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Marking the 75th Anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials

By Senator Christopher J. Dodd

May it please Your Honors:

The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.

Justice Robert H. Jackson

Chief Counsel for the United  States

Speaking to the International Tribune (IMT) in the Palace of Justice, Nuremberg Germany, November 21, 1945.

Seventy-five years ago [on Nov. 21, 2020], Justice Robert Jackson spoke these words at the beginning of what was to be one of the most important trials in history–the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.  Standing beside him that day was my father, Thomas J. Dodd, who would soon become Jackson’s Executive Trial Counsel. They were setting off into an unprecedented effort to uncover the truth of what the Nazi’s had done and to hold them to account under the rule of law.  

Over the next 11 months, my father, Justice Jackson and the other prosecutors presented overwhelming evidence of the machinery of death and destruction, as well as the poisonous ideology of Aryan racial supremacy, which had cost the lives of tens of millions of people–including the genocide of six million Jews. These were crimes so ghastly, as Justice Jackson held in his opening address, “that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”

Nuremberg ensured those crimes would not be ignored. Through their work, not only would my father and his colleagues successfully prosecute the two dozen German leaders for their grave crimes against humanity, but they also established the key principles of human rights and equal justice.  For many at Nuremberg, there was hope that these principles would help break the cycle of vengeance and destruction and put the world on the path of peace through the protection of human dignity for all.

Today, that path is still before us. Brutal conflicts in Yemen and Syria; resurgent authoritarianism, racism, and antisemitism; dire migrant crises in Myanmar and on our own southern border–all amidst a devastating global pandemic–remind us that the lessons of Nuremberg must be continually relearned and that the work of protecting dignity and promoting justice are the responsibility of each generation.   

As we face these new challenges to human rights and democracy, I’m proud to know that the work of Justice Jackson and the prosecutors at Nuremberg, fighting for human rights and the rule of law, is carried on through the Dodd Human Rights Impact at the University of Connecticut’s Human Rights Institute.  

The hard work of building a culture of human rights across our country and around the world is more important than ever. If democracy is to endure at home and around the globe, we, too, cannot ignore the egregious injustices that plague our world. In the coming year, through the work of our scientists on a COVID-19 vaccine and with the leadership of the Biden Administration, we will emerge from the fear and isolation this pandemic has created. We will then have the responsibility to renew our commitment to the universal values of human rights, and the opportunity to not only reconstruct our democracy as it was, but build a better, more just democracy for all.  

Amidst the devastation and ruin of Nuremberg, my father and his colleagues sought a reckoning with the past so that a brighter future might be possible. In 2020, as we face a dark season of what we hope will be the final days of one of the most difficult chapters in American history, I know now, as then, we can rise to this historical moment and walk that path to justice.

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