Ferencz Opening Statement at Nuremburg

MR. FERENCZ: May it please your Honors: It is with sorrow and with hope that we here disclose the deliberate slaughter of more than a million innocent and defenseless men, women, and children. This was the tragic fulfillment of a program of intolerance and arrogance. Vengeance is not out goal, nor do we seek merely a just retribution. We ask this Court to affirm by international penal action man's right to live in peace and dignity regardless of his race or creed. The case we present is a plea of humanity to law.

We shall establish beyond the realm of doubt facts which, before the dark decade of the Third Reich, would have seemed incredible. The defendants were commanders and officers of special SS groups known as Einsatzgruppen-established for the specific purpose of massacring human beings because they were Jews, or because they were for some other reason regarded as inferior peoples. Each of the defendants in the dock held a position of responsibility or command in an extermination unit. Each assumed the right to decide the fate of men, and death was the intended result of his power and contempt. Their own reports will show that the slaughter committed by these defendants was dictated, not by military necessity, but by that supreme perversion of thought, the Nazi theory of the master race. We shall show that these deeds of men in uniform were the methodical execution of long-range plans to destroy ethnic, national, political, and religious groups which stood condemned in the Nazi mind. Genocide, the extermination of whole categories of human beings, was a foremost instrument of the Nazi doctrine. Even before the war the concentration camps within the Third Reich had witnessed many killings inspired by these ideas. During the early months of the war the Nazi regime expanded its plans for genocide and enlarged the means to execute them. Following the German invasion of Poland there arose extermination camps such as Auschwitz and Maidanek. In spring 1941, in contemplation of the coming assault upon the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen were created as military units, but not to fight as soldiers. They were organized for murder. In advance of the attack on Russia, the Einsatzgruppen were ordered to destroy life behind the lines of combat. Not all life to be sure. They were to destroy all those denominated Jew, political official, gypsy, and those other thousands called "asocial" by the self-styled Nazi superman. This was the new German" Kultur". Einsatz units entering a town or city ordered all Jews to be registered. They were forced to wear the Star of David under threat of death. All were then assembled with their families to be "resettled" under Nazi supervision. At the outskirts of each town was a ditch, where a squad of Einsatz men waited for their victims. Whole families were arrayed, kneeling or standing near the pit to face a deadly hail of fire.

Into the prisoner-of-war camps went the Einsatz units, selecting men for extermination, denying them the right to live.

Helpless civilians were conveniently labled "Partisans" or "Partisan-sympathizers" and then executed. In the hospitals and asylums the Einsatzgruppen destroyed the ill and insane, for "useless eaters" could never serve the Third Reich.

Then came the gas vans, vehicles which could receive living human beings and discharge corpses. Every Einsatzgruppe had its allotment of these carriages of death.

These in short were the activities of the Einsatzgruppen. The United States, in 1942, joined 11 nations in condemnation of these Nazi slaughters and vowed that justice would be done. Here we act to fulfill that pledge, but not alone because of it.

Germany is a land of ruins occupied by foreign troops, its economy crippled and its people hungry. Most Germans are still unaware of the detailed events we shall account. They must realize that these things did occur in order to understand somewhat the causes of their present plight. They put their faith in Hitler and their hope in his regime. The Nazi ideology, devoid of humanism and founded on a ruthless materialism, was proclaimed throughout Germany and was known to all Germans. Hitler and other Nazi leaders made no secret of their purpose to destroy the Jews. As we here record the massacre of thousands of helpless children, the German people may reflect on it to assess the merits of the system they so enthusiastically acclaimed. If they shame at the folly of their choice they may yet find a true ideal in place of a foul fetish. Proof of a million murders will not be the most significant aspect of this case. We charge more than murder, for we cannot shut our eyes to a fact ominous and full of foreboding for all of mankind. Not since men abandoned tribal loyalties has any state challenged the right of whole peoples to exist. And not since medieval times have governments marked men for death because of race or faith. Now comes this recrudescence-this Nazi doctrine of a master race-an arrogance blended from tribal conceit and a boundless contempt for man himself. It is an idea whose toleration endangers all men. It is, as we have charged, a crime against humanity.

The conscience of humanity is the foundation of all law. We seek here a judgment expressing that conscience and reaffirming under law the basic rights of man.