TIFF 2018: Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz

Ben Ferencz in Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz. Courtesy of TIFF.

Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz tells the life story of the last surviving prosecutor of thee Nuremberg Trials.

If you don’t know Ben Ferencz’s name, you really should take the time to learn about him.  The Romanian native would move with his family to the United States when he was ten months old.  This is because of the anti-Semitic persecution during this time.  It wasn’t safe to be Jewish in Europe at the time.  He later attended Harvard Law School, where he would graduate in 1943.  One of the questions he asked himself during this time frame was how could he sabotage the German government.  The answer came in the form of throwing away all the propaganda.

Following law school, Ferencz wanted to join the cause and fight in the war.  Unfortunately for him, none of the military branches wanted him.  He eventually did serve and joined the 115th AAA Gun Battalion.  The military did “the dumbest things they could possibly do to a guy eager to serve.”  Help was soon on the way when General Patton came calling for his services.  A war crimes branch was starting up in 1945 and they wanted Ferencz to investigate and collect evidence.  He was there when the camps were being liberated.

According to son Don Ferencz, the camps “fueled a nuclear reactor inside this man.”  Nobody could blame him because these sites would cause traumatic episodes for anyone.  The photos are horrific to say the least.  It goes without saying that the elder Ferencz gets emotional just discussing the experience.

When the war ended in 1945, Ferencz went back to the US.  It wasn’t long after when he was asked to participate in the Nuremberg Trials.  Only 27 at the time, Telford Taylor appointed him as the Chief Prosecutor for the Einsatzgruppen Case.  This case would see some 22 men be convicted of war crimes.  Ferencz would start the case with a very powerful and emotional statement to begin the proceedings.

This was the first time that anyone was able to define crimes against humanity and genocide while holding the people accountable.  All 22 men on trial were convicted during the Einsatzgruppen case.  These men in some capacity of Nazi leadership were held responsible for their crimes  After all, they combined to kill around a million Jews.  There was some symbolism in holding the trials in Nuremberg.  Not only did the infrastructure survive but many rallies took place on the premises.

According to attorney Alan Dershowitz, Ferencz is the “personification of an international do-gooder.”  It’s true.  All you have to do is take one look at his resume.  There’s some mighty fine and impressive credentials listed on Ferencz’s resume.  Perhaps none are more important than what he was doing in the late 1940s.

Dershowitz is among a number of people director Barry Avrich speaks to about the attorney.  Others include the first  U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, David Scheffer.  In addition to Ferencz’ own comments and archival photos/clips, Avrich is able to make a compelling documentary.

It’s a very fascinating and interesting documentary.  One can truly understand why he believes in “law not war.”  War should honestly be the last resort.  Even today, the attorney still fights in the name of justice.  Ferencz was a big believer in an International Criminal Court and did a lot to make it a reality.  While presidential administrations may disagree, it’s important nevertheless.

The trials were just the launching pad for Ferencz because Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz shows that the lawyer never stopped fighting when it came to giving justice to international criminals.

DIRECTOR:  Barry Avrich
FEATURING:  Ben Ferencz, Alan Dershowitz, Rosalie Abella, Wesley Clark, David Scheffer, Richard Dicker, Fatou Bensouda, Don Ferencz

Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz held its world premiere during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the TIFF Docs program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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