Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials in Germany, has died at the age of 103.
Mr Ferencz was an inexperienced 27-year-old when he became chief prosecutor for the US in the trial of 22 officers who were part of Einsatzgruppen.
The mobile killing squads were part of Germany’s Nazi forces during the Second World War and the officers were charged in 1947 with murdering more than one million Jews, gypsies and other minorities in eastern Europe.
In his opening statement, Mr Ferencz said: “It is with sorrow and with hope that we here disclose the deliberate slaughter of more than a million innocent and defenceless men, women, and children.
“This was the tragic fulfilment of a programme of intolerance and arrogance.
“Vengeance is not our goal, nor do we seek merely a just retribution.
“We ask this court to affirm by international penal action man’s right to live in peace and dignity regardless of his race or creed.
“The case we present is a plea of humanity to law.”
People ‘condemned in the Nazi mind’
He told the court that the officers had methodically carried out long-range plans to exterminate ethnic, national, political and religious groups “condemned in the Nazi mind”.
“Genocide – the extermination of whole categories of human beings – was a foremost instrument of the Nazi doctrine.”
All of the defendants were convicted and 13 of them were sentenced to death by hanging, even though Mr Ferencz had not asked for the death penalty.
‘An insight into the mentality of mass murderers’
Mr Ferencz was born in Romania in 1920 and was 10 months old when his family moved to the US.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1943, he joined the military and fought in Europe before joining the army’s newly-formed war crimes section.
It was after the end of the war in 1945 that he was recruited to join the US prosecution team at Nuremberg and in a 2018 interview with the American Bar Association, he said: “What was most significant about it was it gave us and it gave me an insight into the mentality of mass murderers.
“They had murdered over a million people, including hundreds of thousands of children in cold blood, and I wanted to understand how it is that educated people – many of them had PhDs or they were generals in the German army – could not only tolerate but lead and commit such horrible crimes.”
‘The next war will make the last one look like child’s play’
Later, Mr Ferencz worked for Jewish charities helping Holocaust survivors regain property, businesses, religious items and other assets that had been stolen by the Nazis.
He also advocated for the creation of an international criminal court – the tribunal that was finally established in 2002 and now sits at The Hague in the Netherlands, albeit without the participation of some major countries such as the US.
Mr Ferencz was critical of his country’s actions in the war, particularly in Vietnam, saying in 2018: “The reason I have continued to devote most of my life to preventing war is my awareness that the next war will make the last one look like child’s play.”
Mr Ferencz died at Boynton Beach in Florida on Saturday.
His wife Gertrude died in 2019 but he is survived by a son and three daughters.