Holocaust Comprehension, Proof, & Remembrance

Monday, May 6, 2024, marks international Holocaust Remembrance Day. This date corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. In 1943, this was the date of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. On this day, Yom HaShoah, we recall the victims—six million Jews and millions of others—of Adolf Hitler and his criminal regime, and also resisters, rescuers, and the Allies who defeated Nazi Germany militarily in Spring 1945.

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The Nuremberg trial, which chief prosecutor Robert H. Jackson and his U.S. and Allied colleagues began in Fall 1945, was about holding individuals legally accountable for planning and then committing a criminal war of aggression, for war crimes, and for crimes against humanity.

Our phrase “The Holocaust” was not part of the Nuremberg prosecutors’ vocabulary. But this reality came to be at the center of their knowledge, their work as investigators and prosecutors, and the documentation and legal legacy that they left to history.

Justice Jackson first glimpsed the enormity of the Holocaust in June 1945. He was preparing to relocate to Europe to negotiate the creation of the International Military Tribunal and then to prosecute what became the Nuremberg case against the surviving Nazi leaders and their organizations.

On June 12, Jackson met at the federal courthouse at Foley Square in Manhattan with Jewish advisers. One, Dr. Jacob Robinson of the World Jewish Congress’s Institute of Jewish Affairs, told Jackson that “six million” European Jews had been “exterminated” by the Nazis.

Dr. Jacob Robinson (1889-1977)
Dr. Jacob Robinson (1889-1977)

Jackson was stunned by this allegation. He asked Robinson about his sources and their reliability. Robinson explained that the estimate was the difference between Europe’s known Jewish population in 1929 and what military and relief agencies were reporting at that time in 1945 as the number of European Jews who had survived the war.

Jacob Robinson and colleagues soon supplied supporting documentation to Justice Jackson. Over the coming months, his team, including Robinson, gathered much more.

When Jackson opened the Nuremberg trial on November 21, 1945, he described the evidence that the Allies would offer:

The conspiracy or common plan to exterminate the Jew was so methodically and thoroughly pursued that despite the German defeat and Nazi prostration, this Nazi aim largely has succeeded. Only remnants of the European Jewish population remain in Germany, in the countries which Germany occupied, and in those which were her satellites or collaborators. Of the 9,600,000 Jews who lived in Nazi-dominated Europe, 60 percent are authoritatively estimated to have perished. Five million seven hundred thousand Jews are missing from the countries in which they formerly lived, and over 4,500,000 cannot be accounted for by the normal death rate nor by immigration; nor are they included among displaced persons.

History does not record a crime ever perpetrated against so many victims or one ever carried out with such calculated cruelty.

This indeed was the case that the prosecutors proved at Nuremberg.

Two previous Jackson List posts describe this evidence and its impact on Justice Jackson:

  • from 2009, “Familiarity With Holocaust Evidence”—click here; and
  • from 2023, “Nuremberg’s Holocaust Proof”—click here.

Jackson’s 1946 official letter of thanks to the Institute of Jewish Affairs, especially Jacob Robinson, expresses gratitude for his assistance and vital teaching:

As this global day denotes, this is an ongoing task for every person