IMPACT
09/28/2016 12:31 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

Lawyer Who Prosecuted Nazis Pledges $10 Million To Fight Genocide

“You cannot kill an entrenched ideology with a gun."
Former chief prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz addresses guests during the inauguration of the new information and documentation ce
ARMIN WEIGEL/AFP/Getty Images
Former chief prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz addresses guests during the inauguration of the new information and documentation center 'Memorial Nuremberg Trials', in Nuremberg, southern Germany, on November 21, 2010.

At 96, a famed lawyer who prosecuted Nazis is still fighting genocide.

Benjamin Ferencz, a WWII veteran who went on to establish the United States’ first war crimes branch, recently pledged $10 million to help continue his mission to end crimes against humanity.

He’s donating the gift to a group within the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It provides governments with tools to prevent genocide and develop an international response when it occurs, according to a statement released by the museum. 

The gift will support the Simon- Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, and Ferencz has committed to giving $1 million annually through his own foundation. He will donate up to $10 million, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Ferencz, who was born in Transylvania and emigrated to the U.S. as a baby, has committed his life and legacy to ending the atrocities he witnessed firsthand. After graduating from Harvard in 1943, Ferencz enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was eventually transferred to a new unit where he focused on gathering evidence of the Nazi’s horrors and apprehending the criminals, according to his website.

It was what he saw while liberating the concentration camps that helped inspire his life’s work.

I can never forget-the crematoria aglow with the fire of burning flesh." -- Benjamin Ferencz, prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials for Nazi war crimes.

“Camps like Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Dachau are vividly imprinted in my mind’s eye,” he said, according to his website. “Even today, when I close my eyes, I witness a deadly vision. I can never forget-the crematoria aglow with the fire of burning flesh, the mounds of emaciated corpses stacked like cordwood waiting to be burned.... I had peered into Hell.” 

Nahum Goldman, President of the Jewish Claims Comission, center, signs agreements between Germany and Israel in a ceremony in
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Nahum Goldman, President of the Jewish Claims Comission, center, signs agreements between Germany and Israel in a ceremony in Luxembourg on September 10, 1952. The agreements provide for compensation to be paid by Germany to Jews who suffered under the Nazis. Konrad Adenauer (unseen) signed for West Germany. East Germany is not included in the agreements. The ceremony was carried out in chilly silence. The two delegations entered the room by different doors. At left, seated is Moshe Sharett, Israeli Foreign Minister. At right, seated is Benjamin B. Ferencz a member of the Jewish delegation

After Ferencz was honorably discharged in 1945, he returned to New York and was recruited for the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Judges from the Allied powers presided over the trials of 22 Nazi criminals and 12 were sentenced to death.

He’s the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials.

That experience helped cement Ferencz’s belief that law can be used to deter war and crimes against humanity. His writings helped lay the foundation for the International Criminal Court, which was established in 1998 to prosecute genocide cases and war crimes when national courts won’t or can’t.

“You cannot kill an entrenched ideology with a gun,” Ferencz said in a statement. “Compassion, tolerance and compromise must be taught at all levels.”

In addition to trying prominent Nazis, Ferencz went on to seek out retribution for Holocaust survivors and recover art, religious objects, property and other items that were stolen from Jews.

He noted that Holocaust survivors only had “their tattoos and scarred memories.”

DELRAY BEACH, FL - MARCH 10: Benjamin B. Ferencz, former Chief Prosecutor for the United States Army at the Nuremberg Trials
Brooks Kraft via Getty Images
DELRAY BEACH, FL - MARCH 10: Benjamin B. Ferencz, former Chief Prosecutor for the United States Army at the Nuremberg Trials for Nazi war crimes after World War II, at his home, March 10, 2016 in Delray Beach, Florida. He is a world renowned advocate for the establishment of an international rule of law and of an International Criminal Court.

Ferencz’s donation comes at a time when genocide remains a very real threat to humanity.

In June, United Nations investigators reported that the Islamic State is committing genocide against the Yazidis, a religious community of 400,000, in Syria and Iraq. Victims have been murdered, forced into sexual slavery and other horrors. Nigerian terror group Boko Haram, which has been named the “most deadly terror group in the world,” killed 6,644 people in attacks in 2014 alone. 

Through the years, Ferencz has complemented his legal work with his philanthropic efforts.

He founded the Planethood Foundation to continue to promote the idea that the law can serve as an alternative to war. 

“The rule of law must be applied universally to protect humankind universally,” Ferencz said in a statement. ‘Law, not war’ is my slogan and ‘Never give up!’ is my mandate.”

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