Ben Ferencz, Germany’s last remaining prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials, has passed away at the age 103.
When he was appointed chief prosecutor of the US, Mr Ferencz was a 27-year-old inexperienced man. He was defending 22 Einsatzgruppen officers.
The mobile killing squads were part Germany‘s Nazi forces in the Second World War. In 1947, the officers were accused of murdering more than one-million Jews and other eastern European minorities.
In his opening statement, Ferencz stated: “It’s with sorrow and hope that we now disclose the deliberate killing of more than one million innocent and defenseless children, men, women and men.”
“This was the tragic fulfillment of a program of intolerance, arrogance.
“Vengeance is not our goal. We do not seek just retribution.
“We request this court to affirm, by international penal action, man’s right of living in peace and dignity irrespective of race or creed.
“The case that we present is a plea for humanity to the law.”
People are ‘condemned by the Nazi mind’
The officer told the court that officers had executed long-term plans to eliminate ethnic, national and religious groups, “condemned by the Nazi mind”.
“Genocide” – the extermination or destruction of entire categories of human beings was the most prominent instrument of Nazi doctrine.
All the defendants were found guilty and 13 were sentenced to death via hanging, even though Mr Ferencz did not ask for it.
“An insight into mass murderers’ mentality”
Mr Ferencz was 10 months old when his family immigrated to the USA from Romania.
He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1943 and joined the military. After fighting in Europe, he joined the newly-formed war crimes section of the army.
He was recruited by the US prosecution team in Nuremberg after the war had ended in 1945. In a 2018 interview, he stated that the most important thing about the experience was the insight it provided into mass murderers’ mentalities.
“They had killed over a million people, including hundreds and thousands of children in coldblood.” I wanted to find out how educated people – many had PhDs or were generals in Germany’s army – could tolerate and lead such horrific crimes.
“The next war will make it look like child’s playing”
Later, Ferencz worked with Jewish charities to help Holocaust survivors reclaim their property, businesses, and other assets that were stolen by Nazis.
He advocated for the establishment of an international court of criminal justice. This tribunal was established in 2002, and is located at The Hague in The Netherlands. However, it does not include some of the major countries like the United States.
In 2018, Mr Ferencz was critical about his country’s actions during the war in Vietnam. He stated that “The reason why I have continued to dedicate most of my life to preventing warfare is my awareness of the fact that the next war would make the previous one seem like child’s play.”
On Saturday, Mr Ferencz passed away in Boynton Beach, Florida.
In 2019, his wife Gertrude passed away, but he is survived and cared for by three daughters and a son.