Local lawyers are commemorating one of the most important court cases in history on the stage of a local middle school. Members of the Bar Association of Erie County will re-enact the 1946 Nuremberg Tribunal – an event that its organizers believe, even 70 years later, still has an impact on today’s society.
When the Human Rights Committee of the Bar Association of Erie County recognized that last year began the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Tribunals, they wanted to commemorate its significance. The group found an editor who had reduced the trial transcripts from approximately eight months in length down to two and a half hours. From there, members of the bar association were encouraged to try out for the production, and 13 were chosen to perform – including Gabriel Ferber, a local attorney who portrays Soviet Prosecutor Lieutenant General Roman Rudenko in the re-enactment.
On Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., the group will perform at the Amherst Middle School Auditorium. They have already performed three times at smaller venues in November – once at the Robert Jackson Center in Jamestown, at Erie County Hall in downtown Buffalo, and at the Park School in Amherst. Ferber said in his 40 years as a lawyer, he’s never seen anything similar in Western New York, and each performance was met with a standing ovation.
Roberta Handel, a member of the Board of Directors of the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo, was part of the sold-out audience at the last performance at the Park School.
“I was so overwhelmed by the show, by the acting, by everything about it,” recalled Handel. “I said to Mr. Ferber that we ought to have this enacted for the Holocaust Resource Center.”
Febrer agreed, but thought the event should be a fundraiser.
Proceeds from adult ticket sales at Sunday’s performance ($20 at the door) will benefit the Holocaust Resource Center’s New Generation Initiative. Run by two Western New York educators, its purpose is to inform teachers and students about genocide and holocaust through meetings held several times throughout the year.
For students, tickets to the performance are free, and Ferber said it’s those younger theater-goers that are always the target audience.
“The adults, hopefully, will be stimulated and learn something,” said Ferber. “But we believe students who attend will benefit from a longer-term impact on the significance of it. I suspect that for most of them, the whole concept will be new.”
Ferber believes the prosecutors who brought about the original Nuremberg Tribunals hoped they would be an example against the continuation of the genocide perpetrated during World War II. Just as much as they may have hoped it would have an impact in the past, Handel hopes it will have an impact in the present.
“I think we live in a world where there are holocausts going on, where there are hate crimes against peoples, and I think it’s important…for all of us to be aware of them and to be up-standers, not bystanders, to speak out against any kind of hatred or racism whenever or wherever it exists,” Handel said.
The full Nuremberg Tribunals were carried out in a series of 13 trials held in Germany between 1945 and 1949. The performance on Sunday will highlight the trials of some of the worst perpetrators of the war.
“These were the high echelon leadership of the Nazi government,” said Ferber. “And while they probably didn’t get their individual hands bloody with the acts being perpetrated by those who were taking their orders, they knew what was going on and they orchestrated the events.”
Ferber said those who decided to violate a 1934 non-aggression treaty by invading Poland, came up with the “final solution” to the so-called Jewish problem, and felt German citizens needed to expand their culture were motivated by extreme racism.
With such a large cast, the logistics of putting on the re-enactment are kept fairly simple. With a minimalist set of tables and lecterns, the essence of the performance is the language itself – which the show’s producers wanted to make sure was understandable. The script comes directly from original transcripts of the tribunal.