Steinke, Ronen. “Fritz Bauer: The Jewish Prosecutor Who Brought Eichmann and Auschwitz to Trial”, (German Jewish Cultures), translated by Sinead Crowe, Indiana University Press, 2020.
Finally, A Book About Bauer
This is a book I have been waiting to read for what seems like a very long time. It looks like I have to keep waiting though since it is not due out until April, 2020. I became interested in Fritz Bauer as I did research on my philosophical hero, Hannah Arendt. Bauer was the man who played a key role in the arrest of Adolf Eichmann; he learned the location of Eichmann in Buenos Aires and was responsible for the Mossad finding him there. Yet, there was much more to the man than that.
Bauer was a German Jewish judge and prosecutor Fritz Bauer (1903–1968) who played a key role both in the arrest of Adolf Eichmann and the initiation of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. Author Ronen Steinke gives us this remarkable story and looks at the many contributions Bauer made to the postwar German justice system. We learn of Bauer’s Jewish identity and the role it played in these trials and his later career, and the book contributes to the larger story of Jewishness in postwar Germany. Steinke examines latent antisemitism during this period as well as Jewish responses to renewed German cultural identity and politics as well as explores Bauer’s personal and family life and private struggles, including his participation in debates against the criminalization of homosexuality, a fact that was only revealed after his death in 1968. This new biography reveals how one individual’s determination, religion, and dedication to the rule of law formed an important foundation for German post war society.
Bauer was born in Stuttgart to Jewish parents. He later studied business and law at German universities. In 1928, after receiving his PhD in law (at 25, he was the youngest Doctor of Law Germany), Bauer became an assessor judge in the Stuttgart local district court. By 1920, he already had joined the Social Democrtic Party . In the early 1930s, Bauer was one of the leaders of the SPD’s defense league in Stuttgart. In May 1933, soon after the Nazi seizure of power, a plan to organize a general strike against the Nazis in the Stuttgart region failed, and he was arrested with others and taken to a concentration camp but was released. A short time later Bauer, was dismissed from his civil service position because he was Jewish.
In 1935, Bauer emigrated to Denmark and then in 1943 to Sweden after the Danish government resigned and the Nazis declared martial law which endangered the Jewish population in Denmark. The fact that Bauer was a homosexual – a fact that he was careful to keep to himself – placed him in even further danger should he remain in Germany or in Nazi-occupied Denmark. In Sweden Bauer along with Willy Brandt founded the periodical Socialist Tribune. He returned to Germany in 1949, as the postwar West Germany was being established. He once again entered the civil service in the justice system. At first he became director of the district courts. In 1956, he was appointed the district attorney in and based in Frankfurt. He held this position until his death in 1968.
In 1957, Bauer relayed information about the whereabouts in Argentina of fugitive Holocaust planner Adolf Eichmann to Israeli Intelligence and this allowed Eichmann to be captured. Bauer thus was instrumental in bringing him to trial in Israel in 1960. Bauer also was active in the postwar efforts to obtain justice and compensation for victims of the Nazi regime..
In 1968, working with German journalist Gerhard Szczesny, Bauer founded the Humanist Union, a human-rights organization. Bauer’s work contributed to the creation of an independent, democratic justice system in West Germany, as well as to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals and the reform of the criminal law and penal systems.
Within the postwar German justice system, Bauer was a controversial figure due to his political engagements. He once said, “In the justice system, I live as in exile.” Bauer died in of heart failure when he was just 64. He was found drowned in his bathtub under mysterious circumstances.