The last living prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials, held after World War II, died on Friday aged 103.
Ben Ferencz was just 27 years old when he secured the convictions of 22 Nazi officers for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He later advocated for the establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute war crimes, a goal he achieved in 2002.
Ferencz passed away in her sleep on Friday night at a nursing home in Bonynton Beach, Florida, United States.
“Today the world lost a leader in the quest for justice for the victims of genocide,” the US Holocaust Museum said, confirming his death.
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Ferencz was born in Transylvania – part of Romania – in 1920, but his family immigrated to the United States when he was young to escape anti-Semitism, later settling in New York.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1943, enlisted in the US Army and participated in the Allied invasion of Normandy at the Battle of the Bulge.
He rose to the rank of sergeant and eventually joined the group dedicated to investigating and collecting evidence of Nazi war crimes.
The team worked alongside the army in Germany and entered concentration camps as they were liberated, noting conditions in each and interviewing survivors.
In a later account of his life, Ferencz spoke of finding bodies “piled like firewood” and “helpless skeletons with diarrhoea, dysentery, typhus, tuberculosis, pneumonia and other illnesses, vomiting in their bunks or on the floor, begging for help.” with your pathetic eyes.”
Ferenz described Buchenwald – one of Germany’s largest concentration camps – as a “moruscule of unspeakable horrors“.
“There is no doubt that I was forever traumatized by my experiences as a war crimes investigator in Nazi death camps,” he wrote. “I still try not to talk or think about the details.”
After the war, he returned to New York to practice law, but was recruited soon after to try the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials, despite having no previous trial experience.
It was designated chief prosecutor in the judgments of the members of the einsatzgruppenthe mobile SS death squads that operated in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe and are estimated to have killed over a million people.
Of the 22 men tried at the trial, all were convicted. 13 of them were sentenced to death and four were executed.
When the trials ended, Ferencz – who was fluent in six languages, including German – remained in West Germany and helped Jewish groups obtain repair agreements of the new government.
In his later years, he became a professor of international law and campaigned for the establishment of an international tribunal that could try government leaders who committed war crimes, writing several books on the subject.
In 2002, the International Criminal Court in The Haguein the Netherlands, although its effectiveness has been limited by the refusal of several major countries, including the US, to join.
Ferencz is survived by a son and three daughters. His wife – his childhood sweetheart Gertrude Fried – passed away in 2019.
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