SUBJECTS — U.S./1941 – 1945 & the Law; World/WWII;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Justice; Human Rights, Male Role Model;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect, Responsibility; Fairness.

AGE: 10+; No MPAA Rating;

Drama; 1961; 186 minutes; B & W. Available from Amazon.com.

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TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.

Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.


Three years after the most important Nazi authorities were tried and convicted of war crimes, the Nuremberg Tribunal began trials of four judges who made legal decisions that advanced the policies of sterilization and ethnic cleansing in Hitler’s Germany. This film is a fictionalized account of the efforts of a judge at the tribunal to determine how the defendants, and by extension, the German people themselves, could have participated in the atrocities of the Holocaust.


Selected Awards:

1961 Academy Awards: Best Actor (Schell), Best Adapted Screenplay; 1962 Golden Globe Awards: Best Actor– Drama (Schell); Best Director (Kramer); New York Film Critics Awards 1961: Best Actor (Schell). 1961 Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (Tracy); Best Direction/Set Decoration (B & W); Best Black and white Cinematography, Best Costume Design (B & W), Best Director (Kramer), Best Film Editing, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Clift), Best Supporting Actress (Garland).

Featured Actors:

Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Montgomery Clift, Maximillian Schell, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, William Shatner.


Stanley Kramer.


Judgment at Nuremberg depicts the first trial, based on principles of justice and international law, of the leaders of a country that waged aggressive war and committed crimes against humanity. This film is a gripping look at the moral issues surrounding both the actions of the defendants and the process of bringing them to justice. It is a valuable supplement to courses covering the history of World War Two, the Holocaust, and Human Rights.

Student interest in studies of WWII, the Holocaust and Human Rights will be enhanced through a filmed presentation. They will develop strong and long-lasting memories from the film. Through assignments requiring research, students will be able to augment lessons given in their history classes and advance their understanding of the concept of international tribunals as they function today. They can begin to explore the conflicts between patriotism and justice.


Minimal. There are a few disturbing scenes of the concentration camps showing dead bodies in the gas chambers, bodies being thrown into mass graves and emaciated concentration camp survivors.


If your child is viewing the film as a part of work in history class, talk about the Holocaust and then ask how the film may have illuminated some of the lessons learned in the classroom.


After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.


1. The German defense attorney argued that very few people living in Germany during the Second World War were aware of the horrors perpetrated on non-combatants in the concentration camps. Defendant Janning finally admits: “Were we deaf? Blind? If we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.” What is Janning saying about the excuse offered that Germans did not know about the death camps.

Suggested Response:

Jennings asserts that whether or not the German people knew about the camps is not the issue since any ignorance was willful; therefore, the German people are still culpable in regards to the crimes committed. In fact, many Germans knew what was happening in the concentration camps, see Learning Guide to The White Rose.

2. Why was it important to do justice for the victims of the Holocaust? Why is it important for any victim of a crime to have justice?

Suggested Response:

Justice is a basic human right. Without the expectation that justice will be done if one is harmed, people begin to doubt that the social order is beneficial and they withdraw allegiance to society. Moreover, punishment of wrongdoers serves to deter wrongdoing by others in the future.

3. Referring to defense attorney Rolfe’s claim that the men facing the Tribunal were not the worst war criminals in the country, Haywood said, “If these murderers were monsters, this event would have no more moral significance than an earthquake.” What point is Haywood making in this comment?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. Students may note that the horrors of the Holocaust were perpetrated by ordinary German people, not monsters, and thus there is much more to be feared in their cooperation with evil.


4. Did the people living in Germany during the Second World War bear responsibility for the Holocaust? Did they know about the concentration camps? Was it “very few” as contended by the German defense attorney? Or as the Janning character finally admits: “Were we deaf? Blind? If we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.”

Suggested Response:

Historians still debate this question, but we believe that the German population knew or, if it didn’t know, closed its eyes and stopped its ears. See Learning Guide to “The White Rose”. In fact, they had a responsibility to know. But this question and its answer is not placed here because of its importance in judging the “German people.” Most of those alive during WWII have passed away, both the victims and the perpetrators. The Germany that exists today is a different country than the Germany of the 1930s and 1940s. This question is important only from the standpoint of what it says about all peoples. Without vigilance, a civilized country with a long and proud heritage can be led into committing crimes and atrocities. Some people believe that this has occurred with the U.S. in the “War on Terror” particularly with respect to the denial of rights to prisoners at Guantanamo. All societies must be vigilant to avoid repeating the experience of peoples such as the Germans, the Rwandans, the Cambodians and the Serbe.


5. There are now several war crimes tribunals operating throughout the world. Name two of them and tell us if you agree that international war crimes tribunals are beneficial.




1. What is a war crime?


2. What is a crime against humanity?


3. What are the Geneva Conventions?


4. What could an individual German have done to protest the conduct of the concentration camps? Suggested Response: See Learning Guide to “Schindler’s List” and Learning Guide to “The White Rose”.


5. What did you think of the German woman, Madame Bertholt, who befriended the Judge? What were her motives? Did you trust her? Compare Madame Bertholt to Emilie Schindler, Oscar Schindler’s wife, who was very much his partner in his heroic efforts and who explained her actions and those of her husband by saying, “We only did what we had to do.” See Learning Guide to “Schindler’s List“.


6. What did you think of Herr Rolfe, the defense lawyer? Did these men deserve a defense? Would you have defended them if you had been asked to do so?


7. What right did the Allies have to try Germans for war crimes when the Allies firebombed Dresden, Tokyo, and other cities and when the U.S. used the atomic bomb (see Learning Guide to “Fat Man & Little Boy”)?


8. Should the prosecutor have asked for lighter sentences because of fear of the reaction of the German people? At the time of the trials, the Cold War was just beginning. Should Judge Haywood have changed his verdict to keep West German support against the Russians?


9. Was the U.S. Army general correct when he told the prosecutor that “The thing to do is to survive, isn’t it? Survive as best we can, but survive.” What did the prosecutor mean when he responded “What was the war all about?”


11. What do you think of the fact that of the 99 Nuremberg defendants given prison terms, none remained in prison by 1961?


12. Did you think that the young man (Rudolph Peterson) should have been castrated? Should his mother have been allowed to have ten mentally defective children? If not, who should have decided how many children she should have had?


13. What were the differences between the German concentration camps and the camps in which the U.S. government interred Japanese-Americans? Were those differences sufficient to justify what the U.S. did to Japanese-Americans during the Second World War?


14. Many persons participated in the war crimes in Germany during the Second World War. The defendants shown in this film were surely not the worst war criminals in the country. Does this mean that they should have gone free? Judge Haywood, in responding to this argument made by Rolfe, the defense attorney, said, “If these murderers were monsters, this event would have no more moral significance than an earthquake.” Do you agree?


15. For centuries, judges enforced laws upholding slavery. For almost a hundred years, they upheld laws requiring segregation and prohibiting interracial marriages. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a law sterilizing mentally retarded individuals. In many states there are laws permitting pregnant girls under the age of 18, whose parents will not give consent to them having an abortion, to go to a judge and obtain permission to have the procedure. There are many who believe that the judges applying these laws have condoned crimes against humanity. Should these judges be tried under the Nuremberg principles?




16. Do you think that Judge Haywood was a male role model?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)


1. Describe how the crimes of the Nazis violated the ethical principle of respect.



(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


2. Eventually, the Ernst Janning character recognized the importance of the principles outlined in this Pillar of Character. Describe the situation and his reasoning.



(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)


3. The Nuremberg trials were the first War Crimes trials. Prosecutors, judges, and defense counsel had to make up the rules as they went along. In most situations, is it fair to make up the rules as you go along, or should the rules be set out in advance? Was making up the rules as the Nuremberg trials progressed justified? Who were the stakeholders and what were the non-ethical issues involved? Analyze the decision to hold the trials despite the fact that there was no precedent using the Ethical Decision-Making Model suggested by the Josephson Institute of Ethics. See Making Ethical Decisions.


Any of the discussion questions in this Learning Guide can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1. Three types of crimes were prosecuted by the Nuremberg tribunals:

  • crimes against the peace (planning, starting and waging aggressive war);
  • war crimes (violations of the Hague Conventions and the laws of war generally recognized by “civilized” nations);
  • crimes against humanity (atrocities against civilians both German and non-German, including exterminating racial, ethnic and religious groups and operating slave labor camps).
  • Research the Nuremberg tribunals and write an informative essay that looks deeply into one case for each of the above categories of crimes applying the Nuremberg Principles. Name the accused individual, the charges against him and the outcome of the trial. Conclude your essay with a paragraph in which you evaluate the efficacy of such trials in terms of preventing war crimes in the future.


2. Using research skills, investigate the nature of defense arguments claimed by defendants in their trials. Refer to specific cases to analyze justifications offered for charges against individual defendants. Conclude your analysis with your opinions about the validity of the defense arguments. Some of the defenses put forward by the defeated Nazis were that: (1) they were only acting under order and (2) they lacked knowledge of the atrocities.


3. There are now several war crimes tribunals operating throughout the world. The United States refuses to subject itself the jurisdiction of international war crimes tribunals. Write an opinion essay in which you argue whether or not all nations, including particularly the United States, should be subject to International Law enforced by international tribunals. Use specific cases to back up your point of view.


4. The United States has been accused of committing war crimes or crimes against humanity at several points in its history, including the following actions: the firebombing Dresden, Tokyo and other cities in the Second World War; dropping A-Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Indian Wars and treatment of Native Americans generally, and in the Vietnam War. Pick one of these actions, research the Nuremberg Principals and apply them to the action. Was this actions criminal or was it justified by the circumstances? For an in-depth examination of the ethical questions relating to the surprise atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, see Lesson Plan on Mass Casualties and Making Decisions About War.


See Additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


Books recommended for children ten years of age and older relating to the Holocaust can be found at Learning Guide to “Europa! Europa” and Learning Guide to “Four Films About Anne Frank“. Invisible Walls by Inga Hecht describes the Nuremberg laws and tells the experience of a Jewish family in Germany from 1935 to the end of World War II.

Recommended books relating to the experience of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry placed into internment camps in during WWII include: Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston; Voices From the Camps, by Larry Dane Briner; I am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment by Jerry Stanley.


  • There are a host of websites providing information on the Holocaust and the Nuremberg trials. An excellent source for information about the Holocaust is A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust.
  • Copies of the transcripts of the proceedings and other documents relating to the Nuremberg Trials are located at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials Web Page of the Avalon Project of the Yale Law School.


In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • Reel Justice, by Paul Bergman and Michael Asimow; Andrews and McMeel, 1996;
  • Screening America, by Marlette Rebhorn.

This Learning Guide was last updated on February 9, 2013.

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