In the realm of jurisprudence, Benjamin Ferencz is truly an icon. He is the last surviving Chief Prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials and a primary force in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). And at 95, he shows no signs of slowing down – at least, not in Ullabritt Horn’s documentary on his remarkable life and career.
Born in Romania, Ferencz’s family fled anti-Semitic persecution and arrived in New York City when he was 10 months old. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he served in the U.S. Army and was tapped to participate as a prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials following his discharge. His first case centered on the prosecution of 22 men that were part of the Einsatzgruppen, who were responsible for the mass killings during the Holocaust. All 22 were convicted, with 14 receiving death sentences. (Only four were subsequently executed.)
While desiring to return to private practice, he realized the lessons of World War II were not properly absorbed in the postwar world, which led to his involvement in creating the ICC to handle modern-day crimes against humanity. While some might question whether the ICC has the full scope of authority envisioned by its creators – the United States never ratified the treaty that recognizes the ICC’s global judicial power – it has made significant efforts in the fight for international justice.
Throughout the film, Ferencz comes across as a dynamo, speaking with vibrancy and even showing off his physical prowess with a brisk walk around the Lincoln Memorial. While the film’s pacing occasionally lags in spots (this 90-minute film could have easily been trimmed to a more compact 60-minute running time) and Ferencz becomes a bit too garrulous at times (his tireless gift of gab recalls that old joke about being vaccinated with a phonograph needle), this celebration of a legal hero deserves commendation and viewing.