The Appointment

On May 2, 1945, President Harry S. Truman appointed Justice Robert H. Jackson to act as the representative of the United States and as its Chief of Counsel in preparing and prosecuting charges of atrocities and war crimes against the leaders of the European Axis powers and their principal agents and accessories. Justice Jackson was appointed Chief Prosecutor by Executive Order 9547.

In The Nuremberg Roles of Justice Robert H. Jackson, Professor John Q. Barrett writes, “As a matter of branding, President Truman’s decision to appoint Jackson to prosecute Nazi war criminals was a strong statement indicating how seriously the United States took the prosecutions. It prompted the British, the Soviets and the French to appoint counterpart chief counsel of capability, high rank and sufficient authority to represent their nations.”

Image is from a souvenir set of Nuremberg War Crimes Trials Photos produced by Arbeitsgemeinschaft, 1949.
Credit: U.S. Chief Prosecutor, Mr. Justice Robert H. Jackson.

Robert H. Jackson's Notes

The President released on May 2nd a statement that I would undertake the task. It received considerable publicity and I was immediately deluged with applications for jobs. The executive order defined my authority.

I was designated to act as representative of the United States and as its chief counsel “in preparing and prosecuting charges of atrocities and war crimes against such leaders of the European Axis … as the United States may agree with any of the United Nations to bring to trial….” I was to receive no additional compensation, but should receive my expenses.

I was given broad authority by the executive order. One reason probably was that the other authorities were willing to get rid of the problem by delegating responsibility to me. In the second place, it was a totally unploughed field. We couldn’t anticipate what we were going to meet with. So either we found it necessary to have the broadest kind of authority, or to keep running back for additional authorities from time to time. The result was that they were glad to give it, and I insisted upon having it if I was going to undertake the task.


– From “Justice Jackson’s Story,” transcript of tape recording taken by Harlan B. Phillips, Oral History Research Office, Columbia University, New York, N.Y., 1952-1953