May 2, 2019
Ben Ferencz was only 27 when he stood before the judges at the Nuremberg Military Tribunal as the chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen trial. The defendants were 24 high-ranking SS officers responsible for the deaths of over 1 million innocent people. Ben had never tried a case before. He was barely 5 feet tall and was dwarfed by the podium, which came up to his chest. And yet photos from the trial show a composed young man. When the trial ended, the defendants were found guilty on all counts.
Ben would later say that he was driven to seek justice because people were murdered just because they did not share the race or creed of their executioners, and someone had to speak up for them.
He knew he was one of the fortunate ones. Ben’s father brought his young family to America to flee the persecution and poverty in Romania. The family settled in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood in New York City. His teacher recognized his abilities and sent him to a high school for gifted students. From there, he would go on to college and Harvard Law School on scholarships. After graduating from law school, he enlisted in the Army and ended up investigating war crimes in concentration camps. He is still haunted by what he saw there.
Ben turned 99 in March, still full of energy and passion. He has devoted his entire life to fighting for those who have been persecuted and to create laws where people have the right to live in peace and dignity. He has taught and written treatises on international human rights law. He advocated for the establishment of the International Criminal Court to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ben delivered the closing arguments in the court’s first case.
“Nuremberg taught me that creating a world of tolerance and compassion would be a long and arduous task,” he said. “And I also learned that if we did not devote ourselves to developing effective world law, the same cruel mentality that made the Holocaust possible might one day destroy the entire human race.”
For Ben Ferencz, the words “Never Again” meant creating laws to prevent the Holocaust from happening again. What do these words mean for you?
Sue Rheem, Mission Specialist for International Advocacy, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations
Today’s Focus: Holocaust Remembrance Day
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Merciful God, in turning away from you, human beings have inflicted unspeakable pain and suffering on one another. As we remember the Holocaust, may we not turn a blind eye to the tyranny around us today. Forgive our complacency and our cowardice. Help us to be bold and courageous so that we may be vigilant and stand up to evil, tyranny and racism wherever it may be found. May the words “Never Again” ring true in words as well as deeds. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who bore our pain and inequities. Amen.