Oral History

Benjamin (Beryl) Ferencz describes collecting evidence

Ben was born in a small village in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania in Romania. When he was an infant, his family moved to the United States. Ben attended Harvard University, where he studied criminal law. Ben graduated from Harvard University Law School in 1943. He joined a US anti-aircraft artillery battalion that was training in preparation for an Allied invasion of western Europe. At the end of World War II in Europe, Ben was transferred to the war crimes investigation branch of the US Army. He was charged with gathering evidence against and apprehending alleged Nazi war criminals. He ultimately became chief US prosecutor in The Einsatzgruppen Case of the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings.

Describes the process of collecting evidence (including evidence of crimes in the Buchenwald camp) and issuing arrest warrants

Transcript

I had never heard the name "Buchenwald." That was something, just as I had never heard the word "Einsatzgruppen" or "Babi Yar," uh...which I was much involved with later. We didn't know those names, we knew there was a concentration camp. A report would come in to Third Army headquarters that so-and-so tank division is approaching an area in which they believe there is a concentration camp, or has just overrun an area in which there is a concentration camp. And the conditions are horrible, et cetera. And that would come to me, that report would come to me, and I would say, "I'm going out into the field to investigate that." Later on we had others who would go out into the field, but I was very eager, uh, to go out and because I was the most experienced man in the outfit and, uh, nobody else knew what to do, in fact, I would go out. And, uh, going out meant I'd get there as fast as I possibly could, usually on a jeep, uh, find out which unit was going in or had just entered, and go into the camp. And, uh, what I would do immediately, uh, would be to secure the records. There was in every camp a Schreibstube, or an office. Uh, I'd go into the Schreibstube [office] immediately, "Beschlagnahme the Schreibstube," which means you'd seize, I'd seize the Schreibstube and everything in it, nobody could in, nobody out, all records are confiscated and, and secured. Uh, for example, in Buchenwald, I seized the Totenbuecher, the death books, which were the registries of the people killed in Buchenwald. Uh, they were long, big, black books, uh, bound, they were not the looseleaf folders, but there they recorded the name of all the inmates as they were killed. And they would put down next to them the date, the name, the date of birth, usually if they had it of the, of the inmate, and his number, of course, and uh, uh, then the reason for his death. And they were all so obviously fictitious. "Auf der Flucht erschossen," "Shot while trying to escape;" "Auf Typhus," "Typhoid," or, or other diseases. And, uh, those books then became the, um, the basic evidence for, uh, what had happened in the camp and who was there. And, uh, uh, then I would follow that up by bringing in witnesses from the survivors to take statements from them describing what had happened in the camp. And by the time I got through--and usually it took two or three days, not usually more--I had a complete picture. And on the basis of that I could go back to headquarters, write a report, and issue arrest warrants for everybody connected with it.


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  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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