Benjamin Ferencz
By Chiara Logli

"Hope is the engine that drives human endeavor. It generates the energy needed to achieve the difficult goals that lie ahead. Never lose faith that the dreams of today for a more lawful world can become the reality of tomorrow. Never stop trying to make this a more humane universe."

Benjamin Ferencz was born in the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania on March 11, 1920. He was just ten-months old when his family moved to the United States. He was raised in New York and graduated from the Harvard Law School in 1943. Immediately after graduation, Ferencz saw military service in World War II. As an enlisted man under General Patton, he fought in every campaign in Europe and joined in the liberation of German concentration camps. As Nazi atrocities were uncovered, he was transferred to a newly created War Crime Branch of the Army to gather evidence of Nazi brutality and to arrest the criminals.

"I was in many of the concentration camps, all of those liberated by Patton’s 3rd Army, when the crematoria were still burning. I have dug up bodies with my bare hands. I have seen man’s inhumanity to man in ways that are not comprehensible to a rational mind."

In 1945, Ferencz was honorably discharged from the US Army with the rank of Sergeant of Infantry. He returned to New York and prepared to practice law. Shortly after, at the age of 27, he was designated as a Chief Prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg war crimes trials against the SS extermination squads responsible for the genocidal murder of over a million innocent victims. Ferencz was sent with about fifty researchers to Berlin to scour Nazi offices and archives. They gathered evidence of Nazi genocide by German officers, doctors, lawyers, judges, and all others who organized and committed Nazi atrocities.

"Nuremberg declared, for the first time, that it was illegal to wage a war of aggression. That the persons who planned such wars would be held accountable in a court of law. That crimes against humanity such as the genocide committed against the Jews and gypsies and others, were punishable international criminal offenses for which those responsible would be held accountable. That war crimes, which had been prohibited under international law since 1899 and earlier, would be punished."

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg sentenced twenty-two Nazi criminals, including thirteen defendants to death. The verdict was hailed as a great success for the prosecution. The Associated Press defined the Nuremberg war crimes trial as "the biggest murder trial in history." In addition to this trial, many other trials of Nazi war criminals took place at Nuremberg, including those prosecuted by Ferencz.

Ferencz was also the director of post-war restitution programs and helped to formulate and implement the laws providing compensation to survivors of Nazi persecution. His abhorrence of all crimes against humanity stimulated his determination to dedicate himself to creating a world order where all could live in peace and dignity regardless of their race or faith. His primary goal was to establish a legal precedent which would encourage a more humane and secure world in the future. After the intense experience as Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, Ferencz decided to withdraw from the private practice of law and devote his knowledge and energies to participating effectively in the creation of a more peaceful world, based on the rule of law and respect of human rights. For the last quarter-century, he has campaigned for a permanent, international criminal court with power to enforce its judgments, because, as he says, what we have right now is "a system which more resembles the Wild West in America than an international legal order."

"Nuremberg taught me that creating a world of tolerance and compassion would be a long and arduous task. 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."

Ferencz is chairman of the Commission on an International Criminal Court of the World Association of Lawyers and, at the age of 79, he remains active in many peace and international law organizations. He is Professor Emeritus at Pace Law School where he founded a Peace Center and taught "The International Law of Peace." Ferencz has written widely on problems of world peace and international war crimes. Among his books are Defining International Aggression – The Search for World Peace (1975), An International Criminal Court – A Step Toward World Peace (1980), and Enforcing International Law – A Way to World Peace (1983). He has also written, for the lay audience, A Common Sense Guide to World Peace (1985) and Planethood - The Key to Your Future (1988). Ferencz is also an accredited non-governmental observer at the United Nations and a frequent lecturer. He continues to write and speak worldwide for international law and global peace, always supported by his helpful and encouraging wife, Gertrude. They have been married since March 31, 1946, have four grown children and live in New York State.

Chiara Logli served as an intern at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara, California, during 1999. She is a political science major at the University of Bologna in Italy. She studied for one year at University of California at Santa Barbara.


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