Benjamin Berell Ferencz, better known as Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials and who prosecuted the Nazis for crimes against humanity and genocide, has died in Florida (United States) at the age of 103, according to information confirmed by the US Holocaust Museum. U.S.
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“Today the world lost a leader in the quest for justice for victims of genocide and related crimes. We mourn the death of Ben Ferencz, the last Nuremberg War Crimes Prosecutor,” the museum wrote on its social media.
The memorial museum, created to “inspire citizens and leaders around the world to confront hatred, prevent genocide and promote human dignity”, noted that Ferencz, aged 27 and with no previous trial experience, won verdicts against 22 Nazis.
Ferencz died last Friday in Boynton Beach, a coastal city in Florida (southeast) located in Palm Beach County.
According to Professor John Q. Barrett of St. John’s University of New York, who was a student of his, in his blog, Ferencz had just turned 103 last March, but “he liked to say that he was already living 104 years”.
From Poverty and a Hostile Environment to Harvard
Born on March 11, 1920 in Transylvania (Romania), Ferencz came to the United States hand in hand with his parents at the age of 10 months.
“He grew up in ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ in New York City. He knew poverty, rampant crime and suffering. He quickly became a public school student, a college graduate, a Harvard Law School graduate, and an infantryman in the US Army in World War II,” Barrett recalled on his blog.
author of Jackson’s Listan archive of publications on US Supreme Court Justice and Nuremberg Chief Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954), Barrett says he is very grateful to his “teacher” and “dear and generous friend” Ben Ferencz.
After Ferencz graduated from Harvard in 1943, he joined an anti-aircraft artillery battalion preparing for the invasion of France.
As a soldier he fought in the main campaigns of Europe. When Nazi atrocities were discovered, he was transferred to a newly created Army War Crimes Department to collect evidence of Nazi brutality and arrest criminals.
in your book Planet Hood: the key to your future (1988), written to promote a comprehensive system of international law and courts, Ferencz describes the scenes he witnessed as he liberated “these centers of death and destruction.”
“Camps like Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Dachau are vividly etched in my mind. Even today, when I close my eyes, I witness a deadly sight I can never forget: the crematoriums glow with the fire of burning flesh, the mounds of emaciated corpses piled like firewood waiting to be burned… I glimpsed hell.” Narrated.
From the spring of 1946, Ferencz served as a prosecutor in Nuremberg, in the American occupation zone of what had been Nazi Germany.
Between 1947 and 1948, Barrett details, Ben was the chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen case, on the prosecution of members of Nazi Germany’s roving execution squads. “It was his first case as a lawyer. He accused the leaders of Nazi extermination operations in Eastern Europe of crimes against humanity (…), war crimes and belonging to Nazi criminal organizations”, recalls his student.
More than 20 Einsatzgruppen defendants were convicted of killing nearly a million people. “The Einsatzgruppen case was and is the biggest murder trial in human history,” Barrett points out.
“Nuremberg taught me that creating a world of tolerance and compassion would be a long and arduous task. And I also learned that if we don’t dedicate ourselves to developing effective world laws, the same cruel mentality that made the Holocaust possible could one day destroy the entire human race,” Ferencz said of his interest in establishing an international tribunal to try any government for crimes of war.
“From the first time I met Ben in 1999, I knew he would be the longest-serving promoter on the Nuremberg podium. I knew it from the math: Ben was very young (26, or close enough) in Nuremberg,” wrote Barrett.
Ferencz is survived by a son and three daughters. His wife, Gertrude Fried, passed away in 2019.