Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall served as the backdrop on a hot day in May for Cardozo’s 40th Commencement Exercises, held May 29. Sixty-six students received LLM degrees, and 275 received JD degrees.
Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution Students Honor Benjamin Ferencz,
Ferencz is the last living prosecutor from the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials
April 15, 2016
He brought Nazi war criminals to trial, negotiated reparations for concentration camp victims, and went on to be one of the founders of the International Criminal Court. On April 11, 2016, Cardozo students awarding the International Advocate for Peace Award had the privilege of hearing Benjamin Ferencz describe his work in detail, including a story of bailing out of a burning airplane over war torn Berlin while on a flight to the Nuremberg Nazi war trials.
Leaders from the nationally recognized Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution honored Ferencz for his humanitarian work, which includes his days in Germany and his recent critiques of American war policies. Dean Melanie Leslie thanked Ferencz for his contributions to the Cardozo community in the area of human rights over many years.
"As a man who helped give the world the very concept of crimes against humanity, the human rights community owes much to Ben Ferencz,” said Dean Leslie at the ceremony. "Today, I want to also acknowledge that Cardozo Law and Yeshiva University owe much to Ferencz for his consistent support of the law school’s human rights programs."
As a lead prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials, Ferencz brought to justice leaders of Nazi Germany who planned, carried out, and participated in the Holocaust. Following Nuremberg, he continued in Germany and then in the United States to fight for and set up reparations programs. His book Less than Slaves describes his tireless efforts to secure compensation for the forced labor of concentration camp inmates. As one of the founding architects of the International Criminal Court, he helped create the machinery to hold governments accountable for war crimes, and as a champion of peace, Ferencz made the end of war his life’s work.
Ferencz saw the devastation of World War II up close as a soldier in the U.S. Army. Near the end of the war, he was assigned to a team tasked with setting up a war crimes branch and collecting evidence. As part of that work, he went to Nazi concentration camps as they were being liberated. The Nuremberg Trials gave legitimacy to the concept that the world could prosecute those in governments who had committed atrocities against their own citizens, and citizens from other countries.
Speaking to students, Ferencz talked in depth about his experience at 27 years old of being on the team that uncovered the existence of Nazi Einsatzgruppen, execution squads who went ahead of German military advances and murdered every Jew they could find. As chief prosecutor at the Einsatzgruppen trial, Ferencz detailed how these groups killed one million people. The 22 Nazi leaders he proved responsible were all convicted; 14 of them received death sentences.
Lara Traum, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, presented the award saying, "Mr. Ferencz, your energy, your vision, and your humility inspire us as students to pursue non-violent conflict resolution at any cost. You bore witness to some of the world’s greatest atrocities, and yet, you responded with reason and intellect and fairness – and a strong belief in procedural justice. You remind us that, in resolving conflicts throughout the course of our own professional pursuits, we should preserve the humanity of a process that holds us together, and not be discouraged by the inhumanity that tries to tear us apart."
His connection to Cardozo is a personal one forged through his special relationship with one of the school’s founding faculty members, Telford Taylor, who was the lead prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials and a towering figure on the international stage. These trials and the work of Taylor and Ferencz would focus the world’s attention on the perpetrators of war atrocities and create a new methodology for seeking international justice. In so doing, Taylor and Ferencz altered history and their work brought to the international conscience the very concept of ‘crimes against humanity.’"