Ben Ferencz receives governor’s Medal of Freedom, delivers anti-war message

Benjamin Berell Ferencz receives the Florida governor's Medal of Freedom during a ceremony on Thursday in Boca Raton. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

BOCA RATON, Fla. – After becoming the fourth recipient of the Florida governor’s Medal of Freedom on Thursday in Boca Raton, Benjamin Ferencz seized the opportunity to deliver a public statement about the Russia-Ukraine war.

The 102-year-old former prosecutor stood near Gov. Ron DeSantis and told the small crowd at the Florida Atlantic University conference room that it is up to the new generation to make sure that we no longer live in great danger.

“I am trying to change the way people think about war,” Ferencz said. “If they don’t think about it, their heart will not change either, so you have to think about it, and ask yourself, ‘Is this the way for human beings to behave?’”

Ferencz was an investigator of Nazi war crimes after World War II and the chief prosecutor for the U.S. Army at the Einsatzgruppen Trial during the Nuremberg Trials. He had 22 Nazi defendants convicted of crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes.

“We see it still happening today. People see the pictures on television running with their infant children. Hospitals are being bombed and we have not yet learned the lesson from Nuremberg,” Ferencz said about the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

Ferencz is a survivor. He was 10 months old when he moved to New York from Transylvania, now Romania. He spoke Yiddish while growing up in New York’s Hells Kitchen. The Harvard Law School graduate served in the U.S. Army.

Benjamin Ferencz shared this identification with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide's Ferencz International Justice Initiative. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’)

Ferencz survived the Battle of the Bulge during World War II before joining the War Crimes Branch. He was tasked with collecting evidence of the Holocaust. Nazi Germans and supporters killed some six million Jews across Europe.

“We can stop glorifying war-making ... the Constitution of the United Nations requires that all wars be settled by peaceful means only and then it’s ignored, so it’s up to the new generation ... they live in great danger now,” Ferencz said.

Investigators are documenting cases of war crimes in Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories including executions in Bucha, in the village of Staryi Bykiv, the village of Vorzel, sexual violence, and other violations.

“The names don’t count, if you call it Ukraine or you call it Russia, or whatever you call it. That shouldn’t be the determinant to justify you going out and killing a bunch of people that have nothing to do with anything, and that’s the current practice,” Ferencz said adding he wants people to remember these phrases: “Law not war” and “Never give up.”

Watch on Facebook: Ceremony at Florida Atlantic University

Today’s stories on Russia-Ukraine war

A man walks past an apartments building damaged by shelling in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Ukraine is telling residents of its industrial heartland to leave while they still can after Russian forces withdrew from the shattered outskirts of Kyiv to regroup for an offensive in the country's east. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
10 year-old Roma, holds a cage with two parrots inside a bus leaving from the city of Bashtanka , Mikolaiv district, Ukraine, after he and his family flee from Kherson which is occupied by the Russian forces, on Thursday, April 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Cemetery workers unload bodies of killed civilians from a van in the cemetery in Bucha, outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
A car moves in a street past damaged houses in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Ukraine is telling residents of its industrial heartland to leave while they still can after Russian forces withdrew from the shattered outskirts of Kyiv to regroup for an offensive in the country's east. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.