Robert Jackson (1892-1954) served as U.S. attorney general, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. In the June 18, 1941 correspondence on his attorney general letterhead exhibited with this column, he writes to Arthur Goldberg:
I Was Happy to receive your cordial letter of congratulations. The confidence of friends is a renewed inspiration and encouragement for the task. With earnest appreciation of your good will and good opinion.
Goldberg, who himself would later serve as a Supreme Court justice as well as American ambassador to the United Nations (for which he gave up his Supreme Court seat at the request of President Lyndon Johnson) was then a labor lawyer in Chicago, and his congratulations were for Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court (Jackson’s nomination was confirmed by the Senate a few weeks later, on July 7, 1941.)
On April 13, 1945, Jackson delivered a major address in which he advocated conducting trials for Nazi war criminals. He believed the imminent Allied victory in the most inhumane war of all time should end with a civilized proceeding where the guilt or innocence of Nazi leaders would be determined in a court of law.
Though many allied nations urged summary executions, President Truman, seeking an individual with unimpeachable credentials and high ethical standards, asked Jackson to serve as the American chief of counsel prosecuting the principal Nazi leaders before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Jackson accepted and, as a result, was absent for the Supreme Court’s entire 1945 term.
Jackson’s absence from the Court – indeed, his very participation in the Nuremberg trials – was by no means universally popular; in fact, many of his own colleagues on the Court were highly critical. For example, Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone called the Nuremberg trials “a fraud” and wrote that “Jackson is away conducting his high-grade lynching party in Nuremberg. I don’t mind what he does to the Nazis, but I hate to see the pretense that he is running a court and proceeding according to common law. This is a little too sanctimonious a fraud to meet my old-fashioned ideas.”
Yet, notwithstanding his 14 years on the bench and his participation in many seminal Court cases, including Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Jackson viewed his service as Nuremberg prosecutor, and his role in creating new standards in international law, as his crowning achievements in public service.
Jackson played an important role not only in the trial itself but also in the creation of the International Military Tribunal, as he led the American delegation to London that resulted in the London Charter, a consensus agreement between the American, British, French, and Soviet governments signed on August 8, 1945. It was through Jackson’s leadership that the Nuremberg trials were organized; standards of evidence developed; rights of defendants defined; and prosecutorial action commenced.
Never before had standards been established defining aggressive war, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. Much more than America’s chief prosecutor, Jackson was the driving force behind the conduct of the trials themselves. A now-famous and critical precedent was established at Nuremberg rejecting the so-called Nuremberg Defense – i.e., “I was only following orders” – and holding individuals personally responsible for committing such crimes. Setting a new standard in the field of international law that remains in effect to date, Jackson established that individuals who commit war crimes or crimes against humanity may be tried by an International Tribunal and be found personally responsible.
* * * * *
Displayed here is a very rare Visitor’s Gallery pass to attend the prosecution’s closing arguments in the Hostages Case at Nuremberg on February 3, 1948. (The verso is printed in German.)
The American authorities held twelve trials for war crimes in their occupation zone in postwar Germany called the “Subsequent Nuremberg Trials” or, more formally, the “Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals.” These trials were all held before U.S. military courts, not before the International Military Tribunal.
The seventh of these trials, held from July 8, 1947 through February 19, 1948, was “The Hostages Trial,” also known as the “Southeast Case” because the defendants were all German generals leading troops in southeastern Europe during the Balkans Campaign in Greece, Albania, and what was then Yugoslavia. They were charged with committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, including mass murder, torture, deportation, hostage taking, reprisal killings, plunder and wanton destruction. All the defendants pleaded “not guilty.”
Of the 12 defendants indicted, one had committed suicide before the arraignment and one had been from the trial for medical reasons. Two of the remaining ten defendants were acquitted while the others received sentences ranging from seven years to life in prison.
* * * * *
In this August 12, 1947 correspondence on U.S. Military Tribunal letterhead, Curtis Shake, judge for Nuremberg Military Tribunal VI writes to artist and famed political cartoonist Albert T. Reid:
. . . I arrived here . . . to try one of the cases involving war crimes and crimes against humanity, alleged to have been committed by leading Germans. My Tribunal, which is Number VI has just been constituted and is scheduled to try the so-called I.G. Farben case . . .
IG Farben, which produced the Zyklon B gas that killed untold numbers of Jews and others, was the most powerful German corporate cartel in the first half of the 20th century and the single largest profiteer from World War II – and built with Hitler’s blessing a plant at Auschwitz so massive it consumed more electricity per day than the city of Berlin. As documents indisputably show, IG Farben was involved with the experimental atrocities committed by Mengele at Auschwitz, and it developed processes for synthesizing gasoline and rubber from coal, thereby contributing much to Germany’s ability to wage a war despite having been cut off from all major oil fields. Probably never in history has a major corporation pursued such evil ends.
United States of America v. Carl Krauch, et al., or the “IG Farben” trial, was the sixth of the twelve “Subsequent Nuremberg Trials” held by the U.S. before the American military court located in the U.S. occupation zone in Germany. The defendants had all been IG Farben directors, and the indictments against them centered on various war crimes and crimes against humanity, including waging of wars of aggression and invasions of other countries; the enslavement and deportation of concentration camp inmates to slave labor on a gigantic scale; and the torture and murder of enslaved persons.
Curtis Grover Shake served as the presiding judge and Telford Taylor was chief of counsel for the prosecution. The indictment was filed on May 3, 1947, and the trial ran from August 27, 1947 to July 30, 1948; of the 24 defendants arraigned, 13 were found guilty on at least one of the counts and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 1.5 to eight years.
Despite the extensive evidence presented by the prosecution that the company had been deeply involved in Germany’s rearmament after World War I, the tribunal rejected the charges of preparing an aggressive war and for conspiracy, and the judgment allowed the defendants the benefit of the “necessity” defense.
Only in the case of Auschwitz, where IG Farben had constructed a plant next to the concentration camp with the clear intent to use inmates as slave workers, did the tribunal consider the evidence sufficient to prove that IG Farben had acted on its own initiative.