The Nuremberg Trial, Seventy Years Later


Seventy years ago, Justice Robert H. Jackson gave the opening statement for the Prosecution at the trial of the major German defendants before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. According to Telford Taylor, a member of his team, Jackson had been nervous and irritable for weeks prior to the opening of the trial, which had almost been delayed, over his objections, several times. But once he walked to the podium and began to speak, his voice was clear, and his commitment was unshakeable—no one listening that day or reading his statement afterwards could doubt his passion, eloquence and firm conviction that his role was to bring the rule of law to bear on the question of what to do with the twenty-two captured Germans in the dock that day. Jackson understood that this was no ordinary trial and knew that the world was watching and would judge him harshly if he failed. He did not. Jackson, like the other prosecutors that presented evidence to the Tribunal over the next ten months, rose to the occasion. His Opening Statement, in particular, and its impact over the decades, has been forever etched in the hearts and minds of scholars, activists and students of Nuremberg.

The author will address only briefly the Nuremberg trials themselves, and then quickly turn to their legacy—how the extraordinary events of 1945 and 1946 have shaped the world since that time. Then, attention is turned to aspects of the Nuremberg legacy that remain either unfinished or have tarnished, rather than brightened, with the passage of time, and conclude with some final reflections on what can be done to reinforce the legacy so that we do not find ourselves, seventy years hence, “breathless and ashamed” as they were in 1945, at the devastation wrought by a world at war, but enjoying the benefits and prosperity that have resulted from our efforts to promote the gradual and unceasing construction of a world at peace.


Robert H. Jackson, Nuremberg Trials, Nuremberg principles, World War II, international criminal law, IMT, Germany



Leila Nadya Sadat (Washington University School of Law)



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