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Friday, January 28, 2022

Exclusive interview with Benjamin Ferencz, a nominee for the Congressional Gold Medal

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Delray Beach, Florida. Benjamin Fenech, the last surviving member of the prosecution team for the Nuremberg Trials, is a congressional gold-medal candidate.

In his small apartment in the retirement community of Delray Beach, Fenech exercises regularly. He could still recite the memory of his opening statement from September 15, 1947.

“We ask this court to affirm through international criminal procedures the right of human beings to live in peace and dignity regardless of their race or creed. “The case we are presenting is a call from humanity to law,” Fenech said during an exclusive interview in 2016.

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Born on March 11, 1920 in Soncotta Marie in the Roman region of Transylvania, he was an infant when his Jewish family immigrated to New York. In 1943, he graduated from Harvard Law School with a merit scholarship.

“My family faced persecution and poverty in Transylvania…we came to New York. We were immigrants, no money, no language.

During World War II, he landed in Normandy and survived the Battle of the Bulge. Soon after, he was assigned to the US Army’s War Crimes Branch and helped collect evidence at Buchenwald, Dachau, and Mauthausen.

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“I was assigned to go to the concentration camps while they were liberated. The atrocities of the camps are hard to understand or feel by someone who was not there. The Holocaust was still going on. The Bone Pact,” adding that he would never forget.

Fenech was a sergeant when the US Army honorably discharged him and returned to New York. US Army General Telford Taylor Finch is recruited to join an evidence search team in Berlin. Fenech came across reports of Einsatzgruppen, the Einsatzgruppen of ideological fighters who followed the German army to commit mass murder.

As the Nuremberg trials continued, Finch told Taylor he had enough evidence for a new trial. Prosecutors were so busy that Taylor appointed him to lead the case. He would go on to make history as the United States Attorney in the Einsatzgruppen case, 9 of the 12 Nuremberg trials.


Ferenc, a Jew, was only 27 years old when he faced his first courtroom trial, while the world watched. The indictment consisted of three counts: crimes against humanity, murder and mistreatment of prisoners of war, and belonging to an illegal organization.

Benjamin Ferencz shared this definition with the Simon Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide of the Ferenc International Justice Initiative of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum)
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Fenech’s exhibits included official records of the Einsatzgruppen that documented the mass killings of Jews, communists, gypsies, the disabled, mentally ill, and other groups. The exhibits included evidence of the massacre of more than 33,000 people, including children, in the Babi Yar valley near the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

“It is with sadness and hope that we report here the premeditated massacre of more than one million innocent and defenseless men, women and children. “This was a tragic achievement for a program of bigotry and arrogance,” said Furnish during his opening statement.


The Associated Press referred to his case as “the largest murder trial in history” and resulted in the conviction of 22 Nazi officers. The main defendant in Ferench was Otto Ohlendorf, an economist accused of leading the Einsatzgruppen in Nazi Germany. He was among 13 people sentenced to death by hanging.

Fenech published “Defining International Aggression – The Search for World Peace” in 1975, “International Criminal Court: A Step Toward World Peace” in 1980, “International Law Enforcement: A Path to World Peace” in 1983, and “Common Sense World Peace Handbook 1985.

While he was an assistant professor of international law at Pace University in New York, he also published “Global Security for the Twenty-first Century” in 1991, and “New Legal Foundations for Global Survival: Security Through the Security Council” in 1994.


His book Less Than Slaves: Jewish Forced Labor and the Quest for Reparation was published in 2002 and co-authored with The Prosecutor and Judge in 2009. He was awarded Harvard Law School’s highest honor, the Medal of Freedom, in 2014.

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In 2019, he was the subject of a documentary called “The Trial of Evil,” and Gertrude Furnish, his high school sweetheart, his wife since 1976, and the mother of his four children, died. Last year, he published “Words of Parting,” an autobiography that includes lessons to inspire others to live a “wonderful life.”

Fenech lives simply and cherishes a letter he received from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum after he donated $1 million. He has seen progress in the development of the International Criminal Court, and he hopes more will be accomplished with his “law not war” mission.


“The world hasn’t learned lessons. It’s happening as we talk all over the world,” said Fenech.

Earlier this year, the United States called for genocide and atrocities taking place in six countries: Myanmar, also known as Burma, China, Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

More from Ferencz

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