jodl, or the hulk­ing chief Ernst Kal­tenbrun­ner, Speer was a gen­tle­man. What saved him, Tay­lor re­calls in the film, was his su­pe­rior class. When Ophuls puts this to him, a ghostly smile flits across Speer’s face: “If that’s the ex­pla­na­tion..., then I am only too pleased I made such a good im­pres­sion.” In the event, Speer got twenty years; Dönitz only got ten. Ophuls said in an in­ter­view that it was easy to like Speer. But there is no sug­ges­tion that this mit­i­gated his guilt. The his­to­rian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who also in­ter­viewed Speer at length, called him “the true crim­i­nal of Nazi Ger­many,” pre­cisely be­cause he was clearly not a sadis­tic brute but a highly ed­u­cated, well-man­nered, “nor­mal” hu­man be­ing who should have known better than to be part of a mur­der­ous regime. This is per­haps the main point of Ophuls’s film as well: there was noth­ing spe­cial about the Ger­mans that pre­dis­posed them to be­come killers or, more of­ten, to look away when the killings were done. There is no such thing as a crim­i­nal peo­ple. A quiet-spo­ken young ar­chi­tect can end up with more blood on his hands than a Jew-bait­ing thug. This, I think, is what Ye­hudi Menuhin meant by his warn­ing that it could hap­pen any­where.


Far from be­ing a moral ni­hilist who triv­i­al­ized the Nazi crimes, Ophuls was so com­mit­ted to his ex­am­i­na­tion of guilt and jus­tice that The Mem­ory of Jus­tice had a nar­row es­cape from obliv­ion. The com­pa­nies that com­mis­sioned it, in­clud­ing the BBC, did not like the rough cut. They thought it was far too long. Since the film was to be based on Telford Tay­lor’s book Nurem­berg and Viet­nam: An Amer­i­can Tragedy (1970), they wanted more on the Viet­nam War and less on Nurem­berg. Re­jec­tion only made Ophuls, who never took kindly to be­ing told what to do by the men in suits, stick more stub­bornly to his own vi­sion. He was less in­ter­ested in a specif­i­cally Amer­i­can tragedy, or in­deed a Ger­man tragedy, than in man’s de­scent into bar­barous­ness, wher­ever or when­ever it hap­pens.

Ophuls was locked out of the cut­ting room in Lon­don. The pro­duc­ers put to­gether a shorter ver­sion of the film, with a dif­fer­ent spin, which was sold to ZDF tele­vi­sion in Ger­many. Ophuls then trav­eled all over Europe to save his own ver­sion. A Ger­man court stopped ZDF from show­ing the shorter one. The orig­i­nal edit was smug­gled to the US, where a pri­vate screen­ing

re­duced Mike Ni­chols to tears. Hamil­ton Fish, later a well-known pub­lisher, man­aged to per­suade a group of in­vestors to buy the orig­i­nal movie back and Para­mount to dis­trib­ute it. It was shown at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in 1976, and then in New York and on col­lege cam­puses, as well as on tele­vi­sion in many coun­tries. But for the cussed per­se­ver­ance of Ophuls and the help of his Amer­i­can back­ers, The Mem­ory of Jus­tice would never have been seen. In Fish’s words, “You needed his type of per­son­al­ity to make such a film. He took his­tory on per­son­ally.”

Af­ter its ini­tial run, how­ever, the movie dis­ap­peared. Con­tracts on archival rights ran out. The film stock was in dan­ger of de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. And so a doc­u­men­tary mas­ter­piece could eas­ily have been lost if Martin Scors­ese’s Film Foun­da­tion had not stepped in with Para­mount to put it all back to­gether again, a la­bor that took ten years and was com­pleted in 2015.

Much has changed, of course, since 1976. Ger­many is a dif­fer­ent coun­try now, ge­o­graph­i­cally, po­lit­i­cally, and cul­tur­ally. When Ophuls talked to Dönitz, the West Ger­man estab­lish­ment was still rid­dled with for­mer Nazis. Most of the wartime gen­er­a­tion masked their dirty se­crets with eva­sions or shabby jus­ti­fi­ca­tions. The his­tory of the Third Re­ich, in the words of Eu­gen Ko­gon, a Holo­caust sur­vivor and the first Ger­man his­to­rian to write about the camps, was still “the corpse in the cel­lar.” Quite or­di­nary peo­ple, like the smil­ing man en­coun­tered by Ophuls in a small town in Sch­leswig-Hol­stein, still re­mem­bered the Third Re­ich with great fond­ness as an or­derly time when peo­ple knew how to be­have and there was “no prob­lem of crime.” Ophuls hap­pened to meet this friendly burgher while he was try­ing to track down a fe­male doc­tor who had been con­victed at Nurem­berg for mur­der­ing chil­dren in con­cen­tra­tion camps by in­ject­ing oil into their veins, to name just one of her grisly ex­per­i­ments. Af­ter she was re­leased from prison in 1952, she con­tin­ued for a time to prac­tice as a fam­ily doc­tor. She was, it ap­pears, well re­spected, even friendly. When Ophuls fi­nally man­aged to find her, she very po­litely de­clined to be in­ter­viewed, since she was in poor health. Another for­mer con­cen­tra­tion camp doc­tor, Ger­hard Rose, did agree to talk, how­ever, but only to deny any guilt, claim­ing that his med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments (in­fect­ing vic­tims with malaria, for ex­am­ple) served a hu­man­i­tar­ian pur­pose, and that the US Army per­formed ex­per­i­ments too. Ophuls ob­serves, quite rightly, that Amer­i­can ex­per­i­ments were hardly con­ducted un­der the kind of cir­cum­stances pre­vail­ing in Dachau and Buchen­wald. But the hypocrisy of the Western Al­lies in this mat­ter might have been better il­lus­trated by point­ing out that Ger­man and Ja­panese doc­tors who com­mit­ted even worse crimes than Dr. Rose were pro­tected by the US govern­ment be­cause their knowl­edge might come in handy dur­ing the cold war.2

Per­haps the most dis­turb­ing in­ter­view in the movie is not with an un­re­pen­tant Nazi or a war crim­i­nal, but with the gen­tle­manly and highly es­teemed lawyer Otto Kranzbüh­ler. A navy judge dur­ing the war, Kranzbüh­ler was de­fense coun­sel for Ad­mi­ral Dönitz at Nurem­berg, where he cut a dash­ing fig­ure in his navy uni­form. He later had a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a cor­po­rate lawyer, af­ter de­fend­ing the likes of Al­fried Krupp against ac­cu­sa­tions of hav­ing ex­ploited slave la­bor. Kranzbüh­ler never jus­ti­fied Nazism. But when asked by Ophuls whether he had dis­cussed his own part in the Third Re­ich with his chil­dren, he replied that he had come up with a for­mula to make them un­der­stand: if you were ig­no­rant of what went on, you were a fool; if you knew, but looked the other way, you were a coward; if you knew, and took part, you were a crim­i­nal. Were his chil­dren re­as­sured? Kranzbüh­ler: “My chil­dren didn’t rec­og­nize their fa­ther in any of the above.”

It was a bril­liant eva­sion. But Kranzbüh­ler was no more eva­sive than the French prose­cu­tor at Nurem­berg, the equally ur­bane Edgar Faure, who had been a mem­ber of the Re­sis­tance dur­ing the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of France. Ophuls asked him about French war crimes dur­ing the Al­ge­rian War of In­de­pen­dence, when tor­ture was sys­tem­at­i­cally ap­plied, civil­ians were mas­sa­cred, and pris­on­ers were thrown out of heli­copters, a prac­tice that later be­came wide­spread un­der South Amer­i­can mil­i­tary regimes. “Well,” said Faure, “events do get out of hand. But you can’t re­ally crit­i­cize politi­cians who have the dif­fi­cult task of run­ning the govern­ment.” Edgar Faure was prime min­is­ter of France dur­ing part of that war.

The 1970s were a crit­i­cal time in Ger­many. There were still peo­ple, like the son of the for­mer Waf­fen SS of­fi­cer in­ter­viewed by Ophuls, who be­lieved that the Nazi death camps were a lie, and it was the Amer­i­cans who built the gas cham­bers in con­cen­tra­tion camps. But the post­war gen­er­a­tion had be­gun to ques­tion their par­ents amid the stu­dent re­volts of the 1960s. Just a year af­ter The Mem­ory of Jus­tice was com­pleted, rad­i­cal­ism in Ger­many turned toxic, when mem­bers of the Red Army Fac­tion mur­dered bankers, kid­napped industrialists, and hi­jacked planes, all in the name of an­tifas­cism, as though to make up for their par­ents’ com­plic­ity with the Nazis.

Ger­man fam­i­lies were torn apart by mem­o­ries of the war. Ophuls in­cludes his own not un­com­pli­cated fam­ily in the film. His Ger­man wife, Regine, the daugh­ter of a Wehrma­cht vet­eran, speaks openly to Amer­i­can stu­dents about her own child­hood un­der the Nazis. One of their teenaged daugh­ters talks about the need to come to terms with the past, even though their mother finds seven­teen a lit­tle too young to be con­fronted with im­ages of con­cen­tra­tion camps. Then Regine says some­thing per­sonal that cuts to the core of her hus­band’s life and work. She wishes some­times that Ophuls would make films that were not about such dark matters. What kind of films? he asks. Lu­bitsch films, she replies, or My Fair Lady all over again. We then hear Cyd Charisse singing “New Sun in the Sky” from The Band Wagon (1953), while watch­ing Ophuls in a car on his way to find the doc­tor who mur­dered chil­dren in con­cen­tra­tion camps.

This is typ­i­cal of the Ophuls touch, show tunes evok­ing hap­pier times over­lap­ping with mem­o­ries of hor­ror. The mo­tive is not to pile on cheap irony, but to bring in a note of au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. His fa­ther was Max Ophuls, the great di­rec­tor of Liebelei (1933), La Ronde (1950), and Lola Mon­tès (1955). Max was one of the ge­niuses of the ex­ile cin­ema. Mem­o­ries of a sweeter life in im­pe­rial Vi­enna or nine­teenth-cen­tury France are dark­ened in his films by a sense of be­trayal and per­verse sex­u­al­ity. Nos­tal­gia for better days haunted his son, who spent his youth on the run from ter­ror with a fa­ther whose ge­nius he al­ways felt he couldn’t live up to. He would have loved to di­rect movies like La Ronde. In­stead he made great doc­u­men­tary films about the past that won’t let him go, about Vichy France, or Klaus Bar­bie, the Gestapo butcher of Lyon, or Nurem­berg. The true hor­ror sto­ries are mixed in all his work, as in a col­lage, with songs from pre-war Ber­lin mu­sic halls and Hol­ly­wood movies. One of the most un­for­get­table ex­am­ples of the Ophuls touch is a scene in a film that has al­most never been viewed (another bit­ter fight with pro­duc­ers). Novem­ber Days (1991) is about the fall of the Ber­lin wall. One of the peo­ple he in­ter­views is Markus Wolf, the for­mer East Ger­man spy chief, whose fa­ther, the Com­mu­nist writer Friedrich Wolf, had known Max Ophuls in pre-war Ber­lin. While Markus dodges ev­ery ques­tion about his past with bla­tant lies, we hear mu­sic from one of Max’s

movies slowly swell on the sound­track as Mar­cel thinks out loud to him­self how lucky he was that his fa­ther de­cided to move west in­stead of east.


In the sec­ond half of The Mem­ory of Jus­tice, the fo­cus shifts from east to west, as it were, from Ger­many to France and the US. Daniel Ells­berg, speak­ing of Viet­nam, says that “this war will cause us to be mon­strous.” We hear sto­ries from men who were there of Amer­i­can sol­diers mur­der­ing civil­ians in cold blood. We hear a Viet­nam vet­eran talk about be­ing told to shut up by his su­pe­ri­ors when he re­ports a mas­sacre of civil­ians or­dered by his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer. We hear Ells­berg say that no one higher than a lieu­tenant was ever con­victed for the mass killing of Viet­namese civil­ians by US sol­diers in My Lai.

On the French side, sto­ries about sum­mary ex­e­cu­tions and the use of tor­ture dur­ing the Al­ge­rian War (1954–1962) are fol­lowed by a cru­cial ques­tion put by Ophuls to Edgar Faure, the for­mer Nurem­berg prose­cu­tor and later prime min­is­ter of France: Did he, Edgar Faure, think the French would have ac­cepted an in­ter­na­tional com­mis­sion that would judge, on the ba­sis of Nurem­berg, what the French did in Al­ge­ria? No, said Faure, af­ter a pen­sive suck on his pipe, since one can­not com­pare the in­va­sion of another coun­try to the ac­tions taken by a sovereign state in its own colony.

Sir Hartley Shawcross, the Bri­tish prose­cu­tor at Nurem­berg, speak­ing to Ophuls in his el­e­gant coun­try house in Sus­sex, re­mem­bers how much his Amer­i­can col­leagues had be­lieved in jus­tice and the rule of law. Like other Bri­tish of­fi­cials at the time, he took a more cyn­i­cal view: “All law is cre­ated by the vic­tors for the van­quished.” What mat­tered in his opin­ion, how­ever, was not who made the laws, but whether the prin­ci­ples were right. About this he had lit­tle doubt.

Look­ing back, Otto Kranzbüh­ler shared Shawcross’s mem­ory of Amer­i­can ide­al­ism. But he be­lieved that as a model for the fu­ture, Nurem­berg had been a fail­ure. The trial, as he saw it, pre­sup­posed a united world com­mu­nity in which wars would be a thing of the past. This il­lu­sion did not last long.

In fact, the trial was tainted from the be­gin­ning, not only be­cause among the men who judged the Nazi lead­ers were Soviet vet­er­ans of Stalin’s bloody show tri­als, but also be­cause Al­lied war crimes could not even be men­tioned. A for­mer Bri­tish of­fi­cer in­volved in the wartime bomber com­mand had no doubt that the de­struc­tion of Dres­den was a war crime.

If The Mem­ory of Jus­tice has a weak­ness, it is that this sec­ond half of the film, con­cen­trat­ing on French and Amer­i­can war crimes, is not quite as grip­ping as the first half about the Ger­man legacy of Nurem­berg. Per­haps Ophuls’s heart was not in it to the same ex­tent. Or per­haps no mat­ter what one thinks of My Lai or Al­giers, they are over­shad­owed by the sheer scale and sav­agery of the Nazi crimes.

Then again, pace Rosen­berg, Ophuls doesn’t sug­gest that they are equiv­a­lent. What is com­pa­ra­ble is the way peo­ple look away from, or jus­tify, or deny what is done in their name, or un­der their watch. The wife of a US ma­rine who died in Viet­nam, liv­ing in a house stuffed with flags and mil­i­tary mem­o­ra­bilia, sim­ply re­fuses to en­ter­tain the idea that her coun­try could ever do any­thing wrong. More in­ter­est­ing, and per­haps more damn­ing, is the state­ment by John Ken­neth Gal­braith, an im­pec­ca­bly lib­eral for­mer diplo­mat and econ­o­mist. His view of the Viet­nam War, he tells Ophuls, had been en­tirely prac­ti­cal, with­out any con­sid­er­a­tion of moral im­pli­ca­tions.

Viet­nam was not the East­ern Front in 1943. My Lai was not Auschwitz. And Gal­braith was cer­tainly no Al­bert Speer. Nev­er­the­less, this tech­no­cratic view of vi­o­lent con­flict is pre­cisely what leads many peo­ple so far astray un­der a crim­i­nal regime. In the film, Ells­berg de­scribes the tun­nel vi­sion of Speer as “con­trolled stu­pid­ity,” the re­fusal to see the con­se­quences of what one does and stands for.

This brings to mind another bril­liant doc­u­men­tary about con­trolled stu­pid­ity, Er­rol Mor­ris’s The Fog of War (2003), fea­tur­ing Robert McNa­mara, the tech­no­crat be­hind the an­ni­hi­la­tion of Ja­panese cities in World War II and the es­ca­la­tion of the Viet­nam War in the 1960s. To him, the de­lib­er­ate killing of hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians was a math­e­mat­i­cal prob­lem. Only many years later did he ad­mit that if the US had lost World War II, he could cer­tainly have been in­dicted as a war crim­i­nal.

Even more chilling is another doc­u­men­tary by Mor­ris, which re­ceived less at­ten­tion than The Fog of War. In The Un­known Known (2013), we see Don­ald Rums­feld, another gen­tle­manly tech­no­crat, shrug his shoul­ders about Viet­nam, com­ment­ing that “some­times things just don’t work out.” When, as the re­sult of another war in which he was even more in­ti­mately in­volved, Bagh­dad was con­vulsed in an­ar­chic vi­o­lence, he no­to­ri­ously re­marked that “stuff hap­pens.” This is what Han­nah Arendt called a “crim­i­nal lack of imag­i­na­tion.”

Per­haps the US in 1945 set its ideals too high. But it is a tragedy that the same coun­try that be­lieved in in­ter­na­tional law, and did so much to es­tab­lish the norms of jus­tice, has done so lit­tle to live up to them. The US is not even a sig­na­tory to the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, a flawed in­sti­tu­tion like the Nurem­berg tri­bunal, but a nec­es­sary step in the right di­rec­tion. No one can hold the great­est mil­i­tary power on earth ac­count­able for what it does, not for tor­ture rooms in Abu Ghraib, not for lock­ing peo­ple up in­def­i­nitely with­out trial, not for mur­der­ing civil­ians with drones.

For Ger­mans liv­ing un­der the Third Re­ich it was risky to imag­ine too well what their rulers were do­ing. To protest was pos­i­tively dan­ger­ous. This is not yet true for those of us liv­ing in the age of Trump, when the pres­i­dent of the US openly con­dones tor­ture and ap­plauds thugs for beat­ing up peo­ple at his ral­lies. We need films like this mas­ter­piece by Ophuls more than ever to re­mind us of what hap­pens when even the mem­o­ries of jus­tice fade away.

Mar­cel Ophuls, Neuilly, circa 1988; pho­to­graph by Do­minique Nabokov

Nazi lead­ers ac­cused of war crimes dur­ing World War II stand­ing to hear the ver­dict in their trial, Nurem­burg, Oc­to­ber 2, 1946. Al­bert Speer is third from right in the back row of de­fen­dants; Karl Dönitz is at the far left of the same row. SS

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