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Nuremberg Prosecutor: No Justice Without Accountability, US Role Crucial

FILE - Benjamin B. Ferencz pose for a picture after he received the Legion of Honor Insignia from French minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian during an awards ceremony to honor World War II veterans in New York, July 3, 2015.

One of the lead U.S. prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, Benjamin B. Ferencz came to America from Transylvania as an infant in 1920.

“I was a poor immigrant boy,” he said recently at an event hosted by the embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Washington.

Ferencz won a scholarship to attend Harvard Law School and graduated in 1943. He then joined the U.S. Army and fought in “every campaign in Europe” under General George Patton, before assuming the duty of gathering Nazi war crime evidence for the U.S. military.

“I was a liberator to many concentration camps, it was my job to get in there fast before the records were destroyed,” Ferencz told an audience at the U.S. Library of Congress where he received the Anne Frank Award from the Dutch embassy, designed to honor human dignity and the spirit of tolerance.

In his acceptance speech, Ferencz expounded on the notion that there is no justice without accountability. He recalled the heroism of one inmate at a concentration camp who, in the role of the camp’s scribe, “at least 50 times he had taken his (own) life into his hands” to hide records of names of Nazi perpetrators, “knowing, or believing that there would be a day of reckoning and accountability.”

WATCH: Ben Ferencz: 'Until We Have a Happier World for Everyone'

Ben Ferencz: 'Until We Have a Happier World for Everyone'
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In an interview with VOA after the award ceremony in the halls of the Library of Congress, Ferencz said there needs to be an understanding that the aim of accountability could take a long time to achieve.

Recalling the critical leadership role the United States played in the World War II, including the postwar trials of Nazis at Nuremberg, in which Ferencz participated as a prosecutor, he said “I hope one day America will wake up and see the necessity for continuing our leadership toward a more humane and peaceful world.”

A barrister by training who reveres the institution and rule of law, Ferencz nonetheless expressed his faith in public discourse.

“The final court is the court of public opinion,” he said in the interview.

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    Natalie Liu

    Natalie Liu has been a staff reporter and writer at VOA since 2005.  She currently covers the diplomatic beat.