“Germany, 1957. Attorney General Fritz Bauer receives crucial evidence on the whereabouts of the so-called Architect of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann. Bauer, himself Jewish, has been trying to take crimes from the Third Reich to court ever since his return from exile, but has been stymied by an unforgiving German government. Bauer covertly elicits the help of the Israeli secret service to bring Eichmann to justice and, in doing so, commits treason against Germany.
With fast-paced direction from Lars Kraume, The People vs. Fritz Bauer is a historical thriller that exposes the elusiveness of evil while celebrating the tenacious heroism of Bauer. Audience Award winner at the Locarno International Film Festival, and winner of six 2016 Lolas (German Oscars), including Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay”.
The People vs Fritz Bauer (German, English subtitles)
But who was the real Fritz Bauer (1903-68)? Born in Stuttgart in a well educated Jewish family, he studied law at the Universities of Heidelberg and Munich. After receiving his Doctorate of Laws degree, Bauer became an assessor judge in the Stuttgart local district court. After WW1 he joined the Social Democratic Party and became politically active. In May 1933, a plan to organise a General Strike in the Stuttgart region against the Nazis failed, and Bauer and his colleagues were arrested and taken to Heuberg concentration camp in Baden-Württemberg.
Bauer’s own imprisonment in a Nazi camp before WW2 was very clear in the film, but the impact on his later life was vague. Somehow he was released, dismissed from his vital civil service position and escaped to Denmark in 1935. When Germany invaded Denmark in Ap 1940 and the Danish government surrendered, Bauer moved to Sweden in 1943 and created The Socialist Tribune alongside Willy Brandt.
The film did not discuss why Bauer wanted to return to Germany after the war! I can understand that in 1949 he might have felt at home back in the German justice system, but he should have considered how the new post war Federal Republic was emerging. Wouldn’t the old anti-Semitism and anti-socialism be simmering just under the surface, waiting for the right wing to rise again? Clearly he must have had a very fine legal mind - in 1956, Bauer was given the District Attorney job in Hessen, based in Frankfurt.
The film stated that Bauer was not seeking revenge for Holocaust victims. Yet every lawyer, judge and politician in the film feared revenge and seemed to block Bauer’s attempts to expose Nazi injustices. He was the one District Attorney who, despite terrible threats, tracked down Nazi commanders from Auschwitz, investigated and indicted them, and succeeded in 1958 in getting a class action lawsuit certified for the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. Even then, the proceedings did not open until 1963. No wonder Bauer’s wife lived separately, in Denmark. If Fritz was very cavalier about being killed in Germany, she didn’t want it to happen to her. [Did she also think he may have been gay?]
Bauer had acted in the face of huge blockages: the statutes of limitations, the German public’s forgiveness of Nazi criminals and the German bureaucracy’s apathy. In the 1950s & 60s, German history books did not mention the Holocaust as a subject at all. If there had been Nazi excesses during the war, most German citizens in the 1950s and 60s thought the excesses could only due to obeying seniors’ orders, submitting to long term anti-Semitic propaganda and thoughtlessness.
The film showed frustrating meetings for Bauer in Israel, trying to convince the Israelis that Adolf Eichmann was indeed alive in Argentina, living a pleasant family life under fake names. Only decades later did Ofer Aderet (Oct 18, 2013 Haaretz) give far more information about Bauer’s role in helping Mossad than the film did. In 1960, Mossad agent Michael Maor was assigned to capture Adolf Eichmann capture and bring him to trial in Israel. Maor was to break into Bauer’s law building in Frankfurt, find and photograph the German prosecution’s files on Eichmann and quietly escape. Maor was given a plan of the Frankfurt building, a front door key and access to the files – all by Fritz Bauer. A few weeks later Eichmann was abducted to Israel from Buenos Aires.
Find a discussion of the Eichmann Trial of 1961 in an early post.
The author of Bauer's biography (2013), German journalist Ronen Steinke found that in the healing climate under Konrad Adenauer (1949-63), it was Bauer who made German post-war society talk openly about the Holocaust. But Bauer paid a great personal price. Steinke discussed the rumours about Bauer’s private life: he was a Jew, a social democrat and a homosexual. For Bauer, these key aspects of his identity were crucial. He held senior posts in the post-war judicial system as a general prosecutor, at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence that terminated careers. And when Jews kept their mouths shut.
Bauer displayed admirable courage by ignoring the rumours in the 1960s. His Jewishness, albeit from an assimilated family, was also discussed extensively in the book. So why did Bauer disavow his Jewishness post WW2? He wanted to enter politics, to represent German institutions. He was stunned to see that anti-Semitism flourished and was concerned that his rivals would say that he was merely a vengeful Jew.
Bauer was the most important Jew in postwar German politics yet he was found dead in the bathtub at his home in 1968, from a sleeping-pills induced heart attack. Did he commit suicide because he could no longer cope with the many threats to his life from Germans who were opposed to his anti-Nazi politics? Apparently so. Only in 1995 was The Fritz Bauer Institute finally established as a foundation under German civil law in Frankfurt, affiliated to Frankfurt’s Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University. Only in 2014 was a major exhibition about his life at last held at the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt.