Prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials receives Honorary Doctoral Degree at Cologne


Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials in which members of the Nazi elite were convicted, is the recipient of the Honorary Doctoral Degree from the Faculty of Law of the University of Cologne

Benjamin Ferencz, Professor of International Law at Pace University (New York), has received the Honorary Doctor’s Degree from the Faculty of Law of the University of Cologne. In order to celebrate the occasion, a ceremony was held honouring the life and work of the renowned practitioner and scholar of international law.

Professor Ferencz was an investigator of Nazi war crimes after World War II and served as the chief prosecutor for the United States Army at the Einsatzgruppen Trial. He later became one of those scholars who made a decisive contribution to the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

The Rector of the University joined the digital ceremony in honour of Benjamin Ferencz. The list of guests of honour included Donald Ferencz, Benjamin Ferencz’ son, Abraham Lehrer, the Vice-President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dr Peter Frank, Germany’s Federal Prosecutor General, Dr Joachim Bertele, Director International Law, Germany’s Foreign Ministry, and Klaus Rackwitz, the Director of the International Nuremberg Principles Academy. In his address, the Rector of the University of Cologne, Professor Axel Freimuth, stated ’that it is a great honour for our University that you have accepted to be our honorary doctor, to be one of us.’ He said that Ferencz, during an age of hatred and death, managed to show the way forward, the way that leads out of hell and helps to start anew. ’You explained to us all what it means to draw lessons from the past, to seek justice for the future.’ Freimuth stressed the importance of international relations for the University and close ties to academics worldwide. ’The honorary doctorate is the symbol for this close academic friendship.’

Professor Ulrich Preis , the Faculty’s dean, emphasized that the name ’Benjamin Ferencz’ provided sufficient reason for the Honorary Degree: ’Dr Ferencz’s almost life-long contribution to international justice can only be called stellar’, he said. ’The honour we have bestowed on Dr Ferencz implies our hope that Dr Ferencz’s Nuremberg engagement and the legacy of his subsequent work building on the great idea of Nuremberg will prevail also in the long run.’

’For our Faculty, the inclusion of Dr Ferencz in the fine college of its honorary doctors will provide a most precious and lasting encouragement to continue to offer our scholarly contribution in support of Dr Ferencz’s great vision of international justice.’

Professor Claus Kreß reminded the audience of the sad fact that the Nazis drove Professor Hans Kelsen out of the University of Cologne because of his Jewish origin.Kelsen, the legal theorist, constitutional lawyer and international lawyer of world-wide renown, would later help the US government with the drafting of the London Charter, which became the legal basis for the Nuremberg Trial. Kreß also pointed out that Professor Hermann Jahrreiß, who succeeded Professor Hans Kelsen in Cologne, became one of the defence lawyers at the Nuremberg trials and later Rector of the University of Cologne.

’The question is whether Professor Jahrreiß’s service as Rector of Cologne University should remain Cologne’s last visible major connection with Nuremberg. We believe it should not’, Kreß remarked.

In his laudatio, Professor Stephan Hobe reminded the audience of Benjamin Ferencz’s career as lawyer for the US, first as a member of the Nuremberg prosecution team of Telford Taylor then as a chief prosecutor in the so-called ’Einsatzgruppen Case’ in which all 22 accused men were convicted. From the 1970s on, he started working on the establishment of the International Criminal Court. This became reality in 1998 with the adoption of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court.

Hobe called the achievement of Ferencz’s work a change of paradigm in international politics and international law: That aggression, after having determined the normal course of international politics for centuries, is now punishable.

Hobe concluded: ’May I finally repeat that the Cologne Faculty of Law is of the opinion that Mr Benjamin Ferencz’s lifelong engagement in international justice is a splendid example. Your vita is a long life in service of international justice. This is the reason why we are so humbled and why we all bow in appreciation of your personality and of your tremendous professional achievements. We are extremely grateful that you have accepted our little token of appreciation.’

Benjamin Ferencz , who is at the age of 100, greeted the audience in a pre-recorded message. Donald Ferencz , a lawyer himself, represented his father during the ceremony and conveyed his words of appreciation to the audience. Benjamin Ferencz said:

’We’ve been poignantly reminded this afternoon of an important transition - both for the University of Cologne itself and for Germany as a nation - from the very dark days of discrimination and persecution to considerably brighter days of leadership in advancing the rule of law.’

’To receive an honorary degree from the hands of those responsible for training the next generation of torch-bearers is deeply gratifying.’

Recording of the ceremony­en/universitaet/aktuell/honorary-doctorate-ferencz
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