NEW YORK – Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials in Germany that brought Nazi war criminals to justice after World War II and a longtime apostle of international criminal law, died on Friday at age 103, NBC News reported, citing his son.
Ferencz, a Harvard-educated lawyer, secured convictions of numerous German officers who led roving death squads during the war.
Circumstances of his death were not immediately disclosed. The New York Times reported that Ferencz died at an assisted living facility in Boynton Beach, Florida.
He was just 27 years old when he served as a prosecutor in 1947 at Nuremberg, where Nazi defendants including Hermann Goring faced a series of trials for crimes against humanity including the genocide known as the Holocaust in which six million Jewish people and millions of others were systematically killed.
Ferencz then advocated for decades for the creation of an international criminal court, a goal realised with the establishment of an international tribunal that sits in The Hague, Netherlands.
Ferencz also was a significant donor to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum established in Washington.
“Today, the world lost a leader in the quest for justice for victims of genocide and related crimes. We mourn the death of Ben Ferencz – the last Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor. At age 27, with no prior trial experience, he secured guilty verdicts against 22 Nazis,” the US Holocaust Museum said in a post on Twitter.
At Nuremberg, Ferencz became chief prosecutor for the United States in the trial of 22 officers who led mobile paramilitary killing squads known as Einsatzgruppen that were part of the notorious Nazi SS.
The squads carried out mass killings targeting Jews, gypsies and others – primarily civilians – during the war in German-occupied Europe and were responsible for more than a million deaths.
“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,” Ferencz said, in his opening statement at the trial.
“This was the tragic fulfillment 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,” Ferencz added.
Ferencz told the court that the accused officers 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,” Ferencz said.
The defendants all were convicted and 13 were given death sentences. It was Ferencz’s first career case.