Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials, has died aged 103.
Ferencz fought in Europe during the Second World War and helped liberate several concentration camps before turning to the courtroom.
At 27, he was named Chief Prosecutor for Nuremberg’s Einsatzgruppen trial, trying 22 Nazis for crimes against humanity.
The Nuremberg trials were held by the Allies after Germany was defeated in 1945, with an aim to bring Nazis to justice for crimes committed during World War II.
The Einsatzgruppen trial was his first court case, but the evidence which Ferencz discovered perfectly recorded and documented in Nazi headquarters, allowed him to successfully rest the case in only two days.
The men on trial commanded Hitler’s roaming SS extermination squads, killing between them an estimated one million victims.
In his opening statement, he said, “Vengeance is not our goal. Nor do we seek merely a just retribution. We ask this court to affirm by international penal action man’s right to live in peace and dignity, regardless of his race or creed. The case we present is a plea to humanity.”
All the defendents were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is often considered the biggest murder trials in history.
Ferencz was the first prosecutor to use the term “genocide” in a court of law, introducing the term in his opening statement: “So, here, the killing of defenseless civilians during a war may be a war crime, but the same killings are part of another crime, a graver one, if you will, genocide, or a crime against humanity. This is the distinction we make in our pleading. It is real and most significant.”
For Ferencz “law, not war” was more than a motto, it was his life’s mission.
For decades he advocated the establishment of an International Criminal Court and is considered one of the ICC’s founding fathers.
In 2011, he delivered the closing statement for the prosecution at the ICC’s first trial, saying, “What makes this Court so distinctive is its primary goal to deter crimes before they take place by letting wrongdoers know in advance that they will be called to account by an impartial International Criminal Court.”
In January, Ferencz was awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal, but was unable to attend the ceremony due to his declining health.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last year, Ferencz said he was “heartbroken” by the war in Ukraine.
“To see it happening again, very similar, kids being shot, homes being blown up, it pains me to see that we have learned so little from the Holocaust and from the trials,” he said.
Ferencz fought for justice his entire life, saying “to let the world continue to use [war] as an instrument of persuasion is so stupid and so incredible, that I simply can’t stop doing it at the age of 103.” He added that he was “not discouraged,” and to “never give up, never give up, never give up.”
At the end of the interview, he asked for help to create a more humane world.
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