Fritz Bauer 1903-1968. The prosecutor who found Eichmann and put Auschwitz on trial

Irmtrud Wojak

  • BUXUS EDITION 2018, 596 pp., Paperback
  • ISBN 978-3981761443

28,00 Euro (incl. VAT, plus shipping costs)

“He was the greatest ambassador the Federal Republic had.”

Robert M. W. Kempner

Fritz Bauer was the Attorney General who brought Eichmann, Auschwitz, the crimes of the Wehrmacht, Nazi justice and Nazi medicine to justice. Therefore, hostilities and death threats pursued him until death. Fritz Bauer, who himself survived concentration camp imprisonment and prison, stood up for the prisoners and for the weakest in our society. Right and obligation to resist, criminal law reform and a humane penal system were his main concerns. “We are to be our brother’s guardians,” said the lawyer. “This seems to me to be the task of a democratic and social and humane law. That would be the philanthropy that religions speak of.” Fritz Bauer was the voice of the survivors.


From the introduction

“…Over the years, Fritz Bauer’s lonely death has raised many questions and given rise to a great deal of speculation. The autopsy showed no sign of foul play or suicide.[1] In response to the recent attacks on Fritz Bauer’s character, the attorney general of the state of Brandenburg, Erardo C. Rautenberg, carefully reviewed the events related to his death as well as the available sources and documents. He even focused on a car accident in December 1962 that had killed Bauer’s driver while on duty. At the time, Bauer had commemorated the deceased by placing Ludwig Uhland’s poem “Der gute Kamerad” (“The Good Comrade”) in the local paper. The third stanza reads: “A bullet came a-flying / Was it meant for me or for you?”[2]

In view of the numerous death threats Bauer received, the assassination plot against him, and the grave errors made in the investigation of his death in 1968, the criminologist Erardo C. Rautenberg came to the conclusion that manslaughter or murder could not be ruled out. Unlike the historian Norbert Frei, who criticized the film Fritz Bauer – Tod auf Raten for making the “baseless insinuation” that Bauer died an unnatural death, Rautenberg believed that such a speculation was not “baseless” at all.[3] As he pointed out, “no medical examiner was summoned to the site of the corpse, even though the police physician had established that the “manner of death was unsolved.” Nor had anyone applied for a court autopsy, a fact that the medical examiner Gerchow later described as “surprising” due to the unusual “discovery situation.” In addition, the site was not photographed, although an ambiguous sentence in a note written by the detective team on July 1, 1968, suggests it might have been prudent: “The metal water hose formed a ring around both feet.” Rautenberg writes:

On the basis of the autopsy suggested by Chief Prosecutor Krüger, the police at least made sure that the corpse was confiscated and brought to the Forensic Medicine Department. It was not possible to perform the autopsy until two days after the corpse had been discovered, and there were no criminological investigations. It remains unclear whether this procedure was actually based on the conviction of a “natural cause of death” or whether it was a result of the fear that intervention by medical examiners might produce evidence of foul play or suicide.

These unresolved questions are and remain a scandal. It is a scandal that we will never know why Fritz Bauer died a premature death and what the exact circumstances were. In the words of Erardo C. Rautenberg:

Not only were there many people who had a motive to eliminate the troublemaker, but there were many who had killed cold-bloodedly in the past and who, by virtue of their talents, would have been able to conceal such a murder. At any rate, if Bauer had actually been murdered, its goal was achieved, for after Bauer’s death the prosecution of the euthanasia killings fizzled out and the prosecution of the concentration camp staff members long focused only on the excessively cruel perpetrators and those who directly performed the murders.

The criminologist’s final sentence reads: “Fritz Bauer did not achieve his goals because there was too much resistance to an unsparing examination of the Nazis’ injustice. It remains an open question to me whether he was broken by this resistance, whether he had been silenced, or whether a tragic accident had played into the hands of those who longed to close the book on the past.”[4] As Rautenberg’s recent study of Bauer’s death shows, Bauer’s life’s work does not support either the idea of a national success story or the pride Germans take in allegedly having come to terms with the past. It is probably best suited for all those who are looking for a role model in the struggle against Nazism, racism, and anti-Semitism.

With regard to Attorney General Fritz Bauer’s legacy, nothing has changed. Remembering the life and work of this political jurist and champion of a liberal, democratic legal order continues to be a challenge and an important task, as does the attempt to ensure that Bauer, who served as attorney general in Braunschweig and Frankfurt am Main, who brought the unjust state and Auschwitz to court, receives his rightful place in the history of the struggle for human rights.”


[1] See the autopsy report by Professor J. Gerchow, HMJ Wiesbaden, Personalakte Fritz Bauer. See also the speech by Attorney General Anders in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of Bauer’s birth (note 35). Anders rejected the claim of Bauer’s unnatural death made in the sixth episode of the ZDF production Die SS – Eine Warnung an die Geschichte. Guido Knopp, as director, was ultimately responsible for this assertion.

[2] Frankfurter Neue Presse, December 12, 1962.

[3] On the following, see Erardo C. Rautenberg, “Die Bedeutung des Generalstaatsanwalt Dr. Fritz Bauer für die Auseinandersetzung mit dem NS-Unrecht,” in Forschungsjournal Soziale Bewegungen 4 (2015): 1–30, here 19, http://forschungsjournal.de/sites/default/files/downloads/fjsb_2015-4_rautenberg.pdf

[4] Ibid., 20–21.

About the author Irmtrud Wojak

Irmtrud Wojak is the managing director if the nonprofit BUXUS STIFTUNG GmbH. She is a historian, author and curator. Her research focuses on contemporary legal history, exile and political “memory cultures” as well as on a historiography that understands and explores resistance as a struggle for human rights.

As the Frieda L. Miller Fellow@The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University ’14/15 Irmtrud Wojak studied the resiliance of individuals who, against against widespread bias and politically enforced discrimination, maintain a principled stand based on legal norms and their own humanity. In 2014, she began with the historical research and educational project of the interactive FRITZ BAUER LIBRARY, named after the lawyer and human rights campaigner Dr. Fritz Bauer (1903-1968). FB LIBRARY’s central mission is to research, document and encourage human dignity and to create a more just and humane world.

In 2004 Irmtrud Wojak curated a major exhibition about the Auschwitz Trial and in 2009, after a decade of research, she published the authoritative biography of  state attorney Dr. Fritz Bauer (1903-1968), the prosecutor who found Eichamn and put Auschwitz on trial. In 2008, Dr. Wojak completed her professorial Habilitation and obtained her venia legendi at Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University of Hanover, one of Germany’s largest and oldest science and technology universities. She served as deputy director of the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt am Main up to 2005, as a director of the Department of History of the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen 2007/08 and served as Founding Director of the „NS-Documentationcenter” Munich 2009-2011. Wojak serves as Lecturer at the Universität der Bundeswehr München.

Among her publications are numerous scholarly articles, the “Fritz Bauer Archive” website (www.fritz-bauer-archiv.de) and books:

– Fritz Bauer 1903-1968. Eine Biographie. New edition, Munich (BUXUS EDITION) 2016.

Fritz Bauer 1903-1968: The prosecutor who found Eichmann and put Auschwitz on trial. Munich (BUXUS EDITION) 2018.

Eichmanns Memoiren. Ein kritischer Essay. Frankfurt am Main (Campus) 2001, New edition 2014.

– Auschwitz-Prozeß. 4 Ks 2/63. Frankfurt am Main. Edited by I. Wojak. Köln (Snoeck) 2004.

– Fritz Bauer. Die Humanität der Rechtsordnung. Ausgewählte Schriften. Edited by Joachim Perels and I. Wojak. Frankfurt (Campus) 1998.

– „Geliebte Kinder…“ Briefe aus dem Amsterdamer Exil in die neue Welt. Edited by I. Wojak and Lore Hepner. Essen (Klartext) 1995.

– Exil in Chile. Die deutsch-jüdische und politische Emigration während des Nationalsozialismus 1933-1945. Berlin (Metropol) 1994.