Warning: This article contains graphic references to the Holocaust.
Ben Ferenich, the last Nuremberg prosecutor to prosecute the Nazis for war crimes, has died at the age of 103.
Ferenc was one of the first outside witnesses to document the atrocities of the Nazi labor and concentration camps. He died Friday night in Boynton Beach, Florida, according to John Barrett, a law professor at Saint John’s University who blogged about the Nuremberg trials.
The American Holocaust Museum in Washington confirmed the death.
“Today the world lost a leader in the pursuit of justice for the victims of genocide and related crimes,” the museum wrote on Twitter.
Today, the world has lost a leader in the pursuit of justice for the victims of genocide and related crimes. We are saddened by the passing of Ben Furnish – the last war crimes prosecutor in Nuremberg. At the age of 27, with no prior trial experience, he obtained guilty verdicts against 22 Nazis.
Born in Transylvania in 1920, Ferenc emigrated as a young boy with his parents to New York to escape rampant antisemitism. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Ferencs joined the United States Army just in time to participate in the Normandy invasion during World War II. Armed with his legal training, he becomes an investigator for Nazi war crimes against American soldiers as part of the new war crimes division in the Judge Counsel’s office.
When American intelligence reports described soldiers encountering large groups of starving people in Nazi camps guarded by SS guards, Ferencz followed up with visits, first to the Ohrdruf labor camp in Germany, and then to the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp. In these camps and others later, he found corpses “piled like firewood” and “helpless skeletons stricken with diarrhoea, dysentery, typhus, tuberculosis, pneumonia and other diseases, vomiting in their lice-infested troughs or on the floor with their pitiful eyes. They only asked for help,” wrote Ferenich in Narrative of his life.
“The concentration camp at Buchenwald was a boarding house of unspeakable horrors,” Ferensch wrote. “There is no doubt that I was deeply traumatized by my experience as a war crimes investigator in Nazi killing centers. I always try not to talk or think about the details.”
Towards the end of the war, Ferencs was sent to Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps to search for incriminating documents, but he returned empty-handed.
We regret the death of the last surviving Nuremberg claimant, Benjamin Ferencz. His legal and moral legacy shaped justice and hope for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Teach the world to seek justice, not retribution and revenge, and to bring humanity to justice. … pic.twitter.com/enlXQysNFx
After the war, Ferench was honorably discharged from the United States Army and returned to New York to begin practicing law. But it didn’t last long. Because of his experience as a war crimes investigator, he was recruited to help prosecute Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials, which began under the supervision of United States Supreme Court Justice, Robert Jackson. Before leaving for Germany, he married his childhood sweetheart, Gertrude.
At the age of 27, with no trial experience, Ferencs became the prosecutor in the 1947 case in which 22 former leaders were accused of the murders of more than a million Jews, Gypsies, and other enemies of the Third Reich in Eastern Europe. Instead of relying on witnesses, Ferenich relied primarily on official German documents to present his case. All the accused were found guilty and more than a dozen were sentenced to be hanged even though Ferench did not claim the death penalty.
He writes: “At the beginning of April 1948, after reading the long judicial verdict, I felt justified.” Our calls for the protection of humanity were confirmed by the rule of law. »
After the conclusion of the war crimes trials, Ferens continued to work with a range of Jewish charities to help Holocaust survivors recover property, homes, businesses, artwork, Torah scrolls, and other Jewish religious items confiscated by the Nazis. He was also later involved in negotiations that would lead to compensation for Nazi victims.
Over the next few decades, Virenques advocated the creation of an international tribunal that could prosecute any head of government for war crimes. These dreams were realized in 2002 with the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, although its effectiveness was limited by the failure of countries such as the United States to intervene.
He survived one son and three daughters. His wife passed away in 2019.