House passes bill awarding Congressional Gold Medal to chief US prosecutor at Nuremberg Trials

Defenders hear parts of the verdict in the Palace of Justice at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial in Germany on Sept. 30, 1946
Eddie Worth/The Associated Press
Defenders hear parts of the verdict in the Palace of Justice at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial in Germany on Sept. 30, 1946

The House passed a bill on Tuesday that seeks to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Benjamin Berell Ferencz, an Army veteran who served as chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials following World War II.

The legislation passed through the lower chamber by voice vote.

Ferencz, who is 102, fought in the U.S. Army during World War II for roughly two years before being honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant at the end of 1945. At one point during his service he was transferred to a War Crimes Branch of the Army and tasked with collecting evidence of war crimes that could be used to prosecute those responsible in court.

The U.S. then enlisted Ferencz in 1946 to work on the Nuremberg tribunals, the independent court that put Nazi officials on trial for crimes that were carried out during the war — including those related to the Holocaust.

Ferencz managed a group of 50 researchers looking into official Nazi records which, according to the bill, “provided overwhelming evidence to implicate German doctors, lawyers, judges, generals, industrialists, and others in genocide.”

Ferencz, who was 27 at the time, was chosen to serve as the chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen Trial, which focused on individuals accused of conducting mass shootings against hundreds of thousands of people during Nazi Germany’s offensive against the Soviet Union, including Jews and Communists, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Twenty-two of the defendants on trial were found guilty of murdering more than 1 million individuals, according to the American Bar Association (ABA).

Following the proceedings, Ferencz dedicated time to securing compensation for Holocaust victims and survivors and advocated for returning stolen assets to individuals, in addition to other forms of restitution for victims, according to the bill. He has also focused on studying world peace, the ABA noted.

The Army veteran told the ABA in 2018 that he still devotes most of his life to preventing war because it “is my awareness that the next war will make the last one look like child’s play.”

“We have devoted all of our energy and money to building new weapons. We have failed to build the instruments necessary for peaceful settlement of disputes, and the result is that the funds which are needed to care for refugees, for students, and for the aged, are wasted in an arms race for more destructive weapons from cyberspace, which can cut off the electrical grid on any city on this planet, with the result of almost immediate death to most of the population,” Ferencz added.

Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), a sponsor of the bill, noted that the passage of the legislation comes during Jewish-American Heritage Month, adding “it is important to recognize we’re still fighting the ongoing battle against racism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial in this country and around the world.”

She also recognized the “horror of inhumanity” that is occurring amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The timing of this bill has never been more important, because Mr. Ferencz inspires us to stand up to the cruel barbarians of this world,” Frankel said in remarks on the House floor.

Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) sounded a similar note, saying of Ferencz on the House floor, “As we witness the horrors now being carried out in Ukraine, its never been more important for the world to hear his story.”

Tags Lois Frankel World War II WWI

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