Benjamin B. Ferencz Brentwood 2022

Nuremberg trial prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz speaks in a virtual discussion at Congregation Micah in Brentwood on April 26, 2022.

The Chabad of Nashville and Congregation Micah hosted the last living Nuremberg trial prosecutor, Benjamin B. Ferencz, this week for a discussion about his experiences during World War II and in the following months of prosecution of Nazi war criminals. 

102-year-old Ferencz appeared via webcam from his Florida home for the virtual talk where he detailed his life growing up in New York City after he and his family immigrated to the United States from what is now Romania. 

Ferencz graduated from Harvard University’s Law School in 1943 before joining the U.S. Army in 1944 where he served in the most important battles of the European theater including D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge.

In 1945 Ferencz took on what would be the beginning of his most important professional role, investigating war crimes as allied troops liberated numerous Nazi concentration camps that were scattered throughout Europe.

There Ferencz saw first-hand the atrocities of the Nazi’s systematic killing infrastructer that aimed to kill all of Europe’s Jewish population along with other people considered by the Nazi government to be “undesirables” in the Holocaust.

Ferencz described the traumatic scenes that he witnessed and detailed how he sought to preserve evidence inside and outside of the concentration camps, much of which were documents produced and kept by the Nazis that detailed their atrocities.

Nuremberg trial prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz

27-year-old Nuremberg trial prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz in 1946.

“I probably didn’t realize it at the time, but the traumatic effect of what I had seen, the crematoriums still going, the bodies burning, the inmates, some of them trying to fight back and being killed," Ferencz said, "the horrors of the German plan and how it was being carried out successfully according to their side. That, of course, has remained with me."

Ferencz continued his investigations after the end of the war, collecting more documents that would later serve as the central evidence that led to the conviction of all 22 defendants for the murder of more than 1 million people in the phase of the trials that Ferencz prosecuted. 

13 of those 22 defendants were sentenced and put to death, the conclusion to the first case that Ferencz ever prosecuted, which has since been known as the largest murder trial in world history.

“People say, ‘Weren’t you nervous?’ No, because I didn’t kill anybody,” Ferencz said. “They were nervous, they’re the ones who did the killing and they knew that I knew it and that I could prove it.

“That’s where my story begins, not where it ends."

Following Ferencz’s work in the Nuremberg trials, he has spent the remainder of his life advocating for international peace, and for what he has long-argued is a key component of peace, an International Criminal Court which was formally established in 2002. 

As the number of Holocaust survivors rapidly declines, it’s increasingly urgent for us to honor survivors’ stories, elevate their voices and heed their advice," Chabad of Nashville Executive Director Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel said in an email. "It’s imperative to educate the younger generation, as there will come a day when there are no living survivors left to share first-hand accounts of these atrocities. The importance of this endeavor extends beyond communities of faith, as we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves to create a more peaceful world."

Ferencz has authored numerous books, and more information about his life and work can be found here or in the video below from CBS’ 60 Minutes.