Benjamin Ferencz, the last German Nuremberg prosecutor who prosecuted Nazi war criminals after World War II and a longtime champion of international criminal law, died Friday at the age of 103, NBC News reported, citing the son of the deceased.
Ferencz, a Harvard-trained lawyer, secured the convictions of many German officers who led flying death squads during the war. The circumstances of his death were not immediately revealed. The New York Times reported that Ferencz died at a retirement home in Boynton Beach, Florida.
He was only 27 when, in 1947, he was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, during which the Nazis were tried for crimes against humanity.
After World War II, Ferencz advocated for decades for the creation of an international tribunal, a goal which was achieved by the creation of an International Criminal Court sitting in The Hague. Ferencz also became one of the largest sponsors of the Washington-based Holocaust Museum.
“Today the world lost a leader who demanded justice for the victims of genocide and related crimes. We mourn the death of Ben Ferencz, the last war crimes prosecutor at Nuremberg. At the age of 27, with no trial experience, he secured the conviction of 22 Nazis,” the Holocaust Museum tweeted.
At Nuremberg, Ferencz became the chief United States prosecutor in the trial of 22 officers who led the mobile paramilitary assassination groups known as the Einsatzgruppen, part of the infamous SS units. During the war in German-occupied Europe, these groups carried out massacres of Jews, Gypsies and people of other nationalities – mostly civilians – and caused the death of more than a million people.
“It was the tragic embodiment of a program of intolerance and arrogance. Revenge is not our goal, nor is just retribution. We ask this court to uphold through international criminal practice the right of a person to live in peace and dignity, regardless of race or religion. The case we represent is humanity’s call to law,” Ferencz said at the time at the trial.
Ferencz told the court that the accused officers methodically carried out long-term plans to exterminate ethnic, national, political and religious groups “condemned in the spirit of the Nazis”.
“Genocide – the extermination of entire categories of people – was the main instrument of Nazi doctrine,” Ferencz said.
All defendants were found guilty and 13 of them were sentenced to death. This process became the number one thing on Ferencz’s charts.
Benjamin Ferencz was born on March 11, 1920 in Transylvania (Romania). The child was only 10 months old when his family moved to the United States, where he grew up in a poor and criminal neighborhood of New York. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1943, he joined the United States Army and fought in Europe before being assigned to the new War Crimes Unit.
Ferencz collected documents and registration certificates from Nazi death camps such as Buchenwald after they were liberated by Allied forces. He must have looked at terrible images of human suffering, including heaps of emaciated corpses and crematoria where countless human bodies were burned.
After the war ended in 1945, Ferencz was assigned to a group of American prosecutors under the command of American General Telford Taylor during the war crimes trials in Nuremberg, the city where Nazi leaders had previously held propaganda rallies. developed before the war. Although controversial at the time, these trials were eventually recognized as milestones in establishing international law and bringing war criminals to justice.
“The most important thing about it is that it gave us and me insight into the mentality of mass murderers,” Ferencz said in a 2018 interview with the American Bar Association.
“They killed more than a million people in cold blood, including hundreds of thousands of children, and I wanted to understand how educated people – many of whom had doctorates or were generals in the German army – could not only endure, but also direct and commit these terrible crimes.”
After the Nuremberg trials, Ferencz worked to ensure that relatives of Holocaust victims, as well as Holocaust survivors, could receive compensation. Ferencz then argued for the creation of an International Criminal Court (ICC). In 1998, 120 countries adopted the Rome Statute establishing the ICC. This statute came into force in 2002.
At 91, Ferencz took part in the first hearing of the case before this court, making a final statement in the case of accused Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, convicted of war crimes.
Over the years, Ferencz has been critical of his country’s actions, including during the Vietnam War. In January 2020, he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times calling the killing by US drone strike of a senior Iranian military official “an immoral act” and a “clear violation of national and international law”.
“The reason I have continued to devote most of my life to preventing war is because I recognize that the next war will make the last one look like child’s play,” he said. told the bar in 2018. “…Law, not war, remains my slogan and my hope.”