The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK.Tuesday—The other night I had the good fortune to see a preview of a film which will not be shown publicly throughout the United States until December and then it will be released simultaneously in several other countries. It is called "Judgment at Nuremberg"—a Stanley Kramer production that stars Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich and any number of other very fine actors and actresses who have given outstanding performances.

It must have taken courage to produce this film at this time—a time when most of us have forgotten what went on in Germany before and during World War II, let alone having any recollection of World War I.

As the film unrolled I could not help remembering an incident when, after World War II, I met a woman in devastated Germany with whom I had warm and affectionate ties. We had roomed together many years ago in a school in England for nearly two years. I asked her how she could have supported Hitler, with her strong Christian feeling of the obligation to live according to Christ's teachings. Had she known what her people were doing to the Jews?

This was her answer: "You people are as responsible as we Germans are. We were humiliated after World War I. Hitler seemed to give us back some of our dignity. When we began to have an inkling of what was really happening, he had complete control. And so we never looked over the hill and we never knew what was going on in Germany."

In this film we see portrayed one of the last trials at Nuremberg and the attitude and performance of the postwar German people. There were no Nazis. They had all hated Hitler. Couldn't the Americans understand that they were good, fine people who would never have countenanced such cruelties had they known about them?

The effort of the charming woman to win over our chief judge is an interesting study. She was so plausible, so sweet, but it made me think of things which we in America should remember today. The old judge was not won over or fooled because he was steeped in American traditions of justice. Many of those around him had lost their ability to think clearly and live up to their own standards. The ease, the charm of the young German woman; the agreeable, friendly men—how could they have really done what they did?

But in speaking to the repentant German judge the old American of Maine said: "You went wrong when you allowed your first man, whom you knew to be innocent, to go to death."

After watching the trial and listening to the eloquent pleas on both sides and having heard the old judge's final summing up, in which only one of his colleagues concurred but which condemned the four German judges to imprisonment for life, there comes the final statement on the screen: "Not one, single man condemned in these trials, and not one of these men sentenced, is still serving his sentence in Germany today."

It was hard for me to believe a short time ago when I was told that 80 percent of the men serving in government positions today in Germany were once in Nazi government positions. It is always explained that of course they could look nowhere else for competent people, so how could the present government do anything else?

We have forgotten our fear of Hitler. That fear is over and done with. We now fear only the Communists, and certainly Mr. Khrushchev is doing his best to intimidate the world. But I hope and pray he is not succeeding, for we must keep some balance in the situation of today. We must not forget the past.

The German people were responsible for what happened in Germany. They did not react quickly enough because they felt, as my friend felt, that he was giving them back their dignity. But you must not for any reason abandon the clear look at the realities of a situation.

True, if the Germans wanted a Hitler it was no concern of ours until he began to be an international murderer. And then the world had to react because he was trying to conquer the world. Today we know that the Soviets believe they will conquer the world for communism. But the power of destruction is so much greater on both sides that, in the interests of survival, we all believe we will avoid a war.

But to do so requires perspective. Hitler's armies occupied and destroyed Poland, Czechoslovakia and a part of Russia. We were never occupied or destroyed, but in our dealings with those who were—while we must be constantly alert to their threats of world domination—we must at the same time realize we have one mutual bond, and that is that we know we want to survive and we cannot survive if we have a nuclear war.

For that reason our whole approach to this problem must be one of total comprehension of the fears which exist in Communist countries of an armed Germany and of determination to be entirely fair in our dealings with the Communist world. They have a right to be Communists if they wish, but we have a right to preserve our own freedom and to win by example and persuasion as much of the rest of the world as we can.

And we also have a right to demand that they will not endanger the whole human race by trying to intimidate through the use of nuclear tests which are unnecessary and inhuman.

I hope many of my readers will see "Judgment at Nuremburg." It will make you think much more clearly about the dangers of the past and of the present.


(Copyright, 1961, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, November 1, 1961

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.