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Benjamin Ferencz (1920–2023)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum deeply mourns the passing of Benjamin Ferencz, Nuremberg prosecutor and advocate for victims of the Holocaust, pioneer in the field of international criminal justice, and laureate of the Museum’s highest honor, the Elie Wiesel Award. The Museum paid tribute to the exceptional leadership and persistence that Mr. Ferencz demonstrated in his steadfast pursuit of accountability and redress for victims of genocide and other related international crimes. In December 2022, Congress bestowed its highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, on him for his life’s work in pursuit of global justice.

“Ben’s unwavering pursuit of a more peaceful and just world spanned almost eight decades and forever shaped how we respond to humanity’s worst crimes. He made history at Nuremberg and continued to do so throughout his extraordinary life. He was relentless in his commitment to memory, history and justice. It was an honor to know him and have him donate his collection to the Museum,” said Sara J. Bloomfield, director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

Mr. Ferencz’s family immigrated to the United States from Transylvania soon after his birth in 1920. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1943 before serving with the US Army during World War II. In work that left an indelible mark on his life and career, Mr. Ferencz worked for the War Crimes Branch of the US Army gathering evidence of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime in concentration camps.

“Camps like Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Dachau are vividly imprinted in my mind’s eye. Even today, when I close my eyes, I witness a deadly vision I can never forget ….”

After the war, at the age of 27 with no prior trial experience, Mr. Ferencz served as chief prosecutor for the Einsatzgruppen Trial at the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings. He obtained guilty verdicts for all 22 defendants, including 20 Nazi officials found guilty for the murder of over a million people, mostly Jews, using “task forces” or Einsatzgruppen. Devoted to the pursuit of justice for those who had been victimized by the Nazi regime and its collaborators, Mr. Ferencz later fought for compensation for victims and survivors of the Holocaust, the return of stolen assets, and other forms of restitution. Reflecting on the impact of the Holocaust, he said,

“Nuremberg taught me that creating a world of tolerance and compassion would be a long and arduous task. And I also learned that if we did not devote ourselves to developing effective world law, the same cruel mentality that made the Holocaust possible might one day destroy the entire human race.”

A testament to his commitment to ending war and promoting justice, Mr. Ferencz partnered with the Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide to launch the Ferencz International Justice Initiative in 2017 to continue his exceptional legacy of advancing justice and accountability efforts for victims and survivors.