Ben Ferencz

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Ben Ferencz
Color photograph taken in 2012 of Ben Ferencz standing in the courtroom where the Nuremberg trials took place. He is dressed smartly in a jacket, shirt, tie, glasses, and his hands are clasped in front.
Ferencz standing in the courtroom where the Nuremberg trials were held, 2012
Benjamin Berell Ferencz

(1920-03-11) March 11, 1920 (age 101)
EducationCity College of New York (BA)
Harvard University (LLB)
Known forProsecutor at the Nuremberg trials
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1943–45
RankArmy-USA-OR-05 (Army greens).svg Sergeant
Battles/warsWorld War II

Benjamin Berell Ferencz (born March 11, 1920) is an American lawyer. He was an investigator of Nazi war crimes after World War II and the chief prosecutor[1] for the United States Army at the Einsatzgruppen Trial, one of the 12 Subsequent Nuremberg Trials held by the U.S. authorities at Nuremberg, Germany. Later, he became an advocate of international rule of law and for the establishment of an International Criminal Court. From 1985 to 1996, he was adjunct professor of international law at Pace University.


Early life and education[edit]

Ferencz was born on March 11, 1920,[2][3][4] in Csolt, Szatmár County, located in the historical Transylvania region in the Kingdom of Hungary (today part of Șomcuta Mare, Romania). A few months later, Transylvania was ceded to Romania under the Treaty of Trianon (1920), the result of World War I. When Ferencz was ten months old, his family emigrated to the United States, which, according to his own account, was to avoid the persecution of Hungarian Jews by Romania after Romania gained formal control of Transylvania.[5] The family settled in New York City, where they lived on the Lower East Side in Manhattan.[6]

Ferencz studied crime prevention at the City College of New York, and his criminal law exam result won him a scholarship to Harvard Law School. At Harvard, he studied under Roscoe Pound[7] and also did research for Sheldon Glueck who, at that time, was writing a book on war crimes. Ferencz graduated from Harvard in 1943.[8] After his studies, he joined the U.S. Army, where he served in the 115th AAA Gun Battalion, an anti-aircraft artillery unit.[6]

In 1945, he was transferred to the headquarters of General Patton's Third Army, where he was assigned to a team tasked with setting up a war crimes branch and collecting evidence for such crimes. In that role, he was sent to the concentration camps that had been liberated by the U.S. army.[6]

Nuremberg trial prosecutor[edit]

Benjamin Ferencz, aged 27

On Christmas 1945,[7] Ferencz was honorably discharged from the Army with the rank of sergeant. He returned to New York, but was recruited only a few weeks later to participate as a prosecutor in the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials in the legal team of Telford Taylor. Taylor appointed him chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen Case—Ferencz's first case.[6] All of the 22 men on trial were convicted; 13 of them received death sentences, of which four were eventually carried out. Apart from East Germany, they were the last executions performed on German soil, and in the federal republic.

In a 2005 interview for The Washington Post he revealed some of his activities during his period in Germany by way of showing how different military legal norms were at the time:

Someone who was not there could never really grasp how unreal the situation was ... I once saw DPs [displaced persons] beat an SS man and then strap him to the steel gurney of a crematorium. They slid him in the oven, turned on the heat and took him back out. Beat him again, and put him back in until he was burnt alive. I did nothing to stop it. I suppose I could have brandished my weapon or shot in the air, but I was not inclined to do so. Does that make me an accomplice to murder?[9] You know how I got witness statements? I'd go into a village where, say, an American pilot had parachuted and been beaten to death and line everyone one up against the wall. Then I'd say, "Anyone who lies will be shot on the spot." It never occurred to me that statements taken under duress would be invalid.[9]

Ferencz stayed in Germany after the Nuremberg Trials, together with his wife Gertrude,[6] whom he had married in New York[10] on March 31, 1946.[3] Together with Kurt May and others, he participated in the setup of reparation and rehabilitation programs for the victims of persecutions by the Nazis, and also had a part in the negotiations that led to the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany signed on September 10, 1952[11] and the first German Restitution Law in 1953.[6] In 1956, the family—they had four children by then—returned to the U.S., where Ferencz entered private law practice[10] as a partner of Telford Taylor.[12] While pursuing claims of Jewish forced laborers against the Flick concern (the subject of the Flick trial), Ferencz observed the "interesting phenomenon of history and psychology that very frequently the criminal comes to see himself as the victim".[13]

Role in forming the International Criminal Court[edit]

Experiences just after World War II left a defining impression on Ferencz.[10] After 13 years, and under the impression of the events of the Vietnam War, Ferencz left the private law practice and henceforth worked for the institution of an International Criminal Court that would serve as a worldwide highest instance for issues of crimes against humanity and war crimes.[10] He also published several books on this subject. Already in his first book published in 1975, entitled Defining International Aggression-The Search for World Peace, he argued for the establishment of such an international court.[8] From 1985 to 1996, Ferencz also worked as an adjunct professor of international law at Pace University at White Plains, New York.[5]

An International Criminal Court was indeed established on July 1, 2002, when the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court came into force. Under the Bush administration, the U.S. signed the treaty, but didn't ratify it. The administration of George W. Bush concluded a large number of bilateral agreements with other states that would exclude U.S. citizens from being brought before the ICC.[14]

Ferencz has repeatedly argued against this procedure and suggested that the U.S. join the ICC without reservations, as it was a long-established rule of law that "law must apply equally to everyone", also in an international context.[10] In this vein, he has suggested in an interview given on August 25, 2006, that not only Saddam Hussein should be tried, but also George W. Bush because the Iraq War had been begun by the U.S. without permission by the UN Security Council.[10] He also suggested that Bush should be tried in the International Criminal Court for '269 war crime charges' related to the Iraq War.[15][16] In 2013, Ferencz stated once more that the "use of armed force to obtain a political goal should be condemned as an international and a national crime."[17] In fact, Ferencz wrote in 2018, in a preface to a book on the future of international justice, that "war-making itself is the supreme international crime against humanity and that it should be deterred by punishment universally, wherever and whenever offenders are apprehended".[18]

Later years[edit]

In 2009, Ferencz was awarded the Erasmus Prize, together with Antonio Cassese; the award is given to individuals or institutions that have made notable contributions to European culture, society, or social science.[19]

On May 3, 2011, two days after the death of Osama bin Laden was reported, The New York Times published a Ferencz letter which argued that "illegal and unwarranted execution – even of suspected mass murderers – undermines democracy".[20][21] Also that year he presented a closing statement in the trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in Uganda.[22]

On March 16, 2012, in another letter to the editor of The New York Times, Ferencz hailed the International Criminal Court's conviction of Thomas Lubanga as "a milestone in the evolution of international criminal law".[23]

In April 2017, the municipality of The Hague announced the naming of the footpath next to the Peace Palace the Benjamin Ferenczpad (Benjamin Ferencz path), calling him "one of the figureheads of international justice". The city's Deputy Mayor Saskia Bruines (International Affairs) traveled to Washington to symbolically present the street sign to Ferencz.[24]

In 2018, Ferencz was the subject of a documentary on his life, Prosecuting Evil, by director Barry Avrich, which was made available on Netflix.[25] In the same year, Ferencz was also interviewed for the 2018 Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 11/9.[26]

On June 20, 2019, artist & sculptor Yaacov Heller honored Ferencz - presenting him with a bust he created - commemorating his extraordinary life dedicated to genocide prevention.[27]

On January 16, 2020, The New York Times printed Ferencz's letter denouncing the assassination of the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, unnamed in the letter, as an "immoral action [and] a clear violation of national and international law".[28] He became a centenarian two months later.[29] Six months later on September 7, the documentary Two Heads Are Better Than One: Making of the Ben Ferencz Bust,[30] starring Ferencz and sculptor Yaacov Heller, had a world premiere, produced by Eric Kline Productions and directed by Eric Kline.[31]

Personal life[edit]

Ferencz married his teenage sweetheart Gertrude,[6] in New York[10] in 1946,[3] and they stayed married for more than 70 years, until Gertrude's death in 2019.[32] They had four children.[33]

He is the last surviving individual of all the prosecutors who served at the Nuremberg Trials.[34]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Ferencz, B.: "The 'Immoral' Killing of the Iranian General", New York Times Letter to Editor, January 16, 2020.
  • Ferencz, B.: "Kriegsverbrechen, Restitution, Prävention. Aus dem Vorlass von Benjamin B. Ferencz", ed. by Constantin Goschler, Marcus Böick, Julia Reus, Göttingen 2019 (collection of documents, open access).
  • Ferencz, B.: Mémoires de Ben, procureur à Nuremberg et avocat de la paix mondiale, (an autobiography), Michalon, Paris, 2012.
  • Ferencz, B.: New Legal Foundations for Global Survival: Security Through the Security Council, Oceana 1994; ISBN 0-379-21207-2.
  • Ferencz, B.: Keyes, K. Jr.: Planethood: The Key to Your Future, Vision Books 1988. Reprint 1991; ISBN 0-915972-21-2.
  • Ferencz, B.: A Common Sense Guide to World Peace, Oceana 1985.
  • Ferencz, B.: Enforcing International Law: A Way to World Peace, Oceana 1983.
  • Ferencz, B.: Less Than Slaves: Jewish Forced Labor and the Quest for Compensation, Harvard 1979. Reprint 2002, Indiana University Press & USHMM; ISBN 0-253-21530-7.
  • Ferencz, B.: An International Criminal Court: A Step Toward World Peace, Oceana 1980. ISBN 0-379-20389-8.
  • Ferencz, B.: Defining International Aggression: The Search for World Peace, Oceana 1975. ISBN 0-379-00271-X.



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jazz Tangcay (22 Jan 2020). "'Prosecuting Evil' Director Barry Avrich on the Race to Complete Nuremburg Trial Doc". Variety. Retrieved 2 Dec 2019.
  2. ^ Gale Reference Team: Biography - Ferencz, Benjamin B(erell) (1920-):, Thomson Gale, April 6, 2006.
  3. ^ a b c Logli, Ch.:"Benjamin Ferencz". Archived from the original on 2006-01-13. Retrieved 2006-12-12.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link), Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 1999? URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  4. ^ Ferencz, B.: Photos. One of the captions reads "On March 11, 2003, his 83rd birthday, ..." URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  5. ^ a b "Benjamin B. Ferencz, A Prosecutor's Personal Account: From Nuremberg to Rome, September 23, 1998". Archived from the original on 2007-02-02. Retrieved 2006-12-13.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  6. ^ a b c d e f g USHMM: Chief prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz presents his case at the Einsatzgruppen Trial[permanent dead link], USHMM photograph #41618. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  7. ^ a b The Legal History Project: Interview with Benjamin Ferencz, May 2006. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  8. ^ a b Ferencz, B.: (Auto-)Biography Archived 2008-01-09 at the Wayback Machine. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  9. ^ a b Matthew Brzezinski, Giving Hitler Hell Washington Post Sunday, July 24, 2005; Page W08
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Harvard Law School: Benjamin Ferencz Archived September 10, 2006, at the Wayback Machine : Speaker's biography from the Pursuing Human Dignity: The Legacies of Nuremberg for International Law, Human Rights & Education Archived January 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine conference, November 2005. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  11. ^ USHMM: Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signs the reparations agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel Archived 2008-01-20 at the Wayback Machine, USHMM photograph #11019. URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  12. ^ Ferencz, B.: Telford Taylor: Pioneer of International Criminal Law Archived February 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 37(3), pp. 661 – 664; 1999. URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  13. ^ Priemel, Kim C. (2012). "Tales of Totalitarianism. Conflicting Narratives in the Industrialist Cases at Nuremberg". In Priemel, Kim C.; Stiller, Alexa (eds.). Reassessing the Nuremberg Military Tribunals: Transitional Justice, Trial Narratives, and Historiography. Berghahn Books. pp. 161–193. ISBN 978-0-85745-532-1.
  14. ^ Coalition for the International Criminal Court: 2006. Status of US Bilateral Immunity Acts. 2006. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  15. ^ Glantz, A.: "Bush and Saddam Should Both Stand Trial, Says Nuremberg Prosecutor Archived April 1, 2013, at the Wayback Machine", OneWorld U.S., August 25, 2006. URL last accessed December 12, 2006.
  16. ^ Haas, Michael (2008). George W. Bush, War Criminal?: The Bush Administration's Liability for 269 War Crimes. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-36499-0.
  17. ^ "Benjamin Ferencz". Quellen zur Geschichte der Menschenrechte. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  18. ^ Albert, Jean (2018). L'avenir de la justice pénale internationale. Bruylant. p. 398. ISBN 9782802753452.
  19. ^ Stichting Praemium Erasmianum: 2009: Antonio Cassese, Benjamin Ferencz Archived 2016-03-01 at the Wayback Machine. URL last accessed 2012-11-15.
  20. ^ Ferencz Weighs in on Bin Laden Killing Archived May 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine 2011-05-03
  21. ^ Letter to NY Times re: Bin Laden's Killing Archived May 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine 2011-05-03
  22. ^ "The improbable story of the man who won history's ‘biggest murder trial’ at Nuremberg". The Washington Post, By Karen Heller August 31, 2016.
  23. ^ Letter to NY Times re: Crimes Against Humanity 2012-03-16
  24. ^ Haag, Den. "Peace Palace path named for Nazi war crimes prosecutor". Archived from the original on 2017-04-27. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
  25. ^ Kenigsberg, Ben (February 21, 2019). "'Prosecuting Evil' Review: At 98, His Passion for Justice Hasn't Dimmed". The New York Times.
  26. ^ "Review: In 'Fahrenheit 11/9,' Michael Moore asks the heartland to deliver us from Trump". 25 September 2018.
  27. ^ Pamela, Weinroth (June 24, 2019). "South Palm Beach County Social Scene". Boca Raton Tribune.
  28. ^ Ferencz, Benjamin (16 January 2020). "'Immoral' Killing of Iranian". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  29. ^ Benjamin Ferencz: The last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor
  30. ^ "Two Heads Are Better Than One: Making of the Ben Ferencz Bust". IMDB.
  31. ^ "Two Heads Are Better Than One World Premiere". September 7, 2020. Archived from the original on September 30, 2020. Retrieved September 19, 2020.
  32. ^ Finkelstein, Daniel. "Parting Words: Nine Lessons for a Remarkable Life by Benjamin Ferencz review — what you know when you're 100".
  33. ^ "Biography".
  34. ^ BBC World Service radio report, aired on October 5, 2021, using recordings of interview from 2017.
  35. ^ "Past Winners". Jewish Book Council. Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  36. ^ "Recht statt Krieg: Uni Köln ehrt Benjamin Ferencz".

External links[edit]