What the last Nuremberg prosecutor alive wants the world to know
May 8, 2017 9:14 AM   Subscribe

This interview is remarkably optimistic. Thanks to 60 Minutes for locating such a subject.
posted by Alensin (25 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Lesley Stahl: You've really seen evil. And look at you. You're the sunniest man I've ever met. The most optimistic.

Benjamin Ferencz: You oughta get some more friends.

I can only hope to be this awesome at 97.
posted by colossal at 9:50 AM on May 8, 2017 [29 favorites]

Why are people so beloved of the idea that these low-Party number, early SS-joining, hard-core anti-Semites, many of whom had long histories of political violence, constituted "average", "normal" people? They were fanatics and violent ideologues.
posted by thelonius at 9:57 AM on May 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Thanks. This is what I need.

thelonius, I don't know how people think, but my answer is: "they could be me, and I could have been one of them." I'm not a big fan of othering.
posted by runcifex at 10:02 AM on May 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

"A genocidal SS mass murderer could be me, and I could have been a genocidal SS mass murderer." Uh, okay then, if you say so.
posted by Behemoth at 10:12 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

"they could be me, and I could have been one of them."

It seems to me that this kind of reflection is appropriate for the lower level police battalion killers employed by the defendents. But these guys in the trial weren't just randomly assigned to lead these genoicidal killings; they had worked for years to rise to high positions in the Nazi security services, and they believed in what they were doing. But we seemed to desperately want to believe that the Holocaust came from Hitler and a half-dozen other top Nazis, and that everyone else went along with it because of some kind of authoritarian national character or some bullshit like that. I think the reality is much more disturbing; there were many, many people truly aligned with the genocidal system.
posted by thelonius at 10:12 AM on May 8, 2017 [19 favorites]

May the world always remember Benjamin Ferencz and may we never stop churning on his behalf.

War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people.
All wars and all decent people.

He's not wrong.
Thank you for this post.
posted by pjsky at 10:28 AM on May 8, 2017 [18 favorites]

Thelonius, what if you were given authority over people like that, people who were part of that genocidal system, people who were a threat to everything you love?

What if you were convinced of their guilt by unethical but very credible sources?
posted by amtho at 10:43 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've always been fascinated by the period in question, and will readily acknowledge that perhaps this man is being overly optimistic. Still, I think we need people like that, especially in these times. I find the Nazi dead less morally repugnant than the people like David Irving, who deny that any mass murder took place. They know they're lying, and it doesn't bother their consciences at all.

Compared to a man like that, I find whole-hearted optimism just fine. ;)
posted by Alensin at 10:51 AM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Much harm comes from denying one's own humanity. This includes the part that can do horrible things. It's all of a piece.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 10:57 AM on May 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

He actually gives me a little hope. 97. Still fighting the good fight. After all he's done and seen. Who am I to despair?
posted by Splunge at 11:03 AM on May 8, 2017 [10 favorites]

This really comes across well in the first four episodes Hulu's adaptation of Handmaid's Tale. You can see the difference between the people who are evil and the people who are going along with evil and you can also see that the end result of both group's behavior is the same. It's kind of a quietly devastating plot within the plot.
posted by srboisvert at 11:08 AM on May 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think Stanley Milgram's experiment has showed how disturbing the reality could be. I don't disagree that there are evil people. The disturbing thing is there are more than that: the extra part being the non-zero probability of this very individual turning evil given the circumstances.

The Milgramian hell is where I don't want to go. I don't want to bank on my identity or good nature. I understand how fluid it is. The way out is to build a better place to live in, where the conditions giving rise to hell cannot be satisfied.

I come from a country with (sadly fading) memory of how bad it can go. Never ever must it happen again.

This article, the words of wisdom is what I need. It takes such profound courage, wisdom, and humanity to stare into the abyss and still pronounce justice. It is possible. The possibility to do this is a testament of what humans can achieve.

But this ability must be nurtured. It is not to be taken for granted.

And the understanding of what constitutes humanity must be constantly refreshed from living memory, history, and studies. This is why we desperately need people like Benjamin Ferencz.
posted by runcifex at 11:11 AM on May 8, 2017 [14 favorites]

The "All wars, and all decent people." comment also hit me like a gut-punch. Incredible interview.
posted by Emily's Fist at 11:14 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

They were fanatics and violent ideologues.

"Not me!" he says, "I'm different!"
posted by klanawa at 12:33 PM on May 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Sitting here crying at work. Thank you for this.
posted by greermahoney at 12:37 PM on May 8, 2017

All systems of oppression depend on many, many people willing to ignore, excuse, downplay and rationalise oppression in order to oppress effectively. It's not just the absolutely evil who make evil happen. I am reminded of this nearly every day. Bless this brave man.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:58 PM on May 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Justice Jackson (chief counsel for the prosecution) had this warning:
If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. And we are not prepared to lay down the rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.
The U.S. proceeded to spend the rest of the 20th and 21st centuries (so far) in direct hypocritical violation of that principle, as a pariah state, as a consistent violator of international law. Which president in living memory couldn't technically be hanged for war crimes? Not one. We just happen to rule the international order (for now), so it doesn't happen.
posted by anarch at 1:16 PM on May 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

Watched this last night - amazing guy who I am thankful to have learned about. What a man.

(Ps to CBS - pls fix Leslie's lipstick for god's sake)
posted by tristeza at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2017

What a remarkable, beautiful person. Some are torn apart by adversity, but some are forged.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:48 PM on May 8, 2017

Jesus. It takes a guy like that to get 22, out of thousands. Not even counting local volunteers. There should have been an army of him.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 4:03 PM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by brambleboy at 5:54 PM on May 8, 2017

I don't know how he can say "these men would never have been murderers had it not been for the war", considering that the Nazi regime was quietly murdering (e.g) disabled people before the war, and that many civilians enthusiastically killed Jews of their own volition.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:06 PM on May 8, 2017

I don't know how he can say "these men would never have been murderers had it not been for the war", considering that the Nazi regime was quietly murdering (e.g) disabled people before the war, and that many civilians enthusiastically killed Jews of their own volition.
I think he quite literally meant these men, because earlier in the conversation he talked about their politeness and cultured affinity for Goethe and Wagner. Later he generalizes to all war, all people.

Like so many things related to the Holocaust in particular and genocide in general, there's much to parse and consider. Man's inhumanity to man has been long documented and, for me at least, it doesn't require much of a leap for me to believe that my "average" neighbor or cousin could easily become a tool of a murderous regime. (I'm not excusing myself from that, either, but my particular circumstances make me more likely to be a victim of a murderous regime than a tool of one.) Nor am I particularly surprised to learn that "normal" people do terrible things that I wouldn't necessarily know about--animal testing for non-medical purposes, decades of unethical medical research on people of color, shipping vials of blood products known to be tainted with HIV to unsuspecting Asian countries, etc. etc. I'm probably a terrible cynic, but I think that violence and tribalism *is* the normal state of things, and that modern society is nothing but a thin veneer of politeness covering over these violent, othering tendencies. In fact, I've long believed that the primary difference between self-selected groups of people is how big they believe their tribe is and what their metrics for sorting people into their tent are. And, ultimately, I think the survival instinct is pretty strong for most people, which explains things like the Milgram experiment and other related socio-psychological phenomena that can be found in groups and hierarchies.
posted by xyzzy at 7:10 PM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

He's devoted the last 10 years or so to have the crime of aggression included into the Rome Statute and managed to get representatives of over a 100 State Parties to the Statute to agree with him at the Review Conference in Kampala in 2010. He was present, working the room, and called out by several presenters, to much applaud. One morning at the conference hotel, around 6, I was running on the gym's treadmill, looking out over the pool area and feeling pretty smug about being the only one working out. I then see this little old guy, hotel bathrobe down to his ankles, over sized flip flops on his feet, make his way to the Olympic size pool. He proceeds to disrobe, hikes up his basketball trunks up to his armpits and then proceeds to slowly but surely swims laps up and down. He was 91. I stopped smirking and ran harder.
A true force of nature .
posted by Malingering Hector at 5:39 AM on May 9, 2017 [9 favorites]

Incredible, he was so inspiring. So glad that he is in the world. I really needed that.
posted by honey badger at 7:46 AM on May 18, 2017

« Older BC Votes   |   Amateur Model / Lover of all things / Fraternal... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments