Jul 24, 2008

A joke at Nuremberg

I've just got back from Martha's Vineyard interviewing Budd Schulberg, the Oscar-winning writer of On The Waterfront. He's 95 now and frail, but his memory is excellent. He told me a great story about the Nuremberg Trials, where Schulberg was in charge of martialling the photographic evidence. Of all the defendents, Goering fascinated him most, he said. A very smart man whom the psychologists described as "a genius", Goering sat silently for the most part, taking notes on the case being made against him. At one point, an intelligence transcript was read aloud which detailed Goering's reaction to the invasion of Poland: elated, on top of the world, he cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the beginnings of the Third Reich. Hearing this in court, the captive Goering suddenly started laughing.

The rest of the court sat stunned for a few seconds and then, they, too, began to laugh. Not at Goering. With him. "He surprised everyone, you see," said Schulberg. "They weren't expecting him to show a sense of humour. An admission of his own hubris..... It was an extraordinary moment."

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