Ben Ferencz

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Ben Ferencz
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Ferencz standing in the courtroom where the Nuremberg trials were held, 2012
Benjamin Berell Ferencz

(1920-03-11) March 11, 1920 (age 98)
Alma mater Harvard Law School
City College of New York

Benjamin Berell Ferencz (born March 11, 1920) [1] [2] [3] [4] is a Hungarian-born 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 twelve military trials held by the U.S. authorities at Nuremberg, Germany. Later, he became an advocate of the establishment of an international rule of law and of an International Criminal Court. From 1985 to 1996, he was Adjunct Professor of International Law at Pace University.

Lawyer legal professional who helps clients and represents them in a court of law

A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney, attorney at law, barrister, barrister-at-law, bar-at-law, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, counsellor, counselor at law, solicitor, chartered legal executive, or public servant preparing, interpreting and applying law, but not as a paralegal or charter executive secretary. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services.

War crime Serious violation of the laws of war

A war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility. Examples of war crimes include intentionally killing civilians or prisoners, torturing, destroying civilian property, taking hostages, performing a perfidy, raping, using child soldiers, pillaging, declaring that no quarter will be given, and seriously violating the principles of distinction and proportionality, such as strategic bombing of civilian populations.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.


Early life, education, and army service

Ferencz was born in Transylvania, home to ethnic Hungarians as part of Romania. When he was ten months old his family emigrated to the United States, and according to his own account this was to avoid the persecution of Jews by the Romanians. [5] The family settled in New York City, where they lived on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. [6]

Transylvania Historical region of Romania

Transylvania is a historical region which is located in central Romania. Bound on the east and south by its natural borders, the Carpathian mountain range, historical Transylvania extended westward to the Apuseni Mountains. The term sometimes encompasses not only Transylvania proper, but also parts of the historical regions of Crișana and Maramureș, and occasionally the Romanian part of Banat.

Kingdom of Romania kingdom in Southeastern Europe between 1881 and 1947

The Kingdom of Romania was a constitutional monarchy at the crossroads of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. It existed from 1881, when prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was crowned as King Carol I of Romania, until 1947, when King Michael I of Romania abdicated and the Romanian parliament proclaimed Romania a socialist republic.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Ferencz studied crime prevention at the City College of New York and won a scholarship to Harvard Law School with his criminal law exam result. At Harvard, he studied under Roscoe Pound [7] and also did research for Sheldon Glueck, who at that time was writing a book on war crimes. Ferencz graduated from Harvard in 1943. [8] After his studies, he joined the U.S. Army, where he served in the 115th AAA Gun Battalion, an anti-aircraft artillery unit. [6] In 1945, he was transferred to the headquarters of General Patton's Third Army, where he was assigned to a team tasked with setting up a war crimes branch and collecting evidence for such crimes. In this function, he was then sent to the concentration camps as they were liberated by the U.S. army. [6] [9]

City College of New York senior college of the City University of New York (CUNY) in New York City

The City College of the City University of New York is a public senior college of the City University of New York (CUNY) in New York City.

A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further their education. Scholarships are awarded based upon various criteria, which usually reflect the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award. Scholarship money is not required to be repaid.

Harvard Law School law school in Cambridge

Harvard Law School is one of the professional graduate schools of Harvard University located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1817, it is the oldest continuously operating law school in the United States and one of the most prestigious in the world. It is ranked first in the world by the QS World University Rankings and the ARWU Shanghai Ranking.

Nuremberg trial prosecutor

Benjamin Ferencz Prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz at the Einsatzgruppen Trial portrait.JPG
Benjamin Ferencz

On Christmas 1945, [7] Ferencz was honorably discharged from the Army with the rank of Sergeant. He returned to New York, but was recruited only a few weeks later to participate as a prosecutor in the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials in the legal team of Telford Taylor. Taylor appointed him Chief Prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen Case—Ferencz's first case. [6] All of the 22 men on trial were convicted; 13 of them received death sentences, of which four were eventually carried out.

Sergeant military rank

Sergeant is a rank in many uniformed organizations, principally military and policing forces. The alternate spelling, "serjeant", is used in The Rifles and other units that draw their heritage from the British Light Infantry. Its origin is the Latin "serviens", "one who serves", through the French term "sergent".

Telford Taylor American lawyer

Telford Taylor (1908–1998) was an American lawyer best known for his role as Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, his opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and his outspoken criticism of U.S. actions during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.

In a 2005 interview for The Washington Post he revealed some of his activities during his period in Germany by way of showing how different military legal norms were at the time:

<i>The Washington Post</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper published in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Post is a major American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C., with a particular emphasis on national politics and the federal government. It has the largest circulation in the Washington metropolitan area. Its slogan "Democracy Dies in Darkness" began appearing on its masthead in 2017. Daily broadsheet editions are printed for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

Someone who was not there could never really grasp how unreal the situation was ... I once saw DPs beat an SS man and then strap him to the steel gurney of a crematorium. They slid him in the oven, turned on the heat and took him back out. Beat him again, and put him back in until he was burnt alive. I did nothing to stop it. I suppose I could have brandished my weapon or shot in the air, but I was not inclined to do so. [9] Does that make me an accomplice to murder? [10]
You know how I got witness statements? I'd go into a village where, say, an American pilot had parachuted and been beaten to death and line everyone one up against the wall. Then I'd say, "Anyone who lies will be shot on the spot." It never occurred to me that statements taken under duress would be invalid. [10]

Ferencz stayed in Germany after the Nuremberg Trials, together with his wife Gertrude, [6] whom he had married in New York [11] on March 31, 1946. [2] Together with Kurt May and others, he participated in the setup of reparation and rehabilitation programs for the victims of persecutions by the Nazis, and also had a part in the negotiations that led to the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany signed on September 10, 1952 [12] and the first German Restitution Law in 1953. [6] In 1956, the family—they had four children by then—returned to the U.S., where Ferencz entered private law practice [11] as a partner of Telford Taylor. [13]

Kurt May (1896–1992) was director of the United Restitution Organization, which assisted victims of Nazism, from its inception in 1948 to his retirement at age 91, in 1988.

Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany

The Reparations Agreement between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany was signed on September 10, 1952, and entered in force on March 27, 1953. According to the Agreement, West Germany was to pay Israel for the costs of "resettling so great a number of uprooted and destitute Jewish refugees" after the war, and to compensate individual Jews, via the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, for losses in Jewish livelihood and property resulting from Nazi persecution.

The German Restitution Laws were a series of laws passed in the 1950s in West Germany regulating the restitution of lost property and the payment of damages to victims of the Nazi persecutions.

Role in forming the International Criminal Court

Experiences just after World War II left a defining impression on Ferencz. [11] After thirteen years, and under the impression of the events of the Vietnam War, Ferencz left the private law practice and henceforth worked for the institution of an International Criminal Court that would serve as a worldwide highest court for issues of crimes against humanity and war crimes. [11] He also published several books on this subject. Already in his first book published in 1975, entitled Defining International Aggression-The Search for World Peace, he argued for the establishment of such an international court. [8] From 1985 to 1996, Ferencz also worked as an Adjunct Professor of International Law at Pace University at White Plains, New York. [5]

An International Criminal Court was established on July 1, 2002, when the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court came into force. Under the Bush administration, the U.S. did sign the treaty, but did not ratify it. The administration of George W. Bush concluded a large number of bilateral agreements with other states that would exclude U.S. citizens from being brought before the ICC. [14]

Ferencz has repeatedly argued against this procedure and suggested that the U.S. join the ICC without reservations, as it was a long-established rule of law that "law must apply equally to everyone", also in an international context. [11] In this vein, he has suggested in an interview given on August 25, 2006, that not only Saddam Hussein should be tried, but also George W. Bush because the Iraq War had been begun by the U.S. without permission by the UN Security Council. [11] In 2013, Ferencz stated once more that the "use of armed force to obtain a political goal should be condemned as an international and a national crime." [15]

Later years

In 2009, Ferencz was awarded the Erasmus Prize, together with Antonio Cassese; the award is given to individuals or institutions that have made notable contributions to European culture, society, or social science. [16]

On May 3, 2011, two days after the death of Osama bin Laden was reported, The New York Times published a Ferencz letter which argued that "illegal and unwarranted execution - even of suspected mass murderers - undermines democracy." [17] [18] Also that year he presented a closing statement in the trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in Uganda. [19]

On March 16, 2012, Ferencz, in another letter to the editor of The New York Times, hailed the International Criminal Court's conviction of Thomas Lubanga as "a milestone in the evolution of international criminal law." [20]

On May 7, 2017, Ferencz was interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes . [21]

In 2018, filmmaker Barry Avrich produced Prosecuting Evil, a feature length documentary on Ben Ferencz's life. [22]


In April 2017, the municipality of The Hague announced that the city will honor Benjamin Ferencz by naming the footpath next to the Peace Palace after him as "one of the figureheads of international justice": the Benjamin Ferenczpad (Benjamin Ferenczpath). The city's Deputy Mayor Saskia Bruines (International Affairs) travelled to Washington to symbolically present the street sign to Ferencz. [23] The street sign at the path next to the Peace Palace was unveiled by Ferencz, at the age of 97, and Deputy Mayor Bruines on 15 May 2017, together with a group of pupils of the local Duinoord School involved in a human rights project.

Selected bibliography


See also

Related Research Articles

International Criminal Court Permanent international tribunal

The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal that sits in The Hague in the Netherlands. The ICC has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. The ICC is intended to complement existing national judicial systems and it may therefore exercise its jurisdiction only when certain conditions are met, such as when national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute criminals or when the United Nations Security Council or individual states refer situations to the Court. The ICC began functioning on 1 July 2002, the date that the Rome Statute entered into force. The Rome Statute is a multilateral treaty which serves as the ICC's foundational and governing document. States which become party to the Rome Statute, for example by ratifying it, become member states of the ICC. As of March 2019, there are 124 ICC member states.

Nuremberg trials series of military trials at the end of World War II

The Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals held by the Allied forces under international law and the laws of war after World War II. The trials were most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, judicial and economic leadership of Nazi Germany, who planned, carried out, or otherwise participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg, Germany, and their decisions marked a turning point between classical and contemporary international law.

Crimes against humanity deliberate attack against civilians

Crimes against humanity are certain acts that are deliberately committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population. The first prosecution for crimes against humanity took place at the Nuremberg trials. Crimes against humanity have since been prosecuted by other international courts as well as in domestic prosecutions. The law of crimes against humanity has primarily developed through the evolution of customary international law. Crimes against humanity are not codified in an international convention, although there is currently an international effort to establish such a treaty, led by the Crimes Against Humanity Initiative.

The Nuremberg principles were a set of guidelines for determining what constitutes a war crime. The document was created by the International Law Commission of the United Nations to codify the legal principles underlying the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi party members following World War II.

A crime against peace, in international law, is "planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing". This definition of crimes against peace was first incorporated into the Nuremberg Principles and later included in the United Nations Charter. This definition would play a part in defining aggression as a crime against peace. It can also refer to the core international crimes set out in Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which adopted crimes negotiated previously in the Draft code of crimes against the peace and security of mankind.

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  1. Gale Reference Team: Biography - Ferencz, Benjamin B(erell) (1920-):, Thomson Gale, April 6, 2006.
  2. 1 2 Logli, Ch.: "Benjamin Ferencz". Archived from the original on 2006-01-13. Retrieved 2006-12-12.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link), Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 1999? URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  3. Ferencz, B.: Photos . One of the captions reads "On March 11, 2003, his 83rd birthday, ..." URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  4. "INTERVIU Ultimul procuror al procesului de la Nürnberg încă în viaţă: Implicarea României în Holocaust nu este un lucru de care să fie mândră". 2017-06-24. Retrieved 2017-06-25.
  5. 1 2 "Benjamin B.Ferencz, A Prosecutor's Personal Account: From Nuremberg to Rome, September 23, 1998". Archived from the original on 2007-02-02. Retrieved 2006-12-13.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 USHMM: Chief prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz presents his case at the Einsatzgruppen Trial [ permanent dead link ], USHMM photograph #41618. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  7. 1 2 The Legal History Project: Interview with Benjamin Ferencz , May 2006. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  8. 1 2 Ferencz, B.: (Auto-)Biography Archived 2008-01-09 at the Wayback Machine . URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  9. 1 2 "Palace of Justice - Interview". This is criminal. August 17, 2018. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  10. 1 2 Matthew Brzezinski, Giving Hitler Hell Washington Post Sunday, July 24, 2005; Page W08
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Harvard Law School: Benjamin Ferencz Archived September 10, 2006, at the Wayback Machine : Speaker's biography from the Pursuing Human Dignity: The Legacies of Nuremberg for International Law, Human Rights & Education Archived January 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine conference, November 2005. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  12. USHMM: Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signs the reparations agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel [ permanent dead link ], USHMM photograph #11019. URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  13. Ferencz, B.: Telford Taylor: Pioneer of International Criminal Law Archived February 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine , Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 37(3), pp. 661 – 664; 1999. URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  14. Coalition for the International Criminal Court: 2006. Status of US Bilateral Immunity Acts . 2006. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  15. "Benjamin Ferencz". Quellen zur Geschichte der Menschenrechte. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  16. "2009: Antonio Cassese, Benjamin Ferencz". Stichting Praemium Erasmianum . Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  17. Ferencz Weighs in on Bin Laden Killing Archived May 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine 2011-05-03
  18. Letter to NY Times re: Bin Laden's Killing Archived May 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine 2011-05-03
  19. "The improbable story of the man who won history’s ‘biggest murder trial’ at Nuremberg". The Washington Post, By Karen Heller August 31, 2016.
  20. Letter to NY Times re: Crimes Against Humanity 2012-03-16
  21. "The Nuremberg Prosecutor".
  22. "Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  23. Haag, Den. "Peace Palace path named for Nazi war crimes prosecutor". Archived from the original on 2017-04-27.