UNITED STATES NEWS

Ben Ferencz, last living prosecutor of Nazi war crimes, dies

Apr 8, 2023, 1:23 PM

Ben Ferencz, the last living prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials, who prosecuted Nazis for genocidal war crimes and was among the first outside witnesses to document the atrocities of Nazi labor and concentration camps, has died. He had just turned 103 in March.

Ferencz died Friday evening in Boynton Beach, Florida, according to St. John’s University law professor John Barrett, who runs a blog about the Nuremberg trials. The death also was confirmed by the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington.

“Today the world lost a leader in the quest for justice for victims of genocide and related crimes,” the museum tweeted.

Born in Transylvania in 1920, Ferencz immigrated as a very young boy with his parents to New York to escape rampant anti-Semitism. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Ferencz joined the U.S. Army in time to take part in the Normandy invasion during World War II. Using his legal background, he became an investigator of Nazi war crimes against U.S. soldiers as part of a new War Crimes Section of the Judge Advocate’s Office.

When U.S. intelligence reports described soldiers encountering large groups of starving people in Nazi camps watched over by SS guards, Ferencz followed up with visits, first at the Ohrdruf labor camp in Germany and then at the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. At those camps and later others, he found bodies “piled up like cordwood” and “helpless skeletons with diarrhea, dysentery, typhus, TB, pneumonia, and other ailments, retching in their louse ridden bunks or on the ground with only their pathetic eyes pleading for help,” Ferencz wrote in an account of his life.

“The Buchenwald concentration camp was a charnel house of indescribable horrors,” Ferencz wrote. “There is no doubt that I was indelibly traumatized by my experiences as a war crimes investigator of Nazi extermination centers. I still try not to talk or think about the details.”

At one point toward the end of the war, Ferencz was sent to Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps to search for incriminating documents but came back empty-handed.

After the war, Ferencz was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army and returned to New York to begin practicing law. But that was short-lived. Because of his experiences as a war crimes investigator, he was recruited to help prosecute Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials, which had begun under the leadership of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Before leaving for Germany, he married his childhood sweetheart, Gertrude.

At the age of 27, with no previous trial experience, Ferencz became chief prosecutor for a 1947 case in which 22 former commanders were charged with murdering over 1 million Jews, Gypsies and other enemies of the Third Reich in Eastern Europe. Rather than depending on witnesses, Ferencz mostly relied on official German documents to make his case. All the defendants were convicted, and more than a dozen were sentenced to death by hanging even though Ferencz hadn’t asked for the death penalty.

“At the beginning of April 1948, when the long legal judgment was read, I felt vindicated,” he wrote. “Our pleas to protect humanity by the rule of law had been upheld.”

With the war crimes trials winding down, Ferencz went to work for a consortium of Jewish charitable groups to help Holocaust survivors regain properties, homes, businesses, art works, Torah scrolls, and other Jewish religious items that had been confiscated from them by the Nazis. He also later assisted in negotiations that would lead to compensation to the Nazi victims.

In later decades, Ferencz championed the creation of an international court which could prosecute any government’s leaders for war crimes. Those dreams were realized in 2002 with establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, though its effectiveness has been limited by the failure of countries like the United State to participate.

Ferencz is survived by a son and three daughters. His wife died in 2019.

___

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at @MikeSchneiderAP

United States News

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom in Yekaterinbur...

Associated Press

U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich appear in court in Russia for hearing on espionage charges

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich appeared in court in Russia on Thursday for the second hearing in his trial on espionage charges, the court said. Gershkovich, his employer and the U.S. government vehemently deny the charges against him. Gershkovich was accused by the Russian Prosecutor General’s office of “gathering secret information” on orders from […]

2 hours ago

FILE - A pedestrian traverses the rotunda inside the New Mexico Capitol, March 16, 2023, in Santa F...

Associated Press

New Mexico governor cites ‘dangerous intersection’ of crime and homelessness, wants lawmakers to act

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Citing what she calls the “dangerous intersection” of crime and homelessness, New Mexico’s governor is calling on lawmakers to address stubbornly high crime rates as they convene Thursday for a special legislative session. In issuing her proclamation, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham talked about a vulnerable segment of society that falls […]

3 hours ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives on third day of the Republi...

Associated Press

FACT FOCUS: Trump, in Republican convention video, alludes to false claim 2020 election was stolen

DONALD TRUMP, alluding that the 2020 vote was stolen: “Whether you vote early, absentee, by mail or in person, we are going to protect the vote. That’s the most important thing we have to do is protect the vote. Keep your eyes open because these people want to cheat and they do cheat. And frankly, […]

4 hours ago

Supporters cheer as Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives for a c...

Associated Press

‘One screen, two movies’: Conflicting conspiracy theories emerge from Trump shooting

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former president is shot, the gunman quickly neutralized, and all of it is caught on camera. But for those who don’t believe their eyes, that’s just the start of the story. For some supporters of former President Donald Trump, the failure of the Secret Service to prevent the attempted assassination point […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Hundreds attend vigil for man killed at Trump rally in Pennsylvania before visitation Thursday

SARVER, Pa. (AP) — Hundreds of people who gathered to remember the former fire chief fatally shot at a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump were urged to find “unity” as the area in rural Pennsylvania sought to recover from the assassination attempt. Wednesday’s public event was the first of two organized to memorialize […]

4 hours ago

Follow @ktar923...

Sponsored Content by Sanderson Ford

3 storylines to get you revved up for the 2024 Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals training camp is just a couple weeks away starting on July 25, and Sanderson Ford is revved up and ready to go.

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 storylines to get you revved up for the 2024 Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals training camp is just a couple weeks away starting on July 25, and Sanderson Ford is revved up and ready to go.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

Ben Ferencz, last living prosecutor of Nazi war crimes, dies