Benjamin B. 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.”
On the day after Christmas 1945, Ferencz was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army with the rank of Sergeant of Infantry. He returned to New York and prepared to practice law. Shortly thereafter, he was recruited for the Nuremberg war crimes trials. The International Military Tribunal prosecution against German Field Marshal, Herman Goering and other leading Nazis was already in progress under the leadership the American Prosecutor, Robert M. Jackson on leave from the US Supreme Court. The U.S. had decided to prosecute a broad cross section of Nazi criminals once the trial against Goering and his henchmen was over.
General Telford Taylor was assigned as Chief of Counsel for 12 subsequent trials. Ferencz was sent with about fifty researchers to Berlin to scour Nazi offices and archives. In their hands lay overwhelming evidence of Nazi genocide by German doctors, lawyers, judges, generals, industrialists, and others who played leading roles in organizing or perpetrating Nazi brutalities. Without pity or remorse, the SS murder squads killed every Jewish man, woman, and child they could lay their hands on. Gypsies, communist functionaries, and Soviet intellectuals suffered the same fate. It was tabulated that over a million persons were deliberately murdered by these special “action groups,” or Einsatzgruppen.
Ferencz became Chief Prosecutor for the United States in The Einsatzgruppen Case, which the Associated Press called “the biggest murder trial in history.” Twenty-two defendants were charged with murdering over a million people. He was only twenty-seven years old. It was his first case.
All of the defendants were convicted. Thirteen were sentenced to death. The verdict was hailed as a great success for the prosecution. Ferencz’s primary objective had been to establish a legal precedent that would encourage a more humane and secure world in the future.
After the trial, Mr. Ferencz fought for compensation for victims and survivors of the Holocaust, the return of stolen assets, and other forms of restitution for those who had suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
Part of his bio on the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial states,
In the decades since the Nuremberg Trials, Mr. Ferencz has dedicated his life to ending war and promoting justice. A testament to his commitment to these efforts, Mr. Ferencz partnered with the Museum to launch the Ferencz International Justice Initiative in 2017 to coincide with the 70-year anniversary of the Einsatzgruppen Trial at Nuremberg, in which he was Chief Prosecutor. He has been a strong proponent of the International Criminal Court, of reaching international consensus around a definition of the crime of aggression, and of other mechanisms to hold high-level perpetrators to account for mass atrocities. He is compelled by the imperative to “replace the rule of force with the rule of law,” by ending warfare in favor of judicial mechanisms that can resolve conflict. He often tells young people to “never give up” because the fight for peace and justice is worth the long struggle ahead.
Benjamin Ferencz is a truly selfless individual who made certain that the facts of these atrocities were never to be swept away, minimized or covered up. He is still with us today at the age of 101.
Read more about Ben Ferencz at these links: