Benjamin B. Ferencz

Benjamin Berell[1] Ferencz (born March 11, 1920)[2][3] is a Romanian-born American lawyer. 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 twelve military trials held by the U.S. authorities at Nuremberg, Germany. Later, he became a vocal 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.



He was born in Transylvania, from where his family immigrated into the United States when he was ten months old. According to his own account, the family left Romania to evade the persecution of Hungarian Jews after Hungary had ceded the territory where they lived to Romania after World War I.[4] The family settled in New York City, where they lived in the Lower East Side in Manhattan.[5]

He studied crime prevention at the City College of New York and won a scholarship for the Harvard Law School with his criminal law exam. At Harvard, he studied under Roscoe Pound[6] and also did research for Sheldon Glueck, who at that time was writing a book on war crimes. Ferencz was graduated from Harvard in 1943.[7] After his studies, he joined the U.S. Army, where he served in the 115th AAA Gun Battalion, an anti-aircraft artillery unit.[5] In 1945, he was transferred to the headquarters of General Patton's Third Army, where he was assigned to a team tasked with setting up a war crimes branch and collecting evidence for such crimes. In this function, he was then sent to the concentration camps as they were liberated by the U.S. army.[5]

On Christmas 1945,[6] Ferencz was honorably discharged from the Army with the rank of Sergeant. He returned to New York, but was recruited only a few weeks later to participate as a prosecutor in the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials in the legal team of Telford Taylor. Taylor appointed him Chief Prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen Case—Ferencz's first case.[5] All of the 22 men on trial were convicted; 14 of them received death sentences, of which four were eventually carried out.

In a 2005 interview for the Washington post he revealed some of his activities during his period in Germany:

"I once saw DPs beat an SS man and then strap him to the steel gurney of a crematorium. They slid him in the oven, turned on the heat and took him back out. Beat him again, and put him back in until he was burnt alive. I did nothing to stop it. I suppose I could have brandished my weapon or shot in the air, but I was not inclined to do so. Does that make me an accomplice to murder?"[8]
"You know how I got witness statements?" "I'd go into a village where, say, an American pilot had parachuted and been beaten to death and line everyone one up against the wall. Then I'd say, 'Anyone who lies will be shot on the spot.' It never occurred to me that statements taken under duress would be invalid."[8]

Ferencz stayed in Germany after the Nuremberg Trials, together with his wife Gertrude,[5] whom he had married in New York[9] on March 31, 1946.[2] He participated in the setup of reparation and rehabilitation programs for the victims of persecutions by the Nazis, and also had a part in the negotiations that led to the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany signed on September 10, 1952[10] and the first German Restitution Law in 1953.[5] In 1957, the family—they had four children by then—returned to the U.S., where Ferencz entered private law practice[9] as a partner of Telford Taylor.[11]

But the experiences made just after World War II left a defining impression on Ferencz.[9] After thirteen years, and under the impression of the events of the Vietnam War, Ferencz left the private law practice and henceforth worked for the institution of an International Criminal Court that would serve as a worldwide highest instance for issues of crimes against humanity and war crimes.[9] He also published several books on this subject. Already in his first book published in 1975, entitled Defining International Aggression-The Search for World Peace, he argued for the establishment of such an international court.[7] From 1985 to 1996, Ferencz also worked as an Adjunct Professor of International Law at Pace University at White Plains, New York.[4]

An International Criminal Court was indeed established on July 1, 2002, when the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court entered in force. The U.S. did sign the treaty, but did not subsequently ratify it, and furthermore concluded a large number of bilateral agreements with other states that would exclude U.S. citizens from being brought before the ICC.[12]

Ferencz has repeatedly argued against this procedure and suggested that the U.S. simply join the ICC without reservations, as it was a long-established rule of law that "law must apply equally to everyone", also in an international context.[9] In this vein, he has suggested in an interview given on August 25, 2006, that not only Saddam Hussein should be tried, but also George W. Bush because the Iraq War had been begun by the U.S. without permission by the UN Security Council.[13]

Selected bibliography

  • Ferencz, B.: New Legal Foundations for Global Survival: Security Through the Security Council, Oceana 1994; ISBN 0379212072.
  • Ferencz, B.; Keyes, K. Jr: Planethood, Vision Books 1988. Reprint 1991; ISBN 0915972212.
  • Ferencz, B.: A Common Sense Guide to World Peace, Oceana 1985.
  • Ferencz, B.: Enforcing International Law: A Way to World Peace, Oceana 1983.
  • Ferencz, B.: Less Than Slaves: Jewish Forced Labor and the Quest for Compensation, Harvard 1979. Reprint 2002, Indiana University Press & USHMM; ISBN 0253215307.
  • Ferencz, B.: An International Criminal Court: A Step Toward World Peace, Oceana 1980. ISBN 0379203898.
  • Ferencz, B.: Defining International Aggression: The Search for World Peace, Oceana 1975. ISBN 037900271X.

See also

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  1. Gale Reference Team: Biography - Ferencz, Benjamin B(erell) (1920-):, Thomson Gale, April 6, 2006.
  2. a b Logli, Ch.: Benjamin Ferencz, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 1999? URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  3. Ferencz, B.: Photos. One of the captions reads "On March 11, 2003, his 83rd birthday, ..." URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  4. a b Ferencz, B.: A Prosecutor's Personal Account: From Nuremberg to Rome, Journal of International Affairs 52, Columbia University, 1999. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  5. a b c d e f USHMM: Chief prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz presents his case at the Einsatzgruppen Trial, USHMM photograph #41618. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  6. a b The Legal History Project: Interview with Benjamin Ferencz, May 2006. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  7. a b Ferencz, B.: (Auto-)Biography. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  8. a b Matthew Brzezinski, Giving Hitler Hell Washington Post Sunday, July 24, 2005; Page W08
  9. a b c d e Harvard Law School: Benjamin Ferencz: Speaker's biography from the Pursuing Human Dignity: The Legacies of Nuremberg for International Law, Human Rights & Education conference, November 2005. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  10. USHMM: Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signs the reparations agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel, USHMM photograph #11019. URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  11. Ferencz, B.: Telford Taylor: Pioneer of International Criminal Law, Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 37(3), pp. 661 – 664; 1999. URL last accessed 2006-12-13.
  12. Coalition for the International Criminal Court: 2006. Status of US Bilateral Immunity Acts. 2006. URL last accessed 2006-12-12.
  13. Glantz, A.: Bush and Saddam Should Both Stand Trial, Says Nuremberg Prosecutor, OneWorld U.S., August 25, 2006. URL last accessed 2010-8-21.