The Cardozo Jewish Legal Society hosted an event at the School of Law Feb. 6. with Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials. The diverse audience of about 300 students, professors, community members and Holocaust survivors was captivated by Ferencz’s retelling of his experiences as chief prosecutor of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, and his role in establishing the International Criminal Court.
Ferencz, 99, spoke about his experience in international law, the meaning of justice, and offered advice to students.
“A little guy dealing with war criminals,” he said describing himself. A month away from his 100th birthday, Ferencz still values humor.
The famed prosecutor was fighting back tears as he recalled the scenes of horror and indignity that played out in the concentration camps he visited after the war. Still, this work was all in an attempt to build a case against Nazi perpetrators.
“It doesn’t matter what the name of the country is, it matters how they treat their citizens,” Ferencz firmly told the audience.
The question and answer portion of the event was moderated by professor Bernard Oxman of the University of Miami School of Law. Ferencz was unwavering in his response to questions about the role future lawyers have to play in safeguarding justice and the guaranteeing of a fair due process for all.
“I consider it a great loss that we didn’t give Hitler the chance to state his case,” Ferencz answered an audience member who asked whether Hitler, and war criminals alike, deserved to be tried.
Law student Evan Dubow said he was inspired to attend the event because of Ferencz’s documentary on Netflix, “Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World Of Ben Ferencz.”
Dubow, who attended with his grandfather, reflected upon the importance stressed by Ferencz of using lawful means to stand up to perpetrators of heinous crimes.
“The thing that resonated most was the fact that he believes everyone’s case should be heard, and as lawyers it is up to us to enforce this basic human right,” Dubow said.
During the event, School of Law Dean Anthony Varona presented Ferencz with an award in recognition of his inspirational lifework.
“Your body of work exhorts lawyers to be public servants,” said Dean Varona as he bestowed Ferencz with a silver ibis sculpture.
Looking towards the future of international law, Ferencz vigorously advocated for prospective lawyers to uphold what he considers the most important pillar of justice— humanity.
“Let your humanity be your goal,” he implored
What are the Nuremberg Trials?
In the wake of World War II, people were shocked at the destruction and carnage that occurred at the hands of Nazi Germany. With heinous war crimes having been committed, the world wanted answers and retribution. This sentiment was manifested in the form of the Nuremberg Trials.
From November 1945 to October 1946, the trial of major war criminals occurred in Nuremberg, Germany. This was the most well known of the Nuremberg Trials and saw the hearings of major Nazi officials. In this trial, 24 Nazi officials and entire organizations were indicted and deemed criminal.
Nazi perpetrators were tried by Allied forces, comprised of British, American, French, and Soviet professionals. This group of people presented a case against the Nazis in an attempt to bring justice to those who were affected during WWII.
These trials saw the merging of many different law traditions, making it an especially interesting case study for those who are entering the profession. Though it has tremendous historical significance, the lasting effects of the Nuremberg Trials were on international law.
The only American prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials who is still alive today is Ben Ferencz. He was known for his investigative work against the Nazis and his work prosecuting in the Einsatzgruppen Trial.