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Anne Frank Award Ceremony Honors Nuremberg Prosecutor, Syria Justice Group

By Samantha Subin

On a sunny Thursday morning, shortly after the start of spring, Benjamin Ferencz stepped up onto the podium at the Library of Congress to the shutter of cameras and loud applause.

The 99-year-old, who is best known for his role as chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Einsatzgruppen Trial, accepted the Anne Frank Award on March 28, an award given annually to a person or organization that fights discrimination, anti-Semitism or prejudice by the Embassy of the Netherlands.

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Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials, sits in the audience at the Library of Congress at the Anne Frank Award ceremony on March 28. Ferencz received the award for his human rights work. Photo: Netherlands Embassy

“When we talk about the greatest generation, this is who we’re talking about,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), co-chair of the Dutch Caucus, while introducing Ferencz. “We’re talking about the men and women who went out and combatted evil, who looked it in the eye and said, ‘Not on my watch. We’re not going allow this to happen.’”

During the ceremony, Huizenga; Katrina Lantos Swett of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice; outgoing Dutch Ambassador Henne Schuwer; and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center, introduced the human rights advocate, who is the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials.

“For 72 years, this remarkable figure has strode across the human rights landscape of the world with clear and powerful messages,” said Saperstein, who received the award in 2014. “The rule of law — equitably, forcefully, consistently applied — is indispensable to civilization to prevail. Accountability to those who engage in crimes against humanity must always be imposed for the sake of justice and deterrence.”

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Ben Ferencz and Mohammad Al Abdallah, who represented the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, smile for cameras after receiving the Anne Frank Award and Anne Frank Special Recognition Award on March 28 Photo: Netherlands Embassy

Ferencz, a Hungarian-born American lawyer, was only 27 when he served as chief prosecutor for the U.S. Army at the Einsatzgruppen Trial, one of 12 military trials held in Nuremberg, Germany, following World War II. Ferencz had been tasked with collecting evidence of war crimes with the Army’s war crimes branch. The trial convicted 22 men responsible for organizing the Einsatzgruppen, a specialized killing squad that shot and killed Jews and other political criminals in pits across Poland and Eastern Europe. The group is estimated to have killed 2 million people between 1941 and 1944, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“I didn’t ask for the death penalty. I asked for a rule of law which would protect those who have been murdered simply because they didn’t share the race and religion and the color of their executioners,” Ferencz said, calling the trial the “biggest murder trial in history.”

“I got that in the judgement.”

In the 21st century, with the increase of terrorism and civil war, Ferencz said it’s up to future generations to uphold the principles created at Nuremberg and seek justice. The rule of law should always triumph against war, he said.

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Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Religious Action Center, who recieved the Anne Frank Award in 2014, introduces Ben Ferencz to the audience on March 28, at the Library of Congress. Photo: Netherlands Embassy

“I talk to the young people and I say, ‘Look, it’s not my problem. I’m 100 years old now. It’s your problem and I’m here to try and save your lives,’” he told the audience. “If you don’t change the way you think about war, war is the supreme crime against humanity.”

During the ceremony, Deborah Nemko, a pianist who spent time as a Fulbright Scholar in the Netherlands learning the songs of murdered musicians, played unpublished pieces by Dutch composers Daniel Belinfante and Dick Kattenburg. Both were killed during the Holocaust.

“It is my honor and privilege not only to perform for you, but to perform for you works by composers that for the simple reason that they were Jewish and living in the Netherlands during the war, they were murdered,” she said.

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Pianist Deborah Nemko plays unpublished pieces by Dutch composers who perished during the Holocaust at the Anne Frank Award Ceremony on March 28. Photo: Netherlands Embassy

Toward the end of the ceremony, the embassy presented the Anne Frank Special Recognition Award to Mohammad Al Abdallah, who represented the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre. The organization received the award for its work collecting documentation on human rights violations in Syria. Al Abdallah himself was a political prisoner in Syria who served two sentences for defending human rights. He discussed the various efforts that governments and organizations are doing to assist Syrians and how much more needs to be done to help the country’s people recover from eight years of brutal civil war.

“We want to push for more accountability measures,” Al Abdallah said. “We want to push for more support for victims. We want to push for more support for Syrian civil society organizations. This is all important.”


Samantha Subin is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.



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