Last living Nuremberg Trials prosecutor deserves Congressional Gold Medal
In January 2019, I flew to the Florida Gold Coast with the secretary general of the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP) to present Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg Trials prosecutor, with the association’s highest recognition, the Medal of Honour. In my years serving around the globe as an officer in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, and as an elected county prosecutor, I have had the privilege of meeting many incredible individuals who exemplify the meaning of public service. Yet, Benjamin Ferencz stands out in a class of his own.
Born in Transylvania (today’s Romania) in 1920, Mr. Ferencz’s family moved to the United States when he was 10 months old. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he served as an enlisted solider in an anti-aircraft battalion during World War II, before being transferred to the War Crimes Branch of the Army once evidence of the Holocaust became more known to the military. After the war, he was recruited to continue his work and was appointed chief prosecutor for the United States for the Einsatzgruppen Case during the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials.
The case involved 22 former Nazi officials who were indicted for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and membership in organizations declared criminal by the International Military Tribunal based on their role as commanders of Nazi death squads that killed Jews, Romani, homosexuals and others. Despite this being his first case ever at just 27 years of age, Mr. Ferencz successfully prosecuted all 22 former Nazi officials. After the convictions, 14 of the defendants were sentenced to death, and the others received sentences ranging from a decade to life in prison.
Following the trials in Germany, Mr. Ferencz dedicated his life to upholding the rule of law throughout the world, and today lives in Florida. He has published multiple books and continues to speak out in the defense of human rights and human dignity. He has personified the spirit and virtues that every prosecutor in the world should strive to achieve.
Recently, U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) introduced bipartisan legislation on the 86th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials that would award Mr. Ferencz the Congressional Gold Medal. However, although Mr. Ferencz is deserving of this honor based on his lifetime of service, he is unfortunately not yet guaranteed to receive it.
Congressional rules require two-thirds of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate to co-sponsor this type of legislation in order for it to move forward. Only once this threshold is met could the appropriate congressional committees — the House Committee on Financial Services’ Subcommittee on Domestic Policy and the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee — act on the bill and officially award Mr. Ferencz the Congressional Gold Medal. As of this writing, the House bill currently has 170 co-sponsors, short of the needed 290.
The Nuremberg Trials are among the most renowned and impactful series of legal cases in world history. Through their steadfast public service and pursuit of justice, Mr. Ferencz and his fellow prosecutors ensured the rule of law was upheld for the most heinous of offenders. There is no better way for our nation to recognize Mr. Ferencz and his late colleagues’ service than awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal.
Like the work of Simon Wiesenthal, a recipient of both the Congressional Gold Medal and the IAP Medal of Honour, Mr. Ferencz’s actions have reflected the best of the United States. His lifetime pursuit of justice and advocacy for those who could not advocate for themselves proves that he is a champion of American values deserving of this recognition by the United States Congress. I urge every member of Congress to learn about Mr. Ferencz’s life of service, and then support and co-sponsor the Benjamin Berell Ferencz Congressional Gold Medal Act.
Chris Toth is a vice president of the International Association of Prosecutors, executive director of the National Association of Attorneys General, and the former prosecuting attorney in St. Joseph County, Ind.