“That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.” — from Jackson's Opening Statement before the International Military Tribunal

Robert H. Jackson and the Nuremberg Trial

Chief of Counsel Jackson at the podium.
photo by Ray D'Addario

On May 2, 1945, President Harry S. Truman appointed Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson as chief prosecutor for the United States in the proposed trials of Nazi war criminals. President Truman gave Justice Jackson free rein to choose his own staff and to design and implement the trials. It was to be a truly international trial, the first one of its kind.

The Nuremberg defendants in the dock.
photo by Ray D'Addario

During the summer of 1945, Jackson worked at achieving a consensus among the Allies and was finally successful when an agreement between the American, British, French, and Soviet governments was signed on August 8th. This agreement, called the London Charter, became the basis for the trial before the International Military Tribunal. Beginning on November 20, 1945, the first Nuremberg trial lasted for almost ten months. Jackson himself cross-examined three of the 22 defendants, Hermann Goering, Albert Speer, and Hjalmar Schacht. Jackson gave the opening and closing statements, two of the most eloquent and important addresses in international law.

The Palace of Justice in Nuremberg.
photo by Ray D'Addario

It was through the energy, intelligence and leadership of Justice Jackson that the International Military Tribunal was organized and the trials carried out, standards of evidence developed, rights of defendants defined, and prosecutorial action commenced. Jackson was the driving force behind the conduct of the trials themselves. Some in the United States, including fellow members of the Supreme Court, criticized Jackson's decision to go to Nuremberg, yet he believed that it was a mission important to the nation and to the world. Jackson said the most important work of his life was at Nuremberg, where his dilligence and vision set legal precedents that continue to affect the international community in a positive way to this day.

Nuremberg Trial Timeline

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials, the Jackson Center presents an ongoing narrative timeline of selected events that occurred between April 1945 to October 1946. Click here to follow the timeline as it unfolds during the year.

View the Nuremberg Trials Chronology at the Truman Library.