Chief Public Prosecutor Fritz Bauer

Fight for justice

Fritz Bauer’s move from his office as chief public prosecutor at the Braunschweig Higher Regional Court to the office of the Hessian chief public prosecutor marked the beginning of a new phase in the prosecution of Nazi criminals in the Federal Republic of Germany.

With Fritz Bauer, Hessian Prime Minister Georg August Zinn succeeded in bringing one of the most distinguished prosecutors of the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany to Frankfurt in 1956. Bauer, who was born at Stuttgart, Germany in 1903, studied law and economics. After obtaining his doctorate in 1927, he began his career as a judge; by 1930, he had advanced to the position of judge at the Local Court in his hometown, the youngest during the Weimar Republic. Fritz Bauer was also politically active, i.e., as a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Black, Red and Gold Banner of the Reich (Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold), an organization founded in 1924 to protect parliamentary democracy, and the Republican Association of Judges (Republikanischen Richterbund). After the Nazi seizure of power, the new rulers not only dismissed Fritz Bauer as a judge, but also imprisoned him at Heuberg Concentration Camp for a few months. In 1936, Bauer immigrated to Denmark, from where he was barely able to escape deportation by fleeing to Sweden in 1943.

Photo: Fritz Bauer with his sister Margot
Fritz Bauer with his sister Margot, who was three years younger, during World War I.

National Socialism had not been overcome yet, when the criminal prosecution of Nazi criminals became the key issue in Fritz Bauer’s life. Already during his exile in Sweden, Bauer had addressed the question of how the criminal acts of National Socialism could be punished pursuant to the rule of law, and he published his visionary ideas in his book "Die Kriegsverbrecher vor Gericht" in 1944. With the intent to help build up a democratic legal system in the young Federal Republic of Germany, Fritz Bauer returned to Germany in 1949. In Braunschweig, he was appointed a presiding judge at the Regional Court first and then chief public prosecutor at the Braunschweig Higher Regional Court. As a prosecutor in the trial of Otto Ernst Remer – Remer was crucially involved in the suppression of the uprising of July 20, 1944 and later persistently defamed the resistance fighters publicly as "traitors" after 1945 – Fritz Bauer sent a clear signal of his legal principles in 1952. These principles also included the principle successfully represented by Bauer that the Nazi state was not a state governed by the rule of law (Rechtsstaat), but a criminal and illegitimate state (Unrechtsstaat).

To declare and to know the historical truth.

Fritz Bauer

With his move from Braunschweig to Frankfurt, Fritz Bauer acquired access to the requisite human resources in order to be able to set into motion criminal investigations regarding National Socialist crimes of violence on a broad scale. At the same time, he pushed the search for Nazi major criminals who had fled or disappeared, such as Adolf Eichmann, an SS Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) who was responsible for the deportations of millions of Jews to the extermination camps, Josef Mengele, the notorious concentration camp physician at Auschwitz, and Martin Bormann, “Hitler’s secretary”. Bauer energetically pulled the Auschwitz Trial to Frankfurt in 1959 and thus launched the proceedings that have had an impact down to the present, both legally and socially as well. In his time as the Hessian Chief Public Prosecutor, Fritz Bauer made West German society aware of the terrible crimes of National Socialism within the framework of the genocide of European Jews. Fritz Bauer also sought to pursue investigations and criminal proceedings against high-ranking perpetrators of the Nazi euthanasia program and Nazi lawyers, but with only moderate success.

These proceedings petered out by no later than Fritz Bauer’s unexpected death in the night of June 30 to July 1, 1968. In an environment in which he frequently faced rejection and hostility, he had only limited success as a prosecutor of Nazi criminals. In the long term, however, Bauer’s legacy lies primarily in the fact that he launched the process of the reappraisal of this particular genocide and the recognition of the victims’ sufferings within German society. This is why he is revered today.