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Ben Ferencz Is The Last Living Nuremberg Prosecutor And Here's What He Wants The World To Know

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Who Is Ben Ferencz? New Details On The Last Living Nuremberg Prosecutor And What He Wants The World To Know

Few people have had the view of history that Benjamin Ferencz has had. Now 99-years-old, he was a 27-year-old lawyer when he went to trial for the very first time; he was prosecuting 22 leaders of an infamous Nazi unit that was responsible for the slaughter of over one million Jews.

He succeeded in convicting the Nazis and then went on to have a career arguing for a system of international justice that would prevent and prosecute future crimes against humanity. Now he is speaking about his experiences and what he thinks about the current state of the world, particularly Donald Trump’s treatment of immigrants.

Who is Ben Ferencz? Read on for all the details.

1. Early life

According to the biography on his website, Ferencz was “...born in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania in 1920. When he was ten months old his family moved to America. His earliest memories are of his small basement apartment in a Manhattan district — appropriately referred to as ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’ He went on to Harvard Law School, getting his degree in 1943 and then enlisted in the military, serving under General Patton. His bio reveals that he served in an “anti-aircraft artillery battalion preparing for the invasion of France.” Eventually, he was assigned to the War Crimes Branch of the Army, which was responsible for documenting Nazi atrocities and arresting the perpetrators.


A post shared by Lizz  (@lizzwainwright) on Feb 18, 2017 at 10:31am PST

Ferencz was an immigrant.

2. Liberator

Ferencz was one of the American service members who went into the camps at the end of the war. He wrote of the experience: “Indelibly seared into my memory are the scenes I witnessed while liberating these centers of death and destruction. Camps like Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Dachau are vividly imprinted in my mind’s eye. Even today, when I close my eyes, I witness a deadly vision I can never forget—the crematoria aglow with the fire of burning flesh, the mounds of emaciated corpses stacked like cordwood waiting to be burned…I had peered into Hell.”


A post shared by The Plantvocate (@the_plantvocate) on Sep 1, 2018 at 12:51am PDT

Ferencz was only 27 when he was investigating Nazi war crimes.

3. The trial

On 60 Minutes, Ferencz told Lesley Stahl that he was given the task of reviewing the records of a a Nazi unit known as the Einsatzgruppen. The 3,000 person unit was assigned to enter areas after Nazi forces had taken over and round up Jews to execute immediately. As Ferencz reviewed the records, he realized the scale of the operation had been staggering. He said: “When I reached over a million people murdered that way, over a million people, that's more people than you've ever seen in your life, I took a sample. I got on the next plane, flew from Berlin down to Nuremberg, and I said to Taylor, 'General, we've gotta put on a new trial.'" General Telford Taylor, the prosecutor in charge of the Nuremberg trials told him they couldn’t do it. There wasn’t enough staff, the other trials were already in process. But Ferencz was adamant, recalling, “And I started screaming. I said, 'Look. I've got here mass murder, mass murder on an unparalleled scale.'  And he said, 'Can you do this in addition to your other work?' And I said, 'Sure.' He said, 'OK. So you do it.'”

That was how a 27-year-old rookie lawyer came to prosecute some of the worst atrocities of World War II. As the chief prosecutor of 22 Einsatzgruppen commanders at trial number 9 at Nuremberg he presented the written records of their own acts into evidence. Those records led to all 22 defendants being found guilty, and many of them were hanged.


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The evidence was chilling but the Nazis all pleaded not guilty.

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4. International law

In the wake of World War II, Ferenzc grew ever more committed to creating a system of international law to monitor and prosecute atrocities like genocide. He felt he had helped score a major victory when the international criminal court in The Hague was established in 1998. He even delivered the closing argument in the court's first case.


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He was the subject of a documentary.

RELATED: My Grandfather Killed Nazis In WWII — His Ghost Made Me Write This

5. Crimes against humanity

In recent interview, he talked about the Trump administration's policy of deliberately separating the families of asylum seekers at the US—Mexico border. He had harsh words about the practice of taking children away from their parents and indefinitely detaining them, saying that the Trump administration is committing “crimes against humanity.” The Guardian reports that he said: “We list crimes against humanity in the Statute of the International Criminal Court. We have ‘other inhumane acts designed to cause great suffering’. What could cause more great suffering than what they did in the name of immigration law? It’s ridiculous.” 

Today he calls Trump's immigration policy a crime against humanity.

6. Idealism

Despite the horrors that Ferencz has witnessed in his life, he is still able to see that the world has changed and often for the better. When Lesley Stahl suggested that he is an idealist he said: “I don't think I'm an idealist. I'm a realist. And I see the progress. The progress has been remarkable. Look at the emancipation of woman in my lifetime. You're sitting here as a female. Look what's happened to the same-sex marriages. To tell somebody a man can become a woman, a woman can become a man, and a man can marry a man, they would have said, "You're crazy." But it's a reality today. So the world is changing. And you shouldn't— you know— be despairing because it's never happened before. Nothing new ever happened before.”


A post shared by T. Fletcher (@fletchertoo) on Feb 25, 2017 at 4:04am PST

"Law not war" is his motto.

Benjamin Ferencz is 99-years-old. He and his wife Gertrude divide their time between New York and Florida. They have four adult children.

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union