97-year-old Nurem­berg tri­als pros­e­cu­tor still pushes for peace

Ferencz wants to see the end to war’s glo­ri­fi­ca­tion.

The Palm Beach Post - Neighborhood Post - Northern Palm Beach County - - Front Page - By Faran Fa­gen Spe­cial to The Palm Beach Post

Ben­jamin Ferencz’s open­ing state­ment at the Nurem­berg tri­als pro­jected onto a large screen dur­ing his key­note ad­dress at the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­rial Mu­seum’s 25th an­niver­sary din­ner on Jan. 30.

His mes­sage of peace and unity echoed through the Boca West Coun­try Club the same way it has res­onated through­out the world for decades.

“I hope peo­ple rec­og­nize that war-mak­ing is geno­cide,” Ferencz said. “We need to stop the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of war and work for the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of peace.”

Ferencz, of Del­ray Beach, was 27 when he made his open­ing state­ment that led to one of the world’s first con­vic­tions of crimes against hu­man­ity of Nazi per­pe­tra­tors at the Nurem­berg tri­als. Now, he’s 97, and the last sur­viv­ing Nurem­berg pros­e­cu­tor from the trial that con­demned geno­cide and ap­pealed for a rule of law that would pro­tect ev­ery­one in­dis­crim­i­nately.

Hi s key­note ad­dress at the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­rial Mu­seum’s What You Do Mat­ters din­ner was full of his­tory and hope.

“See­ing him on stage was such a pow­er­ful mo­ment for me, and for the en­tire au­di­ence,” said Robert Slatoff, an at­tor­ney who lives and works in Boca Ra­ton. “Dur­ing his speech, I felt as though I was di­rectly con­nected to a crit­i­cal part of his­tory, and that feel­ing im­me­di­ately re­in­forced the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­rial Mu­seum’s mes­sage that ‘what you do mat­ters.’ What each of us does truly mat­ters.”

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 pros­e­cuted prom­i­nent mem­bers 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.

Ferencz, who does 100 push-ups every morn­ing and says, he “won’t be bul­lied by any­body,” has fought for an­ti­war leg­is­la­tion ever since the dark times of World War II. Although he’s happy with the progress that’s been made, he feels we have a long way to go to achieve a peace­ful bal­ance on the planet.

“I’m a re­al­is­tic op­ti­mist,” he said. “I see the dif­fi­cul­ties and they’re quite enor­mous, but I’m an op­ti­mist be­cause I’ve seen the progress and it’s been fan­tas­tic. The Wright Brothers learned to fly a plane, we landed on the moon and ended slav­ery.”

Ferencz was born in a small vil­lage in Tran­syl­va­nia in the Carpathian Moun­tains. He said it was a small house with no run­ning water and no elec­tric­ity.

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 12 mil­i­tary tri­als held by the U.S. au­thor­i­ties at Nurem­berg.

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 in New York.

Ferencz, who was pro­filed on “60 Min­utes,” lives by a three-word slo­gan: “Law not war.” It’s at the top of his web­site, ben­fer­encz.org. A strong sup­porter of the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, Ferencz ad­vo­cates steps to re­place the rule of force with the rule of law.

“Glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of was has got­ten too dan­ger­ous in the cy­berspace age,” Ferencz said. “Sur­vival of the hu­man race de­pends on the progress and educa­tion of young peo­ple.”

Last year, Ferencz in­vested in the fu­ture of geno­cide pre­ven­tion with the cre­ation of the Ferencz In­ter­na­tional Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive at the U.S. Holo­caust Mu­seum’s Si­mon-Skjodt Cen­ter for the Pre­ven­tion of Geno­cide. This gen­er­ous gift gave fur­ther hope to those in at­ten­dance at the 25th an­niver­sary din­ner.

“The fact that my al­most 14-year-old daugh­ter at­tended the mu­seum’s event as a vol­un­teer and had the unique o ppor t u n i t y t o h e a r Mr. Ferencz speak was very spe­cial for me,” said Slatoff, also the vol­un­teer chair of the busi­ness and pro­fes­sional out­reach com­mit­tee for the mu­seum. “Ed­u­cat­ing our chil­dren about the lessons of the Holo­caust in or­der to pre­vent fu­ture geno­cides is of para­mount im­por­tance.”

Ferencz has been awarded a trove of medals, in­clud­ing the French Le­gion of Honor, Ger­many’s mil­i­tary medal of honor and Hol­land’s Eras­mus Prize. He turns 98 in March but has no in­ten­tion of slow­ing down.

“What is miss­ing is en­force­ment of in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law,” Ferencz said. “Un­til we’ve cre­ated an ef­fec- tive en­force­ment mech­a­nism, peo­ple in the world will con­tinue to suf­fer hu­man rights abuses ev­ery­where.”

Slatoff said Ferencz’s speech will stay with him for a long time.

“One of the most pro­found mes­sages that I took away from Mr. Ferencz was that this man still has this in­cred­i­ble will to safe­guard the fu­ture of so­ci­ety, and that he im­plored all of us in the au­di­ence to rec­og­nize that the fu­ture lies with us – it’s up to us as part of hu­man­ity to pre­vent fu­ture geno­cides.”


The City of The Hague (Nether­lands) hon­ors Ben­jamin Ferencz in 2017 with a pub­lic walk­way next to The Peace Palace.


Ben­jamin Ferencz (sec­ond from right) as chief pros­e­cu­tor in the Ein­satz­grup­pen case at Nurem­berg, flanked by Ger­man de­fense coun­sel.


Ben­jamin Ferencz re­ceives the Medal of Free­dom from Har­vard Law School in 2014. A pre­vi­ous re­cip­i­ent was Nel­son Man­dela.

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