Please Listen to Benjamin Ferencz, the Last Nuremberg Prosecutor, Explain His Implacable Opposition to War


A photo from the Einsatzgruppen (mobile SS death squad) trial as part of the Nuremberg trials on September 15, 1947, at which Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor, was the chief prosecutor, at the age of 27. Standing is Otto Ohlendorf, the commander of one of the detah squads, delivering a plea of "not guilty." He was subsequently found guilty, and hanged.So the sabre-rattling in the West has begun yet again, cruelly and idiotically calling for more bombing in Syria, one of the most devastated countries in the world, in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris — even though the terrorists were European citizens, and even though the ongoing war in Syria has, to date, created a refugee crisis unprecedented in modern history. In response, I’m hoping that anyone interested in peace — and in understanding the true horrors of war — will find the time to listen to a profoundly enlightening interview I came across by chance last Friday, on the 70th anniversary of the day the Nuremberg trials began.

On BBC Radio 4, the PM programme interviewed Benjamin Ferencz, 95, the last surviving prosecutor from the trials, who was just 27 years old when, in 1947, he became the Chief Prosecutor in the ninth of the twelve Nuremberg trials, of 24 officers of the Einsatzgruppen, mobile SS death squads, who operated behind the front line in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe. and who, from 1941 to 1943 alone, murdered more than one million Jews and tens of thousands of other people, including gypsies and the disabled.

Ferencz’s testimony about what he witnessed at the liberation of the Nazis’ death camps, and his experience of the trials — and his subsequent conviction that he had to devote his life to peace — ought to be required listening for everyone, from our politicians to every single one of our fellow citizens.

As he explained in his book PlanetHood: The Key to Your Future, co-written with Ken Keyes, Jr. and published in 1988, “Indelibly seared into my memory are the scenes I witnessed while liberating these centers of death and destruction. 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 — the crematoria aglow with the fire of burning flesh, the mounds of emaciated corpses stacked like cordwood waiting to be burned … I had peered into Hell.”

Through his writings from the 1970s onwards, Ferencz was instrumental in establishing the International Criminal Court, and is hugely critical of the US refusal to ratify the treaty establishing the ICC, when it finally became a reality in 2002.

The 12-minute BBC interview with Ferencz is available here, and will hopefully remain available on the BBC’s website. He has, as he says, spent his life “trying to create a more humane world, a world where the illegal use of armed force will be recognized as a crime against humanity,” and he spoke about the death camps, the trials, and the lack of remorse of those who had been responsible for the murder of a million people, mostly Jews. His recollections are extremely powerful, and not diminished by some inappropriate questions by the presenter.

Towards the end of the interview, Ferencz says, “I know the horrors of war, and you have to eliminate war if you want to eliminate the horrors and the rape and all the other crimes that go with war. Now many people would think that I’m crazy for trying to stop war, but ask yourself whether the man who is trying to stop war is crazy or the people who send people out, every day now, in all parts of the world, to kill other people they don’t know, and to drop bombs from drones and other things, knowing  that innocent people will certainly die in that process. Who is crazy? Who is a murderer here? Let them be tried in the court of public opinion, which is the ultimate court.”

Below is an excerpt from the interview, on YouTube, about the death camps, illustrated with devastatingly powerful footage from the time. It was clips like this that I saw on “The World at War” as a 10-year old, which made me a lifelong pacifist, and I wish I could say that it had the same impression on others, enough to bring wars to an end; instead, of course, the last 14 years have seen untold bloodshed, and from Afghanistan to Iraq, and from Libya to Syria, the involvement of the West in creating these horrors has, shamefully, been immense.

If you share my views, and if you haven’t already done so, please do something to mark your opposition to the current round of warmongering. In the UK, there is a petition to the UK government opposing airstrikes on Syria, which currently has over 20,000 signatures, and a Care2 petition that currently has over 33,000 signatures, and that enables signatories to write to their MPs — and you can also write to your MP here, to ask them to vote against airstrikes.

There are also protests in London, and across the country, taking place on Saturday.

Note: Also see this article on Benjamin Ferencz from the Atlantic in 2014.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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20 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    As the warmongers get excited about the prospect of killing many more civilians in Syria from the air, while pretending to be dealing with Isis, please take time to listen to 95-year old Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials, explain why he is implacably opposed to war, and has spent most of his life working for world peace. Inspirational, and absolutely essential.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Sara SN wrote:

    The business of war… Thanks so much for this article and short clip, Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sara. Good to hear from you.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Brigid Mary Oates wrote:

    Thank you X

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Brigid Mary. My thanks to Benjamin Ferencz for the humanity and intelligence that informed his journey from the death camps to Nuremberg to Vietnam and his conviction that we must work only for peace. A message needed more than ever right now.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Much more on Benjamin Ferencz’s website, btw:

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Sara Hussain wrote:

    So tragic we have learnt nothing

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Sara​. Thanks. Here’s Jeremy Corbyn’s statement in response to David Cameron’s ridiculous claims that we need to bomb Syria:
    And here are the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee:

    “[W]e believe that there should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there is a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating ISIL and of ending the civil war in Syria. In the absence of such a strategy, taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent.

    “We consider that the focus on the extension of airstrikes against ISIL in Syria is a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria and thereby removing one of the main facilitators of ISIL’s rise.”


    And yet that’s not enough for some members of the Shadow Cabinet? Namely, Hilary Benn, Tom Watson and Lord Falconer, Lucy Powell, the shadow education secretary, and Michael Dugher, the shadow culture secretary, all supporters of Cameron’s lethal idiocy.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, I also shared an important article from the Guardian, “I know Isis fighters. Western bombs falling on Raqqa will fill them with joy,” by Jürgen Todenhöfer, a journalist who spent time with Isis last year:

    His article begins:

    Since the Paris attacks, western politicians have been walking open-eyed into a trap set by the terrorists – just like they did after 9/11. They retaliate with bombs, even though bombs are one of the main reasons why we are facing terrorism in the first place: because bombs predominantly kill innocent people, and thus help to create fresh recruits for the terrorist cause.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Goodwin wrote:

    absolutely.. but I think sense doesn’t come into it.. this is as much about selling weapons and insecurity as anything else.. infinite terror threats are great for their business. Well done to Jeremy Corbyn for standing up for world sanity x

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Sadly, the political posturing in Washington, London, Berlin and other NATO countries smacks of denialism but I don’t think it is all that simple when one sees the investments made in war machinery sold to all sides.

    Perpetuation of war has been the ultimate goal of many nations in order to keep their coffers filled and impose obscene power over those unable to defend themselves

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Marion Heads wrote:

    The war mongering West – Cameron is morphing into Blair, another politician using the politics of fear to his own nefarious gain

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    David Gould wrote:

    How does it go? We kill people who kill people to prove it is wrong to kill people.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Neil, Jan, Marion and David. All powerful comments.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Meena B Sharma wrote:

    Thank you Andy for sharing…I so agree with Sara, we have learned nothing, still at war!

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s disgraceful, isn’t it, Meena? Positions of power attract warmongers. We need new leaders!

  17. damo says...

    It must be galling for this gentleman to have live so long to see that ……we have learned absolutley nothing from Nazi death camps to the current conflict in Syria ,the only war we should be united in fighting is the one called climate change …when will this end ..God help us

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Damo, great to hear from you, my friend. I wasn’t sure what had happened to you. Yes, people who have been around as long as Ben Ferencz remember the idealism that grew from the horrors of WWII when decent, principled people established the UN, wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, updated the Geneva Conventions, began the processes that led to the UN Convention Against Torture, which was introduced in 1984, and, in some cases, tried to establish a legal framework within which illegal warmongering could be punished. Now the times have changed so much that Jeremy Corbyn gets viewed a some sort of dangerous crank for his pacifism, and Tony Benn’s son gets praised for his warmongering speech-cum-application for the Labour leadership job, which isn’t vacant. Did you see the clip of Tony Benn from 1998, opposing bombing Iraq, which has been doing the rounds? Now that’s a powerful speech, from someone who also remembered the post-WWII idealism, and not the dismal performance by Hilary the other night (and check out Jeremy Corbyn in the background):

  19. damo says...

    Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn has been demonised and villified in the press a vile smear campaine and hate campaine ……Hilary Benn……dosent count……he will never ever ,ever measure up to his father as I’ve said before …..its now or never….tick tock says the clock ….time is not on our side …we have at a species get our shit together and fast ….stop all this maddness …stop the warring ,stop the hateing,stop the greed, start globeally to right the wronges and fight climate change which is here and now …..when I’ve said this people think I’m extream ,maybe a crank ……no I’m awake and paying attention and thank god others are wakeing up …..the time now is for action.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    The time for action is indeed now, Damo, but who will put down their mobile phones and put a hold on their addiction to stuff and say, “Enough is enough. Let’s all not go to work tomorrow.”
    The next crash will do it, but that could well be very tough indeed!
    But of course climate degradation, in the meantime, waits for no man or woman.
    Wakey-wakey, people! (as I have also said before)

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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