Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials who tried the Nazis for genocide war crimes and was one of the first outside witnesses to document the atrocities of the camps concentration and labor of Nazi Germany, has passed away. He just turned 103 years old in March.
Ferencz died Friday night in Boynton Beach, Fla., according to St. John, who runs a blog about the Nuremberg trials. The death was also confirmed by the American Holocaust Museum in Washington.
“Today the world has lost a leader in the quest for justice for the victims of genocide and related crimes,” the museum tweeted.
Born in Transylvania in 1920, Ferencz immigrated to New York with his parents at a very young age to escape rampant anti-Semitism. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Ferencz joined the United States Army just in time to take part in the invasion of Normandy during World War II. Using his legal background, he became an investigator of Nazi war crimes against U.S. soldiers as part of the new War Crimes Division of the Judges Advocate’s Office.
When US intelligence reports described soldiers encountering large groups of starving people in Nazi camps monitored by SS guards, Ferencz continued to visit, first at the labor camp. Ohrdruf in Germany and later the infamous concentration camp Buchenwald. At those camps and later in others, he found bodies “piling up like firewood” and “helpless skeletons suffering from diarrhea, dysentery, typhus, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and other diseases.” , are vomiting in beds full of lice or on the ground with only their pathetic eyes begging for help,” Ferencz wrote in his life account.
Ferencz writes: “Buchenwald concentration camp was a house of graves of indescribable horrors. “No doubt I was deeply traumatized by my experiences as a war crimes investigator in Nazi extermination centers. I still try not to speak. or think about the details.”
At one point when the war ended, Ferencz was sent to Adolf Hitler’s mountain hideout in the Bavarian Alps to search for incriminating documents but returned empty-handed.
After the war, Ferencz was honorably discharged from the US Army and returned to New York to begin practicing law. But that was short-lived. Thanks to his experience investigating war crimes, he was recruited to help prosecute Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials, beginning under the leadership of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Before coming to Germany, he married his childhood sweetheart, Gertrude.
At the age of 27, with no trial experience, Ferencz became chief prosecutor for a 1947 case in which 22 former commanders were accused of murdering more than 1 million Jews, Romanis and other enemies. of the Third Reich in Eastern Europe. Instead of relying on witnesses, Ferencz relied mainly on official German documents to make his case. All defendants were convicted, and more than a dozen were sentenced to death by hanging, although Ferencz did not ask for the death penalty.
He wrote: “In early April 1948, when the lengthy sentence was read, I felt vindicated. “Our plea to protect humanity with the law has been upheld.”
When the war crimes trials were over, Ferencz worked for a consortium of Jewish philanthropic groups to help Holocaust survivors regain their possessions, homes, businesses, Jewish artworks, Torah scrolls and other religious items were confiscated by the Nazis. . He later also assisted in negotiations that led to reparations for the victims of Nazi Germany.
In the decades that followed, Ferencz advocated the creation of an international tribunal that could prosecute any government leader for war crimes. Those dreams were realized in 2002 with the creation of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, although its effectiveness was limited due to the non-participation of countries such as the United States.
Ferencz has one son and three daughters. His wife died in 2019.