Book ‘Parting Words’ by Benjamin Ferencz

Read excerpt 'Parting Words: 9 Lessons for a Remarkable Life' by Benjamin Ferencz
9 Lessons for a Remarkable Life
"I don't know where to stop praising Benny and this amazing book..." --HEATHER MORRIS, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz. "This book...is the stuff folk tales are made of. How wonderful that sometimes they true" --MARTIN FREEMAN. What a century of life experience can teach us about happiness, ambition, courage, love and how to make the most of the lives we've been given. How many people do you know grew up as a poor immigrant in America during the Great Depression, won a scholarship to Harvard Law School, landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, were present at the liberation of concentration camps including Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Flossenburg, held leading Nazis to account at the Nuremberg trials and have fought...
Publisher: ‎Quercus (August 10, 2021)  Hardcover: ‎160 pages  ISBN-10: ‎0751579912  ISBN-13: ‎978-0751579918  Dimensions: ‎5 x 7 inches

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Book excerpt

Benjamin Ferencz was born in 1920 in a country that no longer exists. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and was awarded their medal of freedom in 2014 (the previous recipient had been Nelson Mandela). He was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials in 1947, led efforts to return property to Holocaust survivors after the war, participated in reparations negotiations between Israel and West Germany, and was essential in the establishment of the International Criminal Court. He has four children by his wife Gertrude, who was his high school sweetheart and who sadly passed away in 2019.

To my dear departed wife Gertrude,
who left us on September 14, 2019 after
74 years of happy marriage with never
a quarrel in our loving partnership.

Introduction

I often ask Ben Ferencz why he’s in such high spirits.

‘If you’re crying on the inside, you better be laughing on the outside, kid. No use drowning in your own tears,’ he replies.

I’ve previously imagined history as a sentiment reserved for books and the black-and-white film stills we’re shown in school. The images of war, destruction, and regeneration feel a far cry from our daily lives. But the protagonists who helped shape the world aren’t always fanciful characters from a bygone age, before good had triumphed over evil.

I first came across Ben through sheer chance. I was flicking through US news channels one evening and saw him in a dispatch. I was a reporter for the Guardian in London at the time, and his words piqued my interest. When I looked him up I was surprised to learn of his significance, and the depth of his expertise.

In a video, shot in the main courtroom of the partially restored Palace of Justice in Nuremberg – once the site of annual Nazi rallies – I watched as Ben, the chief prosecutor, a punchy and determined twenty-seven-year-old, his short build concealed behind a tall wooden podium, opened the biggest murder trial in history. The twenty-two members of the Einsatzgruppen, Nazi extermination squads responsible for the deaths of more than a million Jews and other minorities, stared back at him from the dock.

I’m not sure why it moved me, but I felt a sudden desire to pick up the phone and call him. Maybe it was because I was the same age as he had been during those trials, more than seventy years ago. Maybe it was because of the nature of the news. From Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, to America electing a reality TV personality as its forty-fifth president, and civil wars raging across the Middle East, the global postwar order seemed to be unraveling at a rapid pace. Or maybe it was simply because I had just gone through a bad breakup, and I needed someone to remind me that my personal dramas were irrelevant in the face of greater concerns such as war and terror.

I reached out to Ben, and a phone call was arranged. I admit I expected a solemn and somber character. But the first thing I noticed about him was how empathetic and charming he was. In his 101st year, he remains astutely witty, and despite the horrors he’s witnessed in his life is quick to make jokes.

Within minutes it became clear that he had a knack for inspiring. Our conversation went on to run as an interview in the features section of the Guardian. The article got the highest attention span of anything we had published that day; as uncommon as it is in this age, people read straight through to the end of the piece. In five years as a reporter, I had never had more positive feedback on a story. Readers of all ages from around the world contacted me to relay how Ben’s words had touched them.

The following chapters are the result of a series of conversations I had with Ben over the course of several months. I could say I continued to talk to him so that more people would have the privilege to hear what he has to say. That would be correct, but on a fundamental level I stayed in touch with Ben for purely selfish reasons: he really is quite endearing and funny, and he gives great advice.

‘I feel sad today, Benny,’ I’ll say to him sometimes.‘

My dear,’ he’ll respond, ‘whatever it is, I’m sure you’ve survived worse.’