Benjamin Ferencz, last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor, dies at 103
Benjamin Berell Ferencz (March 11, 1920 - Boynton Beach Florida, April 7, 2023) was an 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 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.
Ten months after Benjamin Ferencz was born in a small village in Szatmár county, the family emigrated to the United States. Austria-Hungary had to cede the area where he lived to the Kingdom of Romania after the end of the First World War. His family fled as part of a group of Hungarian Jewish minorities. He grew up in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan's Lower East Side (New York). In 1943 he graduated from Harvard Law School. During his studies he specialized in investigating war crimes.
He then served in various locations in Europe during World War II, first as a soldier in an artillery battalion landing on Omaha Beach a few days after D-Day. As a member of the newly established War Crimes Branch of the US Army, he collected evidence of war crimes committed by Germans. The evidence he collected was used in American trials against concentration camp personnel and Germans accused of lynching American pilots. At the end of 1945 he retired from the army with the rank of sergeant.
Ferencz returned to New York and was shortly after recruited by the Pentagon as a civilian with colonel privileges to find evidence on Nuremberg Trial cases. Then, in 1947, he was appointed chief prosecutor of one of the US follow-up Nuremberg trials, called the Einsatzgruppen trial. Einsatzgruppen were paramilitary death squads on the Eastern Front, tasked with killing any Jew, man, woman or child they could find. Their mandate extended to Gypsies and other supposed enemies of the Reich. The Einsatzgruppen certainly committed more than a million murders in an extremely brutal way; nevertheless, the members were not prosecuted in any trial until that point. All 24 defendants, with the exception of two who dropped out in the meantime, were eventually convicted. Four of them, including Paul Blobel and main defendant Otto Ohlendorf, were executed on the gallows on 7 June 1951 in the prison of Landsberg am Lech.
After the end of the Einsatzgruppen process, Ferencz henceforth operated as a civilian at the level of a brigadier general. In the American occupation zone and later in the Federal Republic, he was involved in organizing the restitution of Jewish property looted by the Nazis and coordinating claims for compensation from Nazi victims against the Federal Republic.
During his time in Germany, Ferencz and his wife Gertrude, whom he married in 1946, had four children. His son helped him in his constant quest for world peace. His motto was Law, Not War. (Right, Not War). In 2019, he criticized President Donald Trump.
Ferencz passed away in Boynton Beach (Florida) on April 7, 2023 at the age of 103.