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Never give up – POLITICO

Leading the prosecution at the Einsatzgruppen trial at Nuremberg was Ferencz’s first important job as a lawyer. The Einsatzgruppen were mobile SS paramilitary death squads, tasked with killing Jews and others behind the Eastern Front. From 1941 to 1945, they murdered 1.3 million Jews, approximately 250,000 Roma and 500,000 other partisans, disabled people, homosexuals, Slavic peoples and others.

The 24 defendants were unit commanders of the Einsatzgruppen and were on the ground “supervising, controlling, directing and taking an active part in the bloody harvest,” according to the court’s final judgment. Twelve of them were sentenced to death by hanging and the others to long prison terms.

Becoming a lawyer wasn’t always an option for Ferencz. He came to the United States from Romania as a baby and said he was lucky to survive the boat trip. He cried so much his father was tempted to throw him overboard – even though his uncle made sure he was safe. And growing up in a tough neighborhood in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, he didn’t learn English until he was eight, speaking only Yiddish.

Leading the prosecution at the Einsatzgruppen trial at Nuremberg was Ferencz’s first important job as a lawyer. | Archives Keystone/Hulton/Getty Images

According to his school counselor, Ferencz had only two options: join a gang or become a lawyer. Even though he had no idea what the latter was, he certainly wasn’t going to join a gang. And he was so brilliant that Harvard offered him a scholarship.

But Ferencz was also extremely amusing, producing a rock star effect on those around him. Susan Breau, professor of international law, remembers him from an international criminal law course she took in Salzburg, when he was in his 80s. “People surrounded him wherever he went, and he was mobbed like a god,” such was his charisma despite his small stature – during the Einsatzgruppen trial he could barely reach the podium. “He exuded love, loved his students, loved meeting people,” Breau said.

To the end, Ferencz maintained his mantra: to stop the genocide, we must stop the conflict. And to achieve this, to stop the war, we need international consensus. If we could eliminate armed conflict, there would be no genocide. Law, not war, was his motto.

And one of the many, many characteristics that made him so exceptional was his ability to remain optimistic. Some said he was naive, but he was a man who, in his own words, had “looked into hell.” Despite a world of setbacks, he believed the world was slowly improving. And according to this legend of international justice, the proof was the creation of the International Criminal Court.

This is a year to remember Ferencz and the lessons he taught. As he himself would remind us: never give up.


Sara Adm

Aimant les mots, Sara Smith a commencé à écrire dès son plus jeune âge. En tant qu'éditeur en chef de son journal scolaire, il met en valeur ses compétences en racontant des récits impactants. Smith a ensuite étudié le journalisme à l'université Columbia, où il est diplômé en tête de sa classe. Après avoir étudié au New York Times, Sara décroche un poste de journaliste de nouvelles. Depuis dix ans, il a couvert des événements majeurs tels que les élections présidentielles et les catastrophes naturelles. Il a été acclamé pour sa capacité à créer des récits captivants qui capturent l'expérience humaine.
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