THE HUMAN'S IN THE TELLING
A documentary film following one road to modern human rights
For twenty years members of the family of David Maxwell Fyfe have uncovered and told the story of his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg. Here they tell their story while throwing alight on Maxwell Fyfe and his extraordinary years between 1945 and 1950.
This is an opportunity to read and watch the script as it develops
David Maxwell Fyfe’s year at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials as pre-eminent British prosecutor provided him with a unique insight into the way in which humanity had degraded itself over years of barbarity, and a determination to put in place a living instrument of law to prevent its’ repetition. In writing of his beliefs, he often quoted poetry to reinforce his message. His quotation of Rupert Brooke’s sonnet at Nuremberg was the starting point for our song cycle. We have sought to match his words of inspiration with words that inspired him, poetry of his youth that conjured an idyll which he sought to restore.
In the accompanying films, these words appear on screen to represent what was in his mind.
Words selected by Tom Blackmore Music by Sue Casson
Narrator – Robert Blackmore
Singers – Lily Blackmore, Jessica Holgate and Sue Casson at the piano.
You can read and watch the script page by page starting here, or you can explore sections by clicking below.
A tragedy that inspired Maxwell Fyfe’s passion for human rights.
Don’t cry in your sleep bonny babe – trad / words Jim McClean
Albion – words by Sue Casson
Throughout his life Maxwell Fyfe affirmed his belief in natural justice.
In 1957 he gave this speech in Westminster Hall to the American Bar Association during a visit to dedicate their monument to Magna Carta at Runnymede.
Magna Carta – words translated from its’ conclusion
Maxwell Fyfe was born and brought up in Edinburgh. He visited England only once before he was 18 and came to Oxford during the latter part of WWI.– Oxford University, Northern Circuit in Liverpool, MP and KC in London. The Parliament of 1935 constituted months after his winning of a byelection sat until the end of WWII.
Non Semper Imbres – by James Logie Robertson
Sergeant o’ Pikes – by Neil Munro (sung by Andrew Bolton)
As Attorney General in the post-war government, Maxwell Fyfe chaired the London Conference which established the Tribunal to try major war criminals. Now in opposition, he was asked by Hartley Shawcross to lead the British Prosecution in Nuremberg.
Blow out you Bugles – words taken from Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet III The Dead
The early months in Nuremberg were spent forensically studying the evidence left by the Nazi regime, and confronting the terrible atrocities revealed within.
These Hearts - words taken from Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet IV The Dead
March 1946 cross-examination of the Nazis. Atticus reported in The Times: ‘The genius of the place is Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who so far excels the other prosecutors that he has almost played them off the stage.’
Now God be Thanked - words taken from Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet I Peace
Billeted in Zirndorf, just outside Nuremberg, Maxwell Fyfe reflects on law’s purpose in serving mankind and facing even its’ darkest character.
Non Semper Imbres – by James Logie Robertson
On the 28th August 1946 Maxwell Fyfe gave his first speech at Nuremberg. It was the closing statement for the UK prosecution against the Nazi organisations. He ended the speech by quoting Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier.
The Soldier War Sonnet V – by Rupert Brooke
Looking into the future, to see how the past is easily forgotten. Proposing Human Rights as a means of practical remembrance.
Magna Carta theme
Safety - words taken from Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet II Safety
Applying Human Rights as a means of uniting the Europe Assembly post WWII, Maxwell Fyfe works in Strasbourg to realise the European Convention on Human Rights.
There are Waters - words from Brooke’s War Sonnets II Safety and IV The Dead
The International Magna Carta - words taken from Magna Carta, sung alongside Maxwell Fyfe’s draft wording for the European Convention.
This I believe. In the early 1950s Maxwell Fyfe outlined his beliefs in a talk for Ed Murrow’s CBS radio programme. Ed Murrow later became famous for taking on Senator McCarthy and his oppression of perceived communists in Hollywood.
All Shall be Well – words taken from Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
It is hard to imagine a place more haunted than Nuremberg in October 1945. The bombed streets stank of dead corpses: and the Germans who survived starved. The ghosts of those who attended the early Nazi rallies, whose salute to victory must have still echoed through the city, confronted by the ghosts of the victims of the war and the holocaust, who had come to the Courthouse to demand justice at the War Crimes Trials that were soon to open.
“All of the world seemed to have arranged a rendezvous at Nuremberg,”
wrote one observer of the stream of visitors to the trials. It does not require a huge leap of imagination to perceive that all the after-world may have arranged a similar rendezvous.
At that time those on trial were spectres, wraiths ripped of their powers. Except that they were still in some part men, answerable for their actions.
And now the whole business of trials, the judges, the military and other lawyers are captured in ghostly black and white film, and the jumble of sound spat from the first use of simultaneous translation.
And yet, after evidence had been digested and cross-examination completed by the summer of 1946, there was time to consider how the lessons of Nuremberg could make people in Europe safe in the future. After the barbarism of war boundless imagination was available for the exorcism of the ghosts.
Human rights are one thread identified, and amongst those at Nuremberg it found champions.
‘Yet I am haunted by some words from a song to which we used to listen in more carefree days:
"On fait des serments
On les oublie"
Having propounded high ideals in defeated Germany I feel the responsibility for doing my part to see that they are not forgotten by the victors.’
These are the words of David Maxwell Fyfe speaking in Brussels in December 1947, in the period after his return from successfully prosecuting at Nuremberg and before the Congress of Europe at The Hague where he began his work that would result in the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights in Rome in 1950.
It is his story that we tell.
The protection of these rights is now itself questioned. The cold reality of the world at war, and the imaginative response of peace in the late 1940s is now a flickering memory. Since we are unable to remember, we cannot contemplate repetition, and we resort to questioning the intent of those who codified freedom. Those writers themselves become ‘shadows, who are totally unremembered.’
And so, our story is a ghost story, told to prick the memory and loosen the chains of imagination.
It is relayed in the words of David Maxwell Fyfe, and the words that inspired him, set to music by Sue Casson.
These words are set in a spectral landscape, for in the miraculous world of today’s peace, these words are embedded in every brick, written unseen on every wall, in the air itself, longing to be remembered.