Ben Ferencz

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Ben Ferencz
Benjamin Ferencz - Chief Prosecutor in 1947 Einsatzgruppen Trial - In Courtroom 600 Where Nuremberg Trials Were Held - Palace of Justice - Nuremberg-Nurnberg - Germany - 02.jpg
Ferencz standing in the courtroom where the Nuremberg trials were held, 2012
Benjamin Berell Ferencz

(1920-03-11) March 11, 1920 (age 99)
Alma materHarvard Law School
City College of New York

Benjamin Berell Ferencz (born March 11, 1920)[1][2][3] is a Hungarian-born American lawyer. He was an investigator of Nazi war crimes after World War II and the Chief Prosecutor for the United States Army at the Einsatzgruppen Trial, one of the twelve military trials held by the U.S. authorities at Nuremberg, Germany. Later, he became an advocate of the establishment of an international rule of law and of an International Criminal Court. From 1985 to 1996, he was Adjunct Professor of International Law at Pace University.


Early life, education, and army service[edit]

Ferencz was born in Transylvania, part of Hungary, in that moment occupied by Romania as a result of Hungarian–Romanian War, but a few months later ceded to Romania under the Treaty of Trianon (1920), the result of World War I. When he was ten months old his family emigrated to the United States, and according to his own account this was to avoid the persecution of Hungarian Jews by the Romanians after they had gained control of Transylvania.[4] The family settled in New York City, where they lived on the Lower East Side in Manhattan.[5]

Ferencz studied crime prevention at the City College of New York and won a scholarship to Harvard Law School with his criminal law exam result. At Harvard, he studied under Roscoe Pound[6] and also did research for Sheldon Glueck, who at that time was writing a book on war crimes. Ferencz graduated from Harvard in 1943.[7] After his studies, he joined the U.S. Army, where he served in the 115th AAA Gun Battalion, an anti-aircraft artillery unit.[5] 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 this function, he was then sent to the concentration camps as they were liberated by the U.S. army.[5]

Nuremberg trial prosecutor[edit]

Benjamin Ferencz

On Christmas 1945,[6] 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.[5] All of the 22 men on trial were convicted; 13 of them received death sentences, of which four were eventually carried out.

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 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?[8]
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.[8]

Ferencz stayed in Germany after the Nuremberg Trials, together with his wife Gertrude,[5] whom he had married in New York[9] on March 31, 1946.[2] 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[10] and the first German Restitution Law in 1953.[5] In 1956, the family—they had four children by then—returned to the U.S., where Ferencz entered private law practice[9] as a partner of Telford Taylor.[11]

Role in forming the International Criminal Court[edit]

Experiences just after World War II left a defining impression on Ferencz.[9] After thirteen 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.[9] 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.[7] From 1985 to 1996, Ferencz also worked as an Adjunct Professor of International Law at Pace University at White Plains, New York.[4]

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. did sign the treaty, but did not 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.[12]

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.[9] 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.[9] 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."[13]

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.[14]

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."[15][16] Also that year he presented a closing statement in the trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in Uganda.[17]

On March 16, 2012, Ferencz, in another letter to the editor of the New York Times, hailed the International Criminal Court's conviction of Thomas Lubanga as "a milestone in the evolution of international criminal law."[18]

On May 7, 2017 Ferencz was interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes.[19]

Benjamin Ferencz's path in The Hague[edit]

In April 2017, the municipality of The Hague announced that the city will honor Benjamin Ferencz by naming the footpath next to the Peace Palace after him as "one of the figureheads of international justice": the Benjamin Ferenczpad (Benjamin Ferenczpath). The city's Deputy Mayor Saskia Bruines (International Affairs) travelled to Washington to symbolically present the street sign to Ferencz.[20]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • 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. ^ Gale Reference Team: Biography - Ferencz, Benjamin B(erell) (1920-):, Thomson Gale, April 6, 2006.
  2. ^ a b 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.
  3. ^ Ferencz, B.: Photos. One of the captions reads "On March 11, 2003, his 83rd birthday, ..." URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  4. ^ 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)
  5. ^ a b c d e f USHMM: Chief prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz presents his case at the Einsatzgruppen Trial[permanent dead link], USHMM photograph #41618. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  6. ^ a b The Legal History Project: Interview with Benjamin Ferencz, May 2006. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  7. ^ a b Ferencz, B.: (Auto-)Biography. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  8. ^ a b Matthew Brzezinski, Giving Hitler Hell Washington Post Sunday, July 24, 2005; Page W08
  9. ^ a b c d e f 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.
  10. ^ USHMM: Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signs the reparations agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel, USHMM photograph #11019. URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Coalition for the International Criminal Court: 2006. Status of US Bilateral Immunity Acts. 2006. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  13. ^ "Benjamin Ferencz". Quellen zur Geschichte der Menschenrechte. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  14. ^ Stichting Praemium Erasmianum: 2009: Antonio Cassese, Benjamin Ferencz. URL last accessed 2012-11-15.
  15. ^ Ferencz Weighs in on Bin Laden Killing Archived May 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine 2011-05-03
  16. ^ Letter to NY Times re: Bin Laden's Killing Archived May 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine 2011-05-03
  17. ^ "The improbable story of the man who won history’s ‘biggest murder trial’ at Nuremberg". Washington Post, By Karen Heller August 31, 2016.
  18. ^ Letter to NY Times re: Crimes Against Humanity 2012-03-16
  19. ^ "The Nuremberg Prosecutor".
  20. ^ Haag, Den. "Peace Palace path named for Nazi war crimes prosecutor".

External links[edit]