Nuremberg revisited: “a new rule of law”

BEN FERENCZ: There was public pressure on for additional trials. There were budgetary constraints. We had to get moving.


BEN FERENCZ: So we had this staff in Berlin with about 50 people scouring the archives of the German Foreign Ministry, or the German – other ministries, the Gestapo, the Health Ministries, to see what there was incriminating among those documents. The staff would come back – mostly they were themselves persecutees, German refugees who knew German. They’d make a summary in English of what was in the particular document. I would get that, screen that, send it down to Nuremberg to lawyers who should have been working on that case. They would say whether they could use it, whether we would send it down to Nuremberg, whether we would explore other avenues, and so on. It was a highly technical operation.

JOAN RINGELHEIM: Right. But, then there was a very big and surprising discovery.

BEN FERENCZ: Right. Now, you see how we got this teamwork worked out. We did that over salmon sandwiches before. One of the researchers came in, and he said, look what I found. These were what the Germans call lietz ordner, loose leaf folders, reporting on what their activities were in the Soviet Union, as they followed behind the German troops. What they reported is well, Einsatzgruppen.

Einsatzgruppen can’t be translated. They were special action groups, and they reported what they did every day. We entered this and this town. Within the first 24 hours, we succeeded in eliminating all the Jews. Or, we succeeded in executing 4,327 persons, including 27 Communist officials and 14 Gypsies. And so on in the next town. I had the name of the officer, the unit, the time, the place. Perfect for a prosecutor. Beautiful. Give me this. I took it. I jumped into a plane. I flew down to Nuremberg.

I said, Telford, we’ve got another trial. I’ve got evidence here. I had first tabulated on my own little adding machine, over a million people murdered in cold blood, because they were Jews or Gypsies. They didn’t share the faith, or the race of their murderers. And so, they were killed. Where it said the town was cleansed of Jews, I put down one. I didn’t know how many there were. It could have been a thousand. It was over a million.

I said to Telford, look, I’ve got here cold-blooded murder of a million men, women and children. I have the names of the people in charge of the operation. I have the time. I have the place. It’s a top-secret report. It was distributed in 100 copies. I had the distribution list. We ought to put them on trial. I’ll send out arrest orders to have these guys picked up, according to rank, the highest-ranking first, put them on trial.

JOAN RINGELHEIM: What happened, insofar as you know, to the other Einsatzgruppen men who were shooting Jews?

BEN FERENCZ: Four of them were executed. Many of the others got life sentences and after, oh, another five or six years, they were released. It was not a repudiation of the Nuremberg Trials, as is commonly understood. It was not on appeal. It was an act of clemency, supposedly, because they had served whatever time was reasonable. They were treated well in prison. Some of them came out, like the industrialists, to champagne parties, and went back, and became important German leaders again. Perhaps, the richest in Germany. Mr. Flick, for example. And the lessons we tried to teach at Nuremberg were forgotten. That’s what happened.

JOAN RINGELHEIM: Didn’t Germany try some of the other Einsatzgruppen killers?

BEN FERENCZ: Germany had their own trials, at Ludwigsberg, the Zentralstelle, the central office for German crimes, in which they went through the rosters of the criminals. Most of them were not charged at all because the statute of limitations had expired, except for those who were directly involved in murder. There were some trials.

I appeared as a witness in one of the trials — not in Ludwigsberg but in one of the other cities nearby. Some of them were sentenced mildly to prison terms. Most of them were not tried at all or released. One of my Einsatzgruppen defendants I heard, years later, was practicing law somewhere in Germany.
We had only a sampling. We never set out to try all the German war criminals. We had 8 million Nazi Party files to give you some idea of the magnitude.

There were thousands of SS files. I think that Mr. Marlowe is here and he was later in charge of the Berlin Document Center which I was working on during the war, where we had these 8 or 9 million Nazi Party files. So, the decision was never to try more than a sampling. We were trying to demonstrate that you couldn’t run that kind of a killing machine without the assistance of all of these phases of society: the industrialists, the lawyers, the judges, the military, the SS, Foreign Office — they all had to conspire together to commit these types of crimes.


We were trying to set standards, and lay a foundation, and establish the truth, which is very important. Because there are still deniers. That’s why this Museum is so important. The deniers can’t come here and deny because the evidence is here in spades. If they will come here, they will see it. They will be ashamed, I hope, to pretend that it didn’t happen. They don’t say that in my presence.



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