Although 24 individuals were named as defendants in the Indictment signed in Berlin on 6 October 1945, only 22 remained as defendants when the trial commenced on 20 November. The number had been reduced by the suicide of Robert Ley and by the Tribunal's severance of Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach from the proceedings. Of the 22 surviving defendants only 20 appeared in the prisoners' dock at the opening of court. Martin Bormann, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, was presumed to be alive and at large. Ernst Kaltenbrunner had been hospitalized by a cranial hemorrhage, and as a consequence was unable to be present at the trial save for one period of a few days.
Defense counsel for two of the twenty men in the prisoners' dock, Hess and Streicher, sought to have the proceedings against their clients dismissed on the grounds of their mental incapacity to stand trial. Expert medical examiners concluded that both defendants were fit to defend themselves, and the proceedings against them were resumed. One of them, Hess, who had claimed to be a victim of amnesia, created something of a sensation by confessing in open court that he had only been pretending to suffer from amnesia and that his memory was actually in good repair.
Fuller explanatory notes concerning the positions taken by the prosecution and the defense and the actions of the Tribunal in the cases of each of these six defendants, together with significant papers bearing on these matters, are printed hereinafter.
Pending the opening of the trial on 20 November 1945 the defendants were held in the prison at the Palace of Justice in Nurnberg, under the custody of the United States Army. In the evening of October 25 the guard on watch before the cell of Robert Ley noticed that the prisoner had maintained the same position for some time without moving. The guard entered the cell to find that although the prison officials had taken every known precaution, Ley had succeeded in committing suicide. Ley had ripped the hemmed edge from a towel, twisted it, soaked it in water, and fashioned it into a crude noose which he fastened to an overhead toilet flush pipe. He had then stuffed his mouth with rags, apparently torn from his own underwear. When he seated himself, strangulation was produced, and Robert Ley had succeeded in accomplishing his exit from the court of judgment, and from the world of living men. A farewell message written by Ley, together with other statements made by him during imprisonment, may be found at the end of the last volume (Statements XI-XIII).