Last of Nuremberg War Prosecutors Still Hopes World Will 'Come to Its Senses'

'All I can do as an old man is sit here in a little bungalow in Florida and urge the world to come to its senses,' says Benjamin Ferencz.

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. AP

At the age of 27, Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor, convicted all 22 defendants he faced of war crimes. His was one of the 13 trials convened shortly after the end of World War II.

Those he prosecuted were the most prominent of what he says "were 3,000 men who every day for about two years went out and slaughtered people because they were Jews or Gypsies," Ferencz, now 96 and living in Florida, told NPR's Morning Edition program.

As a combat soldier in the war, Ferencz, later assigned to U.S. Gen. George Patton's headquarters had been assigned to help liberal concentration camps to collect evidence for the trials.

"The most important evidence was the death registries: who was in the camp, how long, the names of the officers, photographs, evidence to prove the crime beyond any possible doubt. And I was able to do that because the crime was so enormous and the Germans were so kind as to leave a complete record of all their crimes," he said.

"I was trying to prove that the rule of law should govern human behavior and nobody should treat human beings that way. These were crimes against humanity because everyone should have been ashamed that such a thing happened, and I am ashamed that we had the genocide in Rwanda and elsewhere since that time."

Nowadays it's more difficult to prosecute war crimes at the International Criminal Court, which he says has "big problems."

"They can't even get into the country where the crimes are occurring because the head of state himself may be responsible or he certainly may be sympathetic to the criminals, and therefore he doesn't let him in," Ferencz says.

Looking back, he says, " I have boiled everything down into a slogan: Law not war. Three words. If you could do that, how you would change the world. You'd save billions of dollars every day to be able to take care of the students who can't pay their tuition, take care of the refugees who don't have homes.

"I have also three words: Never give up. And that's what I'm doing. And all I can do as an old man [is] sit here in a little bungalow in Florida and urge the world to come to its senses. Good luck, world."