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DELRAY BEACH — A 103-year-old South Florida man who fought Nazi atrocities as a Nuremberg prosecutor is now the recipient of the Governor’s Medal of Freedom.
On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis awarded Benjamin Ferencz with the medal.
The ceremony was held at Florida Atlantic University where DeSantis also signed Senate Bill 1360, which has the same name as the award. It gives Florida’s governor the ability to bestow the honor to “any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to the interests” of the state, its culture, or other significant public or private endeavor.
After World War II, when he was just 27 and a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, Ferencz prosecuted Nazi war criminals at the Einsatzgruppen Trial, part of the Nuremberg Trials.
Nuremberg was known as “the biggest murder trial in history.”
Ferencz’s work as chief prosecutor at the Einsatzgruppen Trial led to the conviction of 22 members of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen death squad for the murders of 1 million people.
After the trial, he fought for financial compensation for Holocaust victims and their families, the return of stolen assets and other forms of restitution.
In the decades since, he has worked in international law and human rights to put an end to wars and other injustices. Among his accomplishments are advocating for and helping establish the International Criminal Court, an international non-government organization that serves as a court that tries cases involving genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other legal issues of international impact.
Ferencz spoke passionately about abolishing war as he accepted his award Thursday, calling specific attention to the war in Ukraine. He referenced the evils that had taken place under the Nazi regime and recited a passage from his closing statement from the Nuremberg Trials.
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“My hope was that we could create a more humane and peaceful world where no one would be killed or persecuted because of his race or religion or political belief,” he said. “We see it still happening today, people running with their infant children, hospitals being bombed, and we have not yet learned the lesson from Nuremberg despite the fact that we laid it out clear.”
He ended his speech by encouraging people to remember two sets of three words: “law, not war” and “never give up.”
In November 2021, Rep. Lois Frankel sponsored legislation to award Ferencz the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian honor.
Staff writer Austen Erblat contributed to this story.