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Series / Nuremberg

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Nuremberg is a 2000 miniseries based on the main IMT 'Nuremberg' Trials of 200 Nazi leaders for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity conducted during World War II. It consisted of two episodes and starred Alec Baldwin, Brian Cox, Michael Ironside, Jill Hennessy, Christopher Plummer, Colm Feore and many, many others.

Some tout it as an almost propagandistic re-iteration of the contemporary US government's portrayal of the trial process. Others note that it is flawed, especially in its sympathetic portrayal of such figures as Albert Speer, but is nonetheless an interesting miniseries with well-developed characters which stimulates interest in the events.

The plot spaces from the capture of the main Nazi war criminals to the end of the trial, as the historical accuracy varies from one point to the next.

This miniseries provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: While being questioned on the stand, Herman Göering is asked who came up with the idea to make Hitler both head of government and head of state. Göering claims that the Nazis modelled it after the similar dual roles of the U.S. President. The American prosecutors are visibly annoyed by this, but the chief British prosecutor can't resist a chuckle at his allies' expense.
  • Affably Evil: Goering is gregarious, funny, and charismatic and has Brian Cox's considerable magnetism, even surrendering quietly and treating his captors with respect. He was also at the highest echelons of power of a regime that committed war crimes and genocide.
  • Anti-Villain: Invoked by Albert Speer in his self-portrayal, and played straight in this miniseries. In fact, the 'anti-Nazi' attitudes which he claimed to have had during the war never manifested themselves until his capture, until which point he had only ever been a loyal and active Nazi.note 
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • Robert Jackson considers quitting, prompting his assistant to ask him "Does Herman Göering actually believe in his ideals more than you believe in yours?"
    • Earlier, Goering himself gets one from Captain Gilbert, the Jewish psychologist. Goering makes a dismissive remark about how the Nazis are being accused of so many appalling acts that it's hard to keep track of them all. Gilbert hits back with "Did you try?", highlighting Goering's self-delusion that he's ever been on the side of right.
  • Artistic License History:
    • Averted when Göering reminds Dr. Gilbert that Nazi antisemitic laws were inspired by English and American racist theories (actual defendants used American forced sterilization laws as a defense to their own-essentially a tu quoque fallacy).
    • Wilhelm Keitel is referred to as an admiral when in reality he was a field marshal.
    • Jackson is shown struggling with his examination of Goering, before rallying and getting the better of ol' Hermann. In reality, observers agreed that Goering left his encounter with Jackson unscathed. Jackson, while a fine orator who wrote a great closing statement, hadn't been a trial lawyer in decadesnote  and the inexperience showed. It was actually the British prosecutor Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (played here by Christopher Plummer) who pinned Goering to the wall on cross.
    • Jackson is shown giving the opening speech, the famous "That four great nations, flush with victory and stung with injury, stayed the hand of vengeance ..." speech was actually given by, at the time, 27-year old Ben Ferencz, the star of the Netflix documentary Prosecuting Evil. He was an American Jew by immigration from Romania, grew up in Hell's Kitchen, graduated from Harvard, fought in the war, and was asked by the US Pentagon to document the concentration camps because of his background in criminology. At the time of his death in 2023, he was the last surviving lead prosecutor of Nuremberg (at 103 years old!) and had dedicated his life to human rights. He was quite the badass and was said to have a much more aggressive and belligerent manner of conducting himself than Jackson or his boss.
    • There were actually nine judges at the real Nuremberg trial, two from each of the victorious countries (USSR, United Kingdom, France, and the USA) and one chief judge. Here, it is watered down to four.
    • Colonel Andrus is depicted as personally supervising the executions of the convicted defendants. In real life, Andrus was not even present at the executions, as he felt he had spent too much time with the defendants to watch them die.
    • As the defendants arrive at Nuremberg prison, Julius Streicher publicly mocks and ridicules Robert Ley. The two were very close friends in real life.
  • The Atoner: Invoked by Hans Frank and Albert Speer.
  • Backfire on the Witness Stand: Ernst Kaltenbrunner's lawyer asked for Rudolf Höss to be brought in to testify on Kaltenbrunner's behalf. The prosecution doesn't object because it gave them to the opportunity to cross examine Höss. In direct examination Höss testified Kaltenbrunner never visited Auschwitz, hesitating when asked to confirm that. During the course of the cross examination Höss tells Jackson that his people killed over 2.5 million people during the time Höss was commandant at Auschwitz, bragging about how he discovered how to kill people faster by using Zyklon B. The testimony by Höss does absolutely nothing to help Kaltenbrunner escape a guilty verdict and death sentence at the end of the trial and likely sealed the fate of a number of the other Nuremberg defendants as well.note 
  • Better to Die than Be Killed:
    • Robert Ley hangs himself in his cell before the beginning of the trial.
    • Hermann Göring swallows cyanide before the executions start, not because he didn't want them to have the satisfaction, but because he considered hanging in place of a firing squad to be an intolerable indignity.
  • Blunt "Yes":
    • When discussing the trial.
    Nikitchenko: You would allow a man such as Ernst Kaltenbrunner, responsible for the Gestapo, concentration camps, for killing millions of innocent people, to stand before a court of law and declare himself not guilty?
    Jackson: That is precisely what we would allow.
    • During the trial.
    Jackson: Witness, there is evidence before this court that nearly 10 million people have been exterminated-murdered in cold blood. You mean to say that you did not, and in your opinion, Hitler did not know what took place in the concentration camps?
    Göring: Ja.
  • Break the Haughty: Happens to Ribbentrop and Funk.
  • British Nazis: Hermann Göering was portrayed by British actor Brian Cox. To add further irony, he makes several anti-British jokes.
  • Big Bad: Herman Goering, as the highest ranking Nazi official is depicted as the main antagonist of the film, holding authority over all of the other prisoners.
  • The Brute: Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Rudolf Hess.
    Wilhelm Keitel: "He's pretending. Hess is very smart."
    Alfred Jodl: "If he was so smart, he wouldn't have spent the last four years in an English prison."
  • Comically Missing the Point: After the first round of eyewitness testimony of Nazi atrocities, Kaltenbrunner comments that the evidence the court has against them seems pretty flimsy because none of the defendants were physically present for the specific atrocities witnessed, as if that would help their case at all.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Given the time period, obviously this happens.
    • The rule that forbids the people involved in the trial bringing their wives because the men have not seen their own families in a long time was a real rule, but in the modern age, soldiers are frequently given the ability to go home to see their families.
    • Jackson telling Elsie that they have some personal choices to make when they get home alludes to something that would not fly in the modern United States. In the late 40's, it was a career-ending scandal if someone, and especially important like a Supreme Court justice, were in an extramarital relationship. Sometimes this was even a crime, though it usually wasn't prosecuted.
    • Although it is not as obvious as some of the other examples, Doctor Gustave Gilbert faces a fair bit of mockery and mistrust from the guards because of the fact he is an army psychologist. In the 1940's, although psychology was now accepted as a science, it still faced a fair amount of prejudice and suspicion, and it was not until the 1950's and 60's that it became acceptable in the mainstream.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Rudolf Höss doesn't see the murder of nearly three million people at Auschwitz as anything to get upset about. In fact, he is always polite and very well-mannered. And yes, he is quite the Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: After admitting to killing two and a half million people, Höss makes it a point that he never allowed "gratuitous" cruelty, and that any guard caught tormenting prisoners for fun was punished. He sees the murders as simply part of his job.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Goering is introduced arriving at an American military encampment to surrender with his family in tow. He later has several interactions with them indicating he genuinely cares about them and comforts his little daughter. Goering's wife indicates he surrendered quickly to prevent his family from being killed on Hitler's orders due to his perceived betrayal. Wilhelm Keitel apparently spent most of his time talking with the psychiatrist about his family, rather than the charges against him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    "We knew when the people were dead because they stopped screaming."
    • Some defendants show uneasiness as they see the clips about the concentration camps.
    • Several German officers, all of whom were involved in numerous war crimes, express disgust at being put on the same trial as Julius Streicher, describing him as a swine and a pornographer.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: The "dueling scars" on Kaltenbrunner's face. They were actually caused by a driving accident.
  • Greedy Jew: Julius Streicher openly and proudly admits to considering this stereotype as a matter of fact.
  • Hanging Judge: Soviet judge Iona Nikitchenko. Justified by what people like Keitel, Rosenberg, and Frank did in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. If he'd had his way, there wouldn't have been any trials at all. Ironically this depiction is contrary to real life, where it was, in fact, Churchill who wanted to execute the Nazis without trial and it was Stalin who insisted on trying them in court. The trials had already been decided on by the time of that meeting and Nikitchenko advocating to the Western Allies the opposite from what Stalin ordered would have had serious consequences. However, they wanted trials like those in the Soviet Union (Nikitchenko was one of the judges in the Moscow Show Trials).
  • Heel Realization: Years before the Nuremberg trials, Albert Speer claimed to have 'finally realized' that Hitler was insane and dragging the entirety of Germany down with him. He also claimed that he had put together a plan to assassinate him but was foiled... by a wall. Speer was a notoriously Unreliable Narrator.
  • Historical Beauty Update: The real Robert Jackson was nowhere near as handsome as Alec Baldwin.
  • Hot-Blooded: Julius Streicher is a capricious, rude, loud anti-semite.
  • Implausible Deniability:
    • Gestapo chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner's entire strategy of legal defense is to deny everything he's done and say everyone who claims that he engaged in war crimes as a liar, even when the prosecution presents him with incontrovertible evidence and multiple witness testimonies to prove it.
    • There's a moment where Goering is presented with the document which he sent to SS General Reinhard Heydrich to organize the Holocaust, but he still claims that this doesn't mean that the SS had anything to do with it. The entire courtroom does a double-take from the blatant untruth of this statement, and even Goering himself has an Oh, Crap! expression when he realizes what he just said.
  • Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: When the Nazis are taken to Nuremberg for the war crimes trial, the generals among the captured men appeal to the Allied servicemen on the basis of a soldier's honor. The Allied commander slash jailer walks up and rips off the epaulettes on their shoulders.
    Now you're no longer soldiers. You are all war criminals, all of you!
  • Insistent Terminology: During Justice Jackson's questioning of Hermann Göering, he presents the memorandum in which Goering ordered Heydrich to organize the Holocaust, i.e. the Final Solution. Goering protests that the proper translation is "Total Solution", completely ignoring that it's an order for genocide either way.
  • Ironic Echo: Most of the defendants, especially Wilhem Kietel use the only obeying orders argument as a defence, which annoys the living nightmare out of Colonel Andrus. When Goering is isolated from the other defendants, Andrus repeats this line to Goering, one of the few times Colonel Andrus has a moment of humor.
  • Just Following Orders:
    • Wilhelm Keitel builds up his defense on this principle. Nobody buys it.
    • Colonel Andrus happily repeats this line to Goering when he is isolated from the other defendants to prevent him from influencing the other defendants in the trial.
  • Just Giving Orders:
    • Goering says he started the concentration camps, but otherwise knew nothing about what went on in there and that in his opinion even Hitler did not knew. Jackson points out that Hitler proveably discussed the extermination of the Jews with Ribbentrop, the Foreign Minister. Goering, as Hitler's second-in-command, was above Ribbentrop, so him claiming ignorance is beyond farcical.
    • Speer has more success with this, freely admitting that he was happy with the slave labor that Sauckel provided on his orders, while simultaneously declaring that he sabotaged Hitler's scorched earth orders and sought to assassinate him. While this infuriates his former colleagues, the Judges let him off with 20 years and execute Sauckel.
  • Lack of Empathy: Dr. Gilbert pegs this as the reason the defendants were able to commit such terrible acts. Specifically, lack of empathy for others besides those they already cared about-the defendants are perfectly caring toward their own families, for instance.
  • Laughing Mad: Rudolf Hess, who has received a life sentence, bursts into a fit of manic laughter after the executions.
  • Loophole Abuse: Lampshaded by the judges, as they note that Jackson forbade them from bringing their wives, which enables him to have a clandestine affair with his secretary.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Göering points this out to Captain Gustav Gilbert when talking about Hiroshima and US segregation laws.
    "From the beginning of the century, through the first war, until the rise of Hitler, the freemasonry of the Jewish merchants consistently undermined the German economy and nationhood of the Fatherland. That is why we made anti-Semitic laws and why you, my friend could never understand anti-Semitism! Why? Because you. Are. A Jew!"
  • Punch-Clock Villain:
    • After quietly telling the court how many people were killed in Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss explains to Dr. Gilbert that outside the concentration camp he lived a perfectly normal life. It's used to illustrate how sociopathic Höss is that he could detach himself so easily from his job.
    • Albert Speer presents himself as an otherwise sensible bureaucrat who simply worked for an evil regime before he had a crisis of conscience. In reality, this was more complicated; while Speer was saner than the vast majority of his colleagues, he was careful to downplay his own war crimes during the trials and in his memoirs (which still forms the dominant narrative about his conduct during the war to the general public).
  • Redemption Equals Death: Hans Frank shows remorse for the crimes he committed while he was Governor-General of the General Government in occupied Poland, but this isn't enough to save him from the gallows. The French judge does indeed recommend mercy for Frank because of his remorse, but the other judges overrule him.
  • Sexy Secretary: Jackson's secretary and chief assistant, Elsie Douglas (Jill Hennessy), is stunningly beautiful, and the two end up having an affair during the trial. Their feelings are portrayed as genuinely mutual and there is no suggestion that their relationship is anything but entirely consensual, but the power differential does tend to raise some modern-day eyebrows.
  • Smug Snake: Joachim von Ribbentrop.
  • The Sociopath: Rudolf Höss killed over 2 million Jews when he was commandant of Auschwitz. He never shows the slightest emotion when discussing it. Instead, he treats it all as a bureaucratic matter, talking about how inefficient other camps were, and the innovations he introduced to murder people and dispose of their corpses more quickly. He genuinely seems to view it as no different from any other job.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Played straight by Julius Streicher, somehow subverted by the repentant ones.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Hess has a big damn one in the end (including an Evil Laugh).
    • Ribbentrop has a minor one when he starts weeping as the clip about the concentration camps is shown to the court.
  • Villain Has a Point: Göering is lying when he talks about not being personally complicit in the Holocaust, but part of what makes him so charismatic is that he makes plenty of solvent points about the double standards that are being applied to the Germans simply because they lost, or how the supposedly contrite Speer is intentionally trying to portray himself in the most sympathetic manner possible.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Strangely, some sentences aren't read by the judges. However, we get to see the executions of all the defendants sentenced to death.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Göering to Jackson.
    • Defied by the judges when they decide that hanging is the only appropriate means of execution for the convicted defendants. When the French judge floats the idea of a firing squad for the military officers among the defendants slated for execution he is quickly shot down by the Soviet judge, who insists that "the bullet is for the honorable adversary, not the butcher." The American and British judges agree and death by hanging is decided upon.
  • Yes-Man: All of the defendants, according to Göering, as an explanation for their "Just Following Orders" defense and why they won't take any responsibility for the Holocaust. In his words: "all the no-men are six feet underground."