Benjamin Ferencz, Nuremberg’s last living prosecutor, dies at 103

He entered the history books at only 27 years old. American Benjamin Ferencz, who was the last of the Nuremberg trial prosecutors, has died at the age of 103 after a life dedicated to international justice, his son announced on Saturday.

He died “peacefully in his sleep” Friday evening in a nursing home in Florida “of natural causes”, said Donald Ferencz. “If my father could have made one last statement, I’m sure he would have said: law, not war,” he added.

Refugee at the age of 10 months in the United States

Benjamin Ferencz led the prosecution for the United States during the Einsatzgruppen trial in 1947. Twenty-two leaders of these mobile extermination units, which followed the German advance in Eastern Europe, were convicted after the exposure of the extent of their crimes. Based on Nazi archives, Benjamin Ferencz had estimated at more than one million Jewish men, women and children, the number of victims of this “Holocaust by bullets”.

Born in the Carpathian Mountains to Jewish parents and a refugee at the age of 10 months in the United States, he studied law at the prestigious Harvard University. Mobilized during the Second World War, he was first deployed on the battlefields in Europe before being tasked with gathering evidence of Nazi crimes.

In a book published in 1988, he explained that he had been marked forever by the liberation of the death camps. “I will never be able to forget the deadly sight of the crematory ovens (…) and the emaciated bodies piled up like firewood”, he wrote in particular.

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A supporter of an international criminal court

On his return to civilian life, he had been recruited to work in the team of American prosecutors in Nuremberg, a city in Bavaria where the allies judged, during 13 trials, Nazi crimes, laying the groundwork for a international criminal justice system. He then worked in Europe on reparation programs for victims of Nazi persecution.

Back in the United States, he devoted himself to the private practice of law. Disturbed by the war in Vietnam, he gradually withdrew from it in the 1970s to write and advocate for the establishment of an international criminal court. More discreet in recent years, he gave a rare interview in May to the CBS channel, in which he considered that President Vladimir Putin was “a war criminal” and that Russia should be tried by international justice for “aggression from Ukraine.

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