Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Sunday 13 June |
Saint of the Day: St. Anthony of Padua
home iconInspiring Stories
line break icon

How could ordinary men be capable of such evil? The last Nazi prosecutor has the answer

BENJAMIN FERENCZ

Robin Utrecht | Belga | AFP

Zelda Caldwell - published on 05/10/17

Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz explains how the Holocaust was possible.

In an interview with the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, 97-year-old Ben Ferencz, Sixty Minutes’ Leslie Stahl asked him a question that gets to the heart of what is so unfathomable about the Holocaust: How could ordinary people commit such extraordinary evil?

“Did you meet a lot of people who perpetrated war crimes who would otherwise in your opinion have been just a normal, upstanding citizen?” she asked.

Ferencz was the chief prosecutor for the U.S. Army at the Einsatzgruppen trial, one of the 12 war crimes trials held in Nuremberg, Germany, after the end of World War II. He helped prove the guilt of a group of German SS officers accused of participating in mobile death squads in which over a million men, women and children were shot dead in their own towns and villages across Eastern Europe.

He answered that even these men who had committed these horrible atrocities – who had shot down more than a million innocent people – were normal, ordinary men:

“Of course, is my answer. These men would never have been murderers had it not been for the war. These were people who could quote Goethe, who loved Wagner, who were polite,” Ferencz said.

When Stahl asked him, “What turns a man into a savage beast like that?”

He then shared this profound insight, gleaned from years of staring into the face of the worst evil man can inflict on man:

Benjamin Ferencz: He’s not a savage. He’s an intelligent, patriotic human being. Lesley Stahl: He’s a savage when he does the murder though. Benjamin Ferencz: No. He’s a patriotic human being acting in the interest of his country, in his mind. Lesley Stahl: You don’t think they turn into savages even for the act? Benjamin Ferencz: Do you think the man who dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was a savage? Now I will tell you something very profound, which I have learned after many years. War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.

Read about the rest of this interview here, and watch it here.


POLAND PRE WORLD WAR II

Read more:
Rare color film of Jewish quarter in Warsaw just before Nazi invasion

Tags:
World War II
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
RECONSTRUCTED CHRIST
Lucandrea Massaro
This 3D “carbon copy” of Jesus was created using the ...
2
PADRE PIO
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio’s favorite prayer of petition
3
SACRED HEART OF JESUS
Philip Kosloski
Miracle prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
4
PRAY
Philip Kosloski
Offer your heart to Jesus with this prayer
5
BIEDNY CZŁOWIEK
Daniel Esparza
Were Jesus and Joseph really carpenters?
6
SPANISH FLU
Bret Thoman, OFS
What Padre Pio saw in the Spanish Flu of 1918
7
RAIN
Kathleen N. Hattrup
3 three-word prayers to turn your day around
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.