U.S. House Okays Rare Honor for Last Living Nuremberg Prosecutor

Benjamin Ferencz will receive a Congressional Gold Medal for his work collecting evidence of Nazi war crimes and leading the prosecution of 22 former SS officials

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Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor, was also member of the Jewish Claims Commission that signed a reparations deal with Germany in this 1952 photo.
Last surviving Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz (right) pictured in 1952 as a member of the Jewish Claims Commission at the signing of a German reparations deal. Credit: AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution Tuesday aimed at awarding Benjamin Ferencz, the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, a Congressional Gold Medal – the highest honor Congress can grant an individual.

The bill was originally introduced in November on the 86th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials by Reps. Lois Frankel, Joe Wilson, Ted Deutch, Gus Bilirakis, Jim McGovern and Chris Smith, in honor of the 101-year-old’s work collecting evidence of Nazi war crimes and leading the prosecution in the trial that led to the conviction of 22 former Nazi SS officials.

In the decades since the historic trials, Ferencz has dedicated his life to international rule of law and justice. “Mr. Ferencz’s lifelong commitment to justice, peace, and human dignity is an inspiration to all who value freedom and humanity,” said Frankel, the lead sponsor of the bill and represents Ferencz’s home district in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Wilson described Ferencz as a “true champion of human rights. Beginning with his time as an investigator in World War II and chief U.S. Army prosecutor during the Nuremberg Trials, through his long, outstanding career as an advocate of international rule of law.”

Wilson’s praise was echoed by fellow Republican lawmaker Bilirakis, who noted “our brightest moments as an international community have been those in which we present a united front in our efforts to identify and eradicate its presence. Mr. Ferencz has been at the helm leading that important work.”

Deutch, the departing Democratic lawmaker who will soon be the American Jewish Committee’s new chief, noted that “at a time when there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors to share their experiences, Mr. Ferencz, the last remaining prosecutor from this tribunal, is a shining example to us all of the continued importance of speaking out, showing zero tolerance for war crimes, and ensuring what happened during the Holocaust never happens again. In honoring him, we commit to continuing his efforts.”

McGovern, the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, noted how in his position he often hears “how grave atrocities such as genocide happen because good people look the other way or fail to take action,” stressing that Ferencz has “spent the last five decades ensuring that we do not look away — and that those who commit these heinous crimes are held accountable. Nuremberg is the model on how to investigate, how to interrogate, how to prosecute, and how to mete out justice.”

Ferencz would follow other Holocaust-adjacent figures to receive the prestigious congressional honor. Elie Wiesel received the medal in 1984 for his work in documenting and preserving the memory of the Holocaust, and Raoul Wallenberg was posthumously granted the medal in 2012 for his work saving thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

The resolution, which passed the House by voice vote, now heads to the Senate where it will need a two-thirds majority to pass.

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