Home News Chief prosecutor in Nuremberg trials shares important message for younger generations

Chief prosecutor in Nuremberg trials shares important message for younger generations


Seventy-five years on from the Nuremberg Trials, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nazi war criminals behind some of history’s worst crimes is 100 years old and still spreading a message to younger generations about the scourge of conflict and repression.

Benjamin Ferencz was 25 and a US soldier when, in the last days of World War II, he was assigned to collect evidence about the war crimes committed by Germany under Adolf Hitler.

Later, Ferencz became a prosecutor at the US military tribunal in Nuremberg, southern Germany, securing the convictions of 22 members of the Einsatzgruppen – paramilitary death squads who slaughtered upwards of a million people, most of them Jews, across occupied Europe.

“There are very few people who have seen what I have seen,” he told Reuters Television from his home in Delray Beach, Florida.

“My job was to get into the concentration camps as they were being liberated, with the dead bodies all over the floor and with people waiting to be burned because the crematorium was so overcrowded.”

Benjamin Ferencz speaks during an opening ceremony for the exhibition commemorating the Nuremberg war crimes trials, in Nuremberg, Germany in 2010.
Benjamin Ferencz speaks during an opening ceremony for the exhibition commemorating the Nuremberg war crimes trials, in Nuremberg, Germany in 2010.AP

The trials are today seen as the forerunners of tribunals like the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which has prosecuted politicians and soldiers for their crimes against humanity, albeit with mixed results.

Ferencz campaigned for decades for the ICC to be established, delivering a closing prosecution statement at the conclusion of its historic first case, against the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, in 2012.

“Take your case to a fair court and have them decide what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said on Wednesday (November 18). “Now you save yourself killing a lot of innocent people.”

The courtroom in Nuremberg has been preserved and still draws many visitors to see the seat where defendants like Air Marshal Hermann Goering heard their death sentences.

“There is huge interest,” Axel Fischer, curator of the museum, said.

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