Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Anniversary of Nuremberg

"[T]he people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

Hermann Göring

On Nov. 20, 1945, prosecutors began presenting witnesses and evidence in the war crimes trial of Nazi Germany's most prominent surviving leaders.

The trial went on for nearly a year, but, by the time the death sentences that had been pronounced by the tribunal were carried out in October 1946, the world had a definition for "crimes against humanity" — and faces to go with it.

That first Nuremberg trial has influenced international justice for more than six decades, but surprisingly few film re-creations have been made to dramatize for younger generations the critical role the trial played in establishing the record of atrocities committed by the leaders of the Third Reich. I've written about the absence of such dramatizations in my Birth of a Notion blog.

More than any of the generations that came before, today's young people rely on the visual to tell a story. Unfortunately, an important part of the story of the 20th century is largely untold for them — at least in a way to which they can relate.

It isn't necessary to entertain the audience — but it is essential to engage the audience.

Earlier this week, we observed the 30th anniversary of the tragedy in Jonestown, Guyana.

The admonition in the pavilion where many of the more than 900 bodies were found offers a relevant warning for those who ignore the lessons of history: "Those Who Do Not Remember The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It."

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