NEW YORK -- The World Jewish Congress mourns the passing of Benjamin Ferencz, the Nuremberg prosecutor who passed away in Florida at the age of 103. He also played a key role in negotiating the watershed 1952 reparations agreements under which West Germany agreed to pay $822 million to the State of Israel and to groups representing Holocaust survivors. A lifelong advocate for Holocaust remembrance and genocide prevention, he was the last remaining link with the post-war efforts to bring the leading Nazi war criminals to justice. In December 2022, the U.S. Congress awarded him its highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
“Ben Ferencz was a giant,” said WJC General Counsel and Associate Executive Vice President Menachem Rosensaft. “He devoted himself to the very end of his long and distinguished career to making sure that the lessons of Nuremberg would become engrained in both international law and the consciousness of society as a whole. He was also a fierce and tireless champion of providing at least a modicum of justice to Holocaust survivors.”
Born in Transylvania in 1920, he served in the U.S Army during World War II after graduating from Harvard Law School. In 1945, he witnessed the vestiges of the horrors of the Holocaust in Nazi concentration camps that had been liberated by the Allies. At Buchenwald, he recalled, “I saw crematoria still going. The bodies starved, lying dying, on the ground. I've seen the horrors of war more than can be adequately described.”
He was the chief prosecutor at the Einsatzgruppen Trial, one of the American Nuremberg proceedings that followed the 1945-1946 International Military Tribunal. There, he obtained guilty verdicts for SS officials convicted of murdering over a million people, most of them Jews.
“Nuremberg taught me that creating a world of tolerance and compassion would be a long and arduous task," he said. “And I also learned that if we did not devote ourselves to developing effective world law, the same cruel mentality that made the Holocaust possible might one day destroy the entire human race.”
May his memory be for a blessing.
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