Nazi criminals: Benjamin Ferencz, last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor dies at 103

Benjamin Ferencz
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Benjamin Ferencz, a chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials that held Nazi criminals accountable after World War II, has died at the age of 103.

Ferencz prosecuted Germans officials on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Among the officials were the four commanders of SS task forces who killed defenceless women, men and children in the conquered eastern territories.

Ferencz was the last living prosecutor of the trials, according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, which called him “a leader in the quest for justice for victims of genocide and related crimes.”

He died on Friday in a care facility in Florida, U.S. media reported on Saturday, citing his son Don Ferencz.

Ferencz was born in 1920 in Transylvania to Orthodox Jews and emigrated to the U.S. with his parents as a child. He grew up in modest circumstances in New York and later studied at Harvard Law School.

Before Ferencz wrote history as a prosecutor, he was present for the liberation of several concentration camps as a U.S. soldier, uncovering appalling Nazi crimes.

He was not even 30 years old when he tried Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, Germany.

After World War II, starting in late November 1945, the victorious allies put top Nazis on trial in Nuremberg, which Adolf Hitler had planned to make the centre of his Reich.

They included Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess and Hermann Göring, the head of the German air force.

The trial at the International Military Tribunal ended after almost a year with 12 death sentences.

From 1946 to 1949, the main trial was followed by the so-called Subsequent Nuremberg Trials.

There were 12 such trials, of which Ferencz was chief prosecutor in one that focussed on the roving Nazi death squads known as Einsatzgruppen.

The trial resulted in 20 Nazi officials guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and membership in a criminal organisation for their roles in the murder of over a million people.

Two others were convicted on lesser charges.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague, which Ferencz referred to as his “baby” after fighting for its establishment, is seen as a direct descendent of what occurred in Nuremberg.

In an interview with dpa in 2020, he said: “I learned that a war can make mass murderers out of otherwise decent people … War itself destroys all sense of morality, and it’s been glorified for centuries.”

Ferencz appealed to a younger generation to follow his example.

“We must protect the rights, the minimum rights of all human beings to live in peace and dignity in every country,” he said at the time.

“That’s my goal. If you share the goal, do whatever you can.” 

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