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Benjamin Ferencz, last living Nuremberg prosecutor, dead at 103

Benjamin Ferencz attends an award ceremony to honor World War II veterans in New York City in July 2015
Benjamin Ferencz attends an award ceremony to honor World War II veterans in New York City in July 2015 - Copyright AFP/File Sam Yeh
Benjamin Ferencz attends an award ceremony to honor World War II veterans in New York City in July 2015 - Copyright AFP/File Sam Yeh

The last living prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials, who secured guilty verdicts from 22 Nazis and dedicated his life to fighting international injustice, has died at age 103, his son told AFP Saturday.

Benjamin Ferencz, an American who at age 27 and with no prior trial experience served as one of the trials’ chief prosecutors, would go on to later battle for compensation and the return of stolen goods to victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

He died peacefully in his sleep of natural causes Friday evening at an assisted living facility in Boynton Beach, Florida, his son Donald Ferencz said.

The younger Ferencz told AFP that if his father were to have given a last statement, he was sure it would have been “law not war.”

Throughout much of his life, Ferencz advocated for the creation of an international criminal court — a dream that finally came to fruition with the establishment of the Hague-based ICC in 2002.

The Nuremberg trials set up in Germany in 1945 after World War II laid the foundation for a global criminal justice system for those accused of humankind’s worst atrocities.

“Ben’s unwavering pursuit of a more peaceful and just world spanned almost eight decades and forever shaped how we respond to humanity’s worst crimes,” said Sara Bloomfield, director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

During the Nuremberg trials, Ferencz was tasked with prosecuting leaders of the Einsatzgruppen, special mobile killing units that were responsible for the murder of more than a million people, especially Jews and particularly via mass shootings. Among the 22 Nazis that he convicted, four were executed.

Ferencz was born in Eastern Europe in 1920, just before his Jewish parents moved the family to the United States. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1943 and served in the US Army during World War II, including working for the army’s war crimes branch in which he traveled to newly liberated concentration camps to gather evidence of the atrocities committed inside.

“Camps like Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Dachau are vividly imprinted in my mind’s eye. Even today, when I close my eyes, I witness a deadly vision I can never forget,” the Holocaust Memorial Museum quoted him as saying. 

The ICC has stood as the world’s only permanent, independent court for violations like genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for more than two decades.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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