Ben Ferencz, the last living prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials, who tried the Nazis for genocidal war crimes and was among the first outside witnesses to document the atrocities of Nazi labor and prison camps, has died. 103 who had just turned in March.
Ferencz died Friday evening in Boynton Beach, Florida, according to St. John’s University Barrett, a law professor who runs a. Blog of the Nuremberg trials. The death was also confirmed by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, US.
“Today the world has lost a leader in seeking justice for the victims of genocide and related crimes,” the museum tweeted.
Born in Transylvania in 1920, Ferencz immigrated to New York with his parents as a young child to escape rampant antisemitism. Graduating from Harvard Law School, Ferencz joined the US Army in time to take part in the invasion of Normandy during World War II. Using his law, he became an investigator of Nazi war crimes against US soldiers as part of the new War Crimes Section of the Office of the Judge Advocate General.
When U.S. intelligence reports described soldiers encountering large groups of people in Nazi camps guarded by starving SS guards, Ferencz followed with visits, first to the Ohrdruf labor camp in Germany, then to the infamous Buchenwald camp. In those camps and then in others, he found bodies “exaggerated like cordyl” and “bones inert with diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, TB, pneumonia, and other aids in pedicles bound in bundles or on the ground, with only tearful eyes. begging for help,” Ferencius wrote. in” a way of life
“The Buchenwald camp was a carnal house of unspeakable horror,” wrote Ferencius. “There is no doubt that I was indelibly haunted by my experiences as an investigator of the Nazi extermination war crimes centers. I 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 returned empty-handed.
After the war, Ferencz was honorably discharged from the Army and began practicing law in New York. But that was the time. 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 US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Before he left for Germany, he married a young girl, Gertrude.
At the age of 27, with no prior trial experience, Ferencz became chief prosecutor for the 1947 case in which 22 former emperors were accused of murdering over 1 million Jews, Romani and other enemies of the Third Reich in Eastern Europe. Rather than relying on witnesses, Ferencz relied mainly on official German documents to make his case. All of the defendants were convicted and more than a dozen were sentenced to death by hanging, although Ferencz did not seek the death penalty.
“At the beginning of April 1948, when the long judgment was read, I felt vindicated,” he wrote. “We have undertaken to preserve the rule of law in our defense of humanity.”
With war crimes trials pending, Ferencz worked for a consortium of Jewish charity groups to recover Holocaust relics, property, homes, businesses, works of art, 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 reparations for Nazi victims.
In later decades, Ferencz championed the creation of an international court that could not prosecute any government leaders for war crimes. Those dreams came true in 2002 with the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, whose effectiveness was limited by the failure of countries like the United States to participate.
Ferencz was survived by a son and three daughters. His wife died in 2019.
Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at @MikeSchneiderAP