Judgment at Nuremburg (1961)





Director:     Stanley Kramer .

Starring:     Spencer Tracy (Judge Dan Haywood),  Burt Lancaster (Ernst Janning),  Richard Widmark (Col. Lawson), Marlene Dietrich (Mrs. Bertholt),  Judy Garland  (Irene Hoffman Wallner),  Maximilian Schell (Hans Rolfe),  Montgomery Clift (Rudolph Petersen), William Shatner (Capt. Harrison Byers). 

Oscars:          Best Supporting Actor (Maximilian Schell); Best Screenplay (Abby Mann)

Trial of four German war criminals.    


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Nuremberg, Germany 1948. Much of the city is gone due to the bombings. Judge Dan Haywood from Maine, U.S.A. says he didnít know the destruction was so bad. This is the city where the Nazis held many of their rallies.

U.S.A. Senator Burkette introduces Judge Haywood to Captain Harrison Byers, who will serve as the judgeís liaison. He also is introduced to the servants, Mr. And Mrs. Halberstadt. Byers shows the judge around the house where he will be staying for the Nuremberg trials. It was the former home of an important Nazi general.

The judge says that since all the Nazi big-wigs have been taken care of: "Now weíre down to the business of judging the doctors, businessmen and judges." He calls himself a hick from the backwoods of Maine.

The Palace of Justice. The four defendants are brought into the courtroom. The three judges take their seats, Judge Haywood presiding. He begins with the arraignment. Emil Hahn says he is not guilty on all counts. Friedrich Hoffstetter pleads not guilty. Werner Lammpe does the same. Ernst Janning takes the position that he does not recognize the authority of this court. Judge Haywood says a plea of not guilty will be entered.

The American prosecutor, Col. Lawson, says these four defendants served as Third Reich judges. He says they helped destroy the law in Germany, but what they are really guilty of is murder, brutality, torture and atrocity. The judges are more guilty than most because they embraced the ideologies of the Third Reich as educated adults.

Herr Rolfe makes the opening statement for the defense. He talks about Ernst Janning. He was a judge during the period of the Weimar republic. Ernst even helped write the Weimar constitution. In 1935 he became the Minister of Justice. A judge does not make the laws, but rather carries out the laws. Rolfe makes that statement that the whole German people are on trail in the courtroom.

In chambers one of the judges says: "That was quite a damning speech by Col. Lawson, wasnít it?" Judge Haywood goes for a walk around town. He takes a street car to the old town part of Nuremberg. He walks over to the staging area for many of the Nazi rallies. Haywood imagines Hitler speaking from the platform and the crowd cheering him on.

Rolfe speaks with Janning in prison. He tells the defendant that the most important charges against him are the sterilization decrees and the Feldenstein-Hoffman affair. Janning does not comment on his case.

Dr. Wieck is called to testify on Janning. He served in the Ministry of Justice with Janning from 1929 until 1935. In fact, Janning was his protťgť. He testifies that in Nazi justice the concept of race was made a legal concept. The death penalty came to be used frequently. Sentences were passed against elements thought undesirable such as Jews, Poles or political activists on the left. All judges had to wear swastikas on their robes. Dr. Wieck resigned in 1935 rather than cooperate with the Nazis.

Rolfe uses the tactic of describing how bad things were at the time Hitler came to power and asks didnít Hitler "cure" some of these conditions? Rolfe also uses the racist laws in the American South to embarrass the Americans sitting in judgment of the defendants. He then attacks Dr. Wieck personally for signing the Nazi Civil Servant Loyalty Oath of 1934. Rolfe then jumps to the political conclusion that if men like Wieck would never have sworn to any Nazi oaths, Hitler would never have come to absolute power.

For the second time, Col. Lawson, objects to this line of questioning. Now he and Rolfe get into a very loud argument about the nature of national socialism. Judge Haywood has to admonish both men for their outbursts. He then overrules the prosecutor and excuses the witness.

Speaking to the other two judges in private, Judge Haywood comments that if he is to pronounce sentence on a man like Janning, a writer of great books on the law before the Nazis came to power, the prosecution will have to prove every accusation against him.

Haywood goes into the kitchen. There he meets Mrs. Bertholt, who used to own the house. She says she was just storing some of her belongings in the house until she got a place big enough to hold them. Now she has such a place and wants to retrieve her belongings. Mrs. Bertholt is very pretty and the judge volunteers to carry for her a box full of books and pictures. He then has his driver Schmidt take the lady home.

Haywood goes back into the kitchen. He sits with the two servants and asks the question what was it like living under National Socialism day to day? The servants are shocked by the question. They try all kinds of evasions not to answer the question. He asks if they knew about what was going on at Dachau, the concentration camp not that far from Nuremberg? The maid starts to cry over the question. The butler says the war was very hard on them. They lost a son in the army, a daughter in the bombings and he and his wife almost died of starvation.

The judge switches to a conversation about Mrs. Bertholt. Her husband was in the army and was one of the defendants in the Malmedy massacre case. Gen. Bertholt was executed for his role in the massacre of American soldiers.

In court Col. Lawson starts reading case file after case file about men and women who were forced to be sterilized. He calls Rudolph Petersen to the stand. Before the fascists took power in Germany, some SA men broke into his fatherís house and started beating him up. He fought and Rudolph and his brother helped dad push the men out of the house. There they beat up the men. After Hitler came to power, he went to an official to try to get a truck driverís license and it turned out to be one of the men they beat up. The official made him appear before Friedrich Hoffstetter in the district court of Stuttgart. The judge issues an order for Rudolph to be sterilized. Ernst Janningís signature is also on the order. Rudolph ran away, but the police found him and took him to the hospital where he was sterilized.

Herr Rolfe now goes on the attack against the witness, implying that he is mentally "challenged" as are his five brothers. The man only went to six years of schooling. In fact, he believes that Petersen is "mentally incompetent". It was the job of the Health Clerk to sterilize the mentally incompetent. Petersen was placed in a class with backward children. Judge Haywood keeps overruling the objections of the prosecution. So Rolfe goes on to say that Petersenís mother was also feeble-minded. This upsets Petersen. He says it isnít true and that now after the sterilization process he is only half the man he once was.

One of the judges, Curtiss Ives, tells Haywood in a night club that Col. Lawson is a young radical. Haywood wonders if that is really true. Curtiss calls a reporter for the United Press over to his table. Madame Bertholt is with him and accompanies the reporter. The woman married to a Nazi general says she and her husband spent two years in America. She also wants Haywood to see the non-Nazi parts of Nuremberg. She invites him to a concert and he accepts. The lady also mentions that one of her agendas is to convince the Americans that all Germans are not monsters.

When Col. Lawson comes over to the table, Mrs. Bertholt excuses herself and leaves. Lawson tells the others at the table that he prosecuted the ladyís husband. Judge Ives says that he thinks Lawson would like to indict the whole German people. Lawson leans over to Judge Haywood and sarcastically tells him there are no Nazis in Germany. He leaves the table.

The evening is interrupted by some bad news. The Russians have invaded Czechoslovakia and itís rumored that Masaryk committed suicide.

In prison Emil Hahn tells Janning that he has to stand united with the rest of the defendants, but Janning wants nothing to do with Hahn and the others.

Haywood goes to the concert. He sits by himself. Haywood looks for Mrs. Bertholt and finds her sitting in a box seat above him. After the concert, Mrs. Bertholt asks Haywood to take a walk with her. When they reach her building, she asks Haywood to come up for coffee and he accepts.

Bertholt talks about Janning, who she knows. His wife is dead now, but she was a fragile creature when she was alive. Bertholt goes on to say that her husband and she hated Hitler and he hated them. She herself is of the nobility and her husband married up. The lady defends her husband saying that he was not involved in the Malmedy massacre. She calls his execution a political murder by the Allies.

Col. Lawson rushes by train to Berlin to talk his reluctant witness Irene Hoffman into testifying. She is married now and her last name is Wallner. Her husband tells Lawson to leave them alone. She does not have to testify. Lawson argues that the Nazis must not be allowed to get away with what they did. Mr. Wallner is a very cynical man and says hell to the Nazis and hell to Lawson. Mrs. Wallner wants to testify, but is afraid of repercussions. Lawsoon says he will put a 24 hour guard on her house. She decides to testify.

Lawsonís assistant Major Abe Radnitz conducts for the prosecution now. He asks the witness what was the Feldenstein case? Rolfe objects, but is overruled. A man accused of racial pollution (any non-Aryan having sexual relations with an Aryan) was arrested. Feldenstein was Jewish and accused of having relations with a 16 year old girl, Irene Hoffman. The trial was used as a show piece by the Nazis in the time of the Nuremberg rallies. High Nazi officials came to the trial.

Lawson now calls Irene Hoffman Wallner to the stand. Irene says that they were just friends. She told the prosecutor, Emil Hahn, that the charge against Feldenstein was a lie. But Hahn told her that if she tried to protect Feldenstein, she would be arrested for perjury. He ridiculed and belittled everything that Feldenstein tried to say in his defense and the audience laughed at this. In the end Feldenstein was to be executed and she to go to prison for perjury for two years. Ernst Janning was the presiding judge. The sentences were carried out. Rolfe tells the court to hold onto the witness for further testimony until it's time for the defense to make its case.

Lawson says the four defendants all sent thousands of people to their deaths in the concentration camps. Now Lawson takes the stand. Toward the end of the war he commanded troops liberating concentration camps. Films taken at Dachua and Belsen are shown.

A list of the many, many atrocities committed in the camps are gone over Ė the worst crimes ever committed against humanity. Two-thirds of the Jews of Europe were exterminated along with people from all over occupied countries by the Germans. The defendants themselves appear to be in a permanent state of denial.

Haywood and Mrs. Bertholt meet at the usual night club. Haywood isnít hungry and Mrs. Bertholt figures out that itís because of the pictures that Col. Lawson loves to show every chance he gets. She asks Haywood if he believes the German people are like that? The lady says the Germans knew nothing about these atrocities, except for the highest levels of government and the S.S..

Herr Rolfe now presents the case for the defense. He condemns the showing of the concentration camp film as an attempt to breed prejudice against the defendants. He says the film implies that all the German people knew of these atrocities. Rolfe says the defendants actually prevented worse things from happening. He says many times Ernst Janning saved people or got them a less harsh punishment.

Rolfe now challenges the criticisms of the Feldenstein case. He calls Mrs. Elsa Lindnow to the stand. She worked for Feldenstein and knew Irene Hoffman back in 1935. Elsa testifies that she saw Irene kiss Mr. Feldenstein once at the door of her apartment and saw her sitting in the manís lap on another occasion.

Col Lawson goes to the attack in the cross-examination. He wants to know Elsaís political connections. She admits she was a member of the National Socialist party as far back as 1933. Was she forced back then to join the Nazi party? The witness does not answer the question and Lawson calls an end to the cross-examination.

Mrs. Wallner testifies again. She says Mr. Feldenstein was the kindest person she ever knew and, even though it was against the law, she kept her friendship with the man. He was like a father to her. But she did not have a sexual relationship with the Jewish man. Rolfe is going crazy with his multitude of false accusations.

Ernst Janning finally stands up and says: "Herr Rolfe! Are we going to do this again?" He wants to make a statement to the court. Haywood adjourns court until tomorrow morning.

Rolfe tells Janning in prison that he is only trying to save the German people from being called monsters. He wants the Allied powers to leave Germany and let the German people rule it by themselves. Rolfe says he has done things in the courtroom that make him cringe, but he did it for Germany! Janning finally tells Rolfe that there is nothing he can say that would make him approve of Rolfe's treatment of Irene Hoffman in the court today.

The news is that all rail travel between Western zones and Berlin has stopped.

The next morning Janning says he wants to testify about the Feldenstein case. He talks about how terrible things were in Germany. And then Hitler came along saying it was the fault of the Jews and political leftist extremists. Get rid of them and Germany will soar ahead. And soar ahead Germany certainly did. Janning says that in the Feldenstein case he chose to sit still. He denounces his own lawyer for suggesting that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of the people. Once more, for love of country, limp excuses are being used for Germany and its relationship to national socialism.

Janning goes on to say that the Feldenstein case was not a trial at all, but a ritual sacrificial ceremony of the helpless Jewish victim. He also says that they knew about the concentration camps and if we didnít know, it was because we did not want to know.

Janning condemns in turn each of the defendants, but saves the worst criticism for himself. He says he was the worst of all the defendants because he knew how evil the Nazis were and yet still went along with them: "Ernst Janning, who made his life excrement because he walked with them."

Rolfe gets up. He is going to defend Janning in spite of what the man said. He tries to spread the German guilt to all Allied leaders and nations. If Janning is guilty, then the whole world is guilty for going along with Hitler.

Lawsonís superior officer tells Lawson to go easy on the German defendants. The Berlin airlift has begun and, says his superior, if Berlin falls, Germany will fall and then all of Europe. They will need the help of the German people in this time of crisis. He also suggests that itís all about survival in the end. Just before Lawson leaves, he asks the officer why was the war fought?

Emil Hahn addresses the tribunal saying he stands by his actions. He cannot say he is sorry.

Friedrich Hoffstetter says he served his country throughout his life. He says he obeyed the laws of the time and didnít believe he should ask whether the laws are just or not. In other words, he was just doing what he was told to do.

Werner Lampe canít get any words out of his mouth.

Ernst Janning says he has nothing to add to what he has already ben said.

Court is adjourned until the judges make a decision. Curtiss says that only those at the highest levels of the fascist government of Germany should be condemned for what they did. Haywood does not agree at all with Curtiss. He tells Judge Ives to explain to him slowly why the defendants are not responsible for their own actions.

The tribunal has made its decision and the sentencing part of the trial begins. Haywood says the trial took over eight months and 10,000 pages. The tribunal finds that the defendants are responsible for their actions. They deluded themselves into the commission of terrible crimes. The real complainant is civilization itself.

Emil Hahn gets life in prison.

Friedrich Hoffstetter gets life in prison.

Werner Lampe gets life in prison.

Ernst Janning gets life in prison.

Mrs. Bertholt is not pleased. Judge Curtiss Ives gives his dissent from the tribunalís decision.

Haywood calls Mrs. Bertholt, but she does not answer the phone.

Herr Rolfe comes over to tell Haywood that Ernst Janning wants to see him and that it would mean so much to him. Rolfe says that the men who received life sentences will be free in five years. Haywood says Rolfe is very logical, but to be logical does not mean that he is right. "And nothing on Godís earth could ever make it right."

Haywood pays Janning a visit in his cell. Janning gives him a record of his cases. He says he trusts Judge Haywood. He goes on to say: ". . . you have the respect of at least one of the men you convicted." Janning also says that he never knew it would come to the murder of millions of innocent people. Haywood tells Janning that it all began with him sentencing the first man to death who he knew was innocent.

"The Nuremberg Trials held in the American Zone ended July 14, 1949. There were 99 defendants sentenced to prison terms. Not one is still serving his sentence."


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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