Benjamin B. Ferencz

Ferencz headshot
Born in Csolt, Hungary in 1920, Benjamin Berell Ferencz emigrated to the US with his family as a ten-month-old baby to avoid Romania’s persecution of Hungarian Jews after Romania gained control of his native Transylvania. The family settled in New York City’s Lower East Side. Ferencz studied crime prevention at the City College of New York, and won a scholarship to Harvard Law School. After graduation from Harvard in 1943, he joined the US Army. In 1945, he was assigned to General Patton’s headquarters to collect evidence of Nazi war crimes and was sent to concentration camps liberated by the US Army.

Ferencz was honorably discharged as a Sergeant but was soon recruited in General Telford Taylor’s legal team in the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials as a Colonel. With some 50 researchers, Ferencz scoured Nazi offices and archives in Berlin, collecting overwhelming evidence of Nazi genocide by German doctors, lawyers, judges, generals, industrialists and others who played leading roles in organizing or perpetrating Nazi brutalities. Taylor appointed Ferencz chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen Case, Ferencz’s first case: all of the 22 accused were convicted; 13 received death sentences, of which 4 were eventually carried out.

Ferencz stayed in Germany until 1956, helping set up reparation programs for the victims of persecution by the Nazis, and negotiate the 1952 Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany and the first German Restitution Law in 1953. In 1956, Ferencz returned to the US and entered private law practice as a partner of Telford Taylor. In 1970, influenced by the Vietnam War, Ferencz left law practice and started working for the creation of an International Criminal Court that would be the world’s highest instance for crimes against humanity and war crimes. From 1985 until 1996, Ferencz was adjunct professor of international law at Pace University.

Ferencz received the Erasmus Prize in 2009, an honor recognizing contributions to European culture, society, or social science.


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