Theater of Cruelty

When the truth surpasses the imagination

Prosecuting Evil The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
Regissør: Barry Avrich

FAIRNESS / The still exuberant and brilliant law professor Ben Ferencz – who will soon round 100 – is the appealing theme of Avrich's documentary.


Canadian director veteran Barry Avrich's new documentary Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz is a different Holocaust movie: This one has a happy ending. In the early twenties, Ferencz witnessed the aftermath of some of the worst atrocities committed in that 20. century, when the Nazi extermination camps were liberated in the last days of World War II. Jewish Ferencz, who came from a poor home in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen area, received a scholarship to study at Harvard Law School. He was happy to take part in a war that destroyed the Nazis, an effort that was rounded off with a work on war crimes, carried out under General Patton. When asked to assist as legal counsel for General Talford Taylor during the Nuremberg trial and later as chief prosecutor in Einsatsgruppentrial against a group of "prominent" mass murderers, Sergeant Ferencz was happy to be able to return to Germany to serve the Allies' cause in the attempt to use international law. His burning desire to establish legal principles at an international level arose during this period, which was strongly influenced by political passion and commitment.

As he approaches the 100, the ever-effervescent and brilliant Ferencz appears as a protagonist in Avrich's documentary. As a former law professor and lawyer, Ferencz is a great storyteller. Avrich knows how to use Ferencz's autobiographical account, which is accompanied by historical images from Germany before and after the war, spearheaded by famous people in law and humanitarian work this indomitable man, who refuses to grow old.

Universal principles of law

Ben Ferencz

We hear that Ferencz used to ask his four children: «What have you done to humanity today?» The prosecution of the Nazis did not avenge Ferencz, on the contrary. From the years in Europe he brought with him a grand idea: that universal justice should be administered by a world court. Needless to say, it would take decades for this dream to come true, but it has finally been realized, albeit in a limited form, in the Human Rights Court in The Hague. When the court was set in the first trial in the World Court, Ferencz was involved, still in full swing more than 60 years after his first trial.

Ben Ferencz has dedicated his life to bringing justice to humanity.

A cliché we often hear about good documentaries is that reality transcends fantasy. This is exactly the case with the story of Ben Ferencz, who has dedicated his life to bringing justice to humanity. But this story has the productive documentary filmmaker Barry Avrich, who has previously documented everything from Shakespeare plays at Stratford to Harvey Weinstein, found his most prominent protagonist so far. He has done Prosecuting Evil into a gripping and engaging film, and deserves the honor of his portrayal of Forencz and his quest for universal justice.

Translated by Anders Dunker
Glassman is Professor II at Ryerson University, editor of the Canadian documentary film POV and film critic.

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