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Robert Jackson, who led the US prosecution, spent all of 21 November on his feet, behind the podium, reading out the opening speech, which outlined, in general terms, what his team would be doing.

His words offer insight into what evidence would be presented, and pertaining to what charges. Thanks to the Germans’ inherent “Teutonic passion” for documenting everything, there was no shortage of evidence.

If before Jackson’s opening speech the defendants had hoped that the prosecution would not find or would not be able to prepare full-fledged evidence for the trial, on that day their hopes were dashed. During the break and in the evening, the defendants opened up in conversations with psychologist Gustav Gilbert, but everyone, with the exception of Goering, attempted to feign horror at what they heard in court, and offer excuses.

They will not receive the poisoned goblet

November 20, 1945. Nuremberg Palace of Justice, room 600. US Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson. Public Domain


Less than eight months ago today, the courtroom in which you sit was an enemy fortress in the hands of German SS troops. Less than eight months ago, nearly all our witnesses and documents were in enemy hands. The law had not been codified, no procedures had been established, no tribunal was in existence, no usable courthouse stood here, none of the hundreds of tonnes of official German documents had been examined, no prosecuting staff had been assembled, nearly all of the present defendants were at large, and the four prosecuting powers had not yet joined in common cause to try them.

…We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this Trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspirations to do justice.

…We will not ask you to convict these men on the testimony of their foes. There is no count in the Indictment that cannot be proved by books and records. The Germans were always meticulous record keepers, and these defendants had their share of the Teutonic passion for thoroughness in putting things on paper. Nor were they without vanity. They arranged frequently to be photographed in action. We will show you their own films. You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices as these defendants re-enact for you, from the screen, some of the events in the course of the conspiracy.