• Germany's news in English

Nazi hunting legend back in focus on silver screen

AFP · 28 Dec 2015, 08:45

Published: 28 Dec 2015 08:45 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

A Jewish atheist and Social Democrat who spent time in a Nazi concentration camp before going into war-time exile, Bauer became "the most hated lawyer in Germany" after World War II, one of his biographers, Ronen Steinke, told AFP.

Honouring him on the big screen with the stories of his two biggest battles places him "finally back where he belongs: in the collective consciousness," said Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"Labyrinth of Lies" by Giulio Ricciarelli - Germany's short-listed submission for Best Foreign Language Feature at February's Oscars – describes one of Bauer's chief accomplishments, bringing to justice 22 former Auschwitz officials in the 1960s.

The story focuses on a fictional young, idealistic public prosecutor who works under Bauer and fights against a conspiracy of silence and resistance in a judicial establishment still filled with ex-Nazis.

"Do you want every German to ask if their father was a murderer?" the young prosecutor is asked angrily in the movie. "Yes, that's exactly what I want," he replies firmly. "I want these lies and this silence to end."

Before the 1963-65 trial in Frankfurt, "a significant proportion of Germans believed the pictures of the (concentration) camps were Allied propaganda," wrote prosecutor Erardo Cristoforo Rautenberg in news weekly Die Zeit.

Bauer "wanted to break the silence on the Nazi crimes" at a time when West German society during its economic miracle years "preferred to turn the page" on the horrors of the Holocaust, said Steinke.

In enemy territory

The target of hate mail, anti-Semitic phone calls and a bomb threat, Bauer, then the chief prosecutor of central Hesse state in Frankfurt, was also the subject of a "neo-Nazi plot to assassinate him", said his biographer.

"In the Frankfurt courtroom, dogs had to search for explosives every morning," Steinke said.

A second movie, "The People vs. Fritz Bauer" by Lars Kraume, released at Switzerland's Locarno International Film Festival, tells the story of how Bauer helped track down fugitive top Nazi Adolf Eichmann, known as the "architect of the Holocaust", in Argentina.

The film portrays Bauer aged in his fifties - a stocky figure with a white mane, gruff manner and piercing eyes behind thick glasses - also evoking his rumoured homosexuality, at a time when sex between men was still punished with prison.

"As soon as I come out of my office, I enter enemy territory," Bauer once said as he faced massive obstruction by lawyers who had served during the "Third Reich", according to historian Werner Renz.

In 1957, in a deliberate act of "high treason" that could have landed him in jail, Bauer passed on to Israel's Mossad secret service information that led to the spectacular kidnapping of Eichmann.

Posthumous triumph

Eichmann was abducted by Israeli agents in Buenos Aires in 1960, convicted in 1961 and hanged in Israel a year later. For Bauer, it was only a partial victory: Eichmann did not face justice in Germany. Berlin had never requested the extradition of the top Nazi, whose testimony could have implicated former Nazi collaborators in high places.

The influence of Bauer - who was in 1933 interned in a concentration camp and then went into exile in Denmark and Sweden during the war - has continued to grow after his death, inside the courts and beyond.

Story continues below…

His notion that the Nazi extermination camps were "collective enterprises of death", where every "cog in the machine" shared part of the guilt, did not triumph at the Frankfurt trial.

But the principle was eventually confirmed by German courts in landmark trials of former Nazi camp guards almost 50 years later - at the 2011 trial of John Demjanjuk, and in this year's trial of Oskar Groening.

Bauer - a passionate teacher who passed "his confidence and hopes" onto a younger generation, according to Renz – was found dead in his bathtub in July 1968, under still unclear circumstances.

At the time, "a younger generation was preparing to demand the democratisation of society and a break with the authoritarian tradition of Germany", a development to which the deceased prosecutor "had contributed like no-one else," said Rautenberg.

A few months later, in November 1968, a young activist called Beate Klarsfeld slapped Germany's then chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger in parliament and called him a Nazi, an act that came to symbolise the 'house-cleaning' by Germany's post-war generation against their parents.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

Eurowings cabin crew union to strike all day Thursday
Photo: DPA.

UPDATE: A union representing cabin crews on Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings has announced that strikes will last all day Thursday as ongoing contract negotiations continue to falter.

Hesse hopes to set example by building Iraqi orphanages
Refugee children in northern Iraq. Photo: DPA

The wealthy central German state of Hesse has set aside €1 million to build a school, family homes and an orphanage in northern Iraq, in an effort to help refugees there.

The Local List
10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
David Hasselhoff. Photo: DPA

Whether it be efficiency, humourlessness or a love of a certain Baywatch star, there are many cliches stuck in the heads of foreigners about Germany. But how true are they?

Fake Germanwings victim relative convicted in Cologne
A torn piece of metal at the crash site in 2015. Photo: DPA

A German court on Wednesday gave a woman a year's suspended jail sentence for posing as the cousin of a victim in last year's Germanwings plane crash and obtaining compensation offered by the airline.

Couple accused of torturing, murdering women go on trial
The so-called 'house of horrors' in Höxter where the couple allegedly tortured and killed women. Photo: DPA.

A couple accused of luring women to their village home with personal ads started trial on Wednesday over charges that they tortured and killed at least two of their victims.

After July attacks, govt drafts new video surveillance law
Photo: DPA

The Interior Ministry is drafting a law which will enable public spaces to be filmed for surveillance purposes as a reaction to deadly attacks in July, according to a newspaper report.

Merkel: murky internet giants distort perception of reality
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Tuesday for internet giants to make public their closely-guarded algorithms, claiming that they are not giving people diverse enough information.

Pegida leader 'paid court costs with group's money'
Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann. Photo: DPA.

The leader of the anti-Islam movement reportedly used money from Pegida's coffers to pay for two personal court cases, German media reported this week.

Anger as Berlin scraps Turkey concert on Armenia genocide
The Dresden Symphony Orchestra. Photo: DPA

Germany's foreign ministry Tuesday scrapped a planned symphony performance on the Armenian "genocide" in its Istanbul consulate, sparking accusations that it was caving in to Turkish pressure.

10 ways German completely messes up your English
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd