“We must show the world,” says chief prosecutor Fritz Bauer, “that our new German Republic is a democracy determined to preserve the dignity of every individual.” So rings an early (and, post--Saddam snuff video, timely) sentiment in this hyperdetailed account of the 20-month trial of Nazi officers once stationed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Largely assembled from original audio recordings taken at the tense proceedings, along with recent footage from the ghostly grounds, Verdict on Auschwitz presents an ennobling—if excruciating—testament to the purging spirit of justice, dragging postwar Germany into a confrontation with its past two decades after the fact.
The Quad is screening a shorter version than the four-hour cut from 1993. But even abbreviated, it’s hard to imagine any viewer leaving dissatisfied at the trove of lawyerly detail: reams of documents, ghastly blueprints of ovens and gas chambers, execution orders. Just as gripping are the occasional glimpses of early media frenzy surrounding the event, with banks of photographers and cameramen angling for access. If you’ve seen Claude Lanzmann’s landmark documentaries Shoah or Sobibor, you’ll know that such epics benefit from a bit more reflection. But as a compilation of evidence, this is damningly complete. (Opens Fri; Quad.)—Joshua Rothkopf