Fritz Bauer was born in Stuttgart, Kingdom of Württemberg, German Empire to Jewish parents. He attended Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium and studied business and law at the Universities of Heidelberg, Munich and Tübingen.
After receiving his Doctorate of Laws degree (youngest Jur.Dr. ever in Germany), Bauer became an assessor judge in the Stuttgart local district court. By 1920, he had already joined the Social Democratic Party. In the early 1930s, Bauer was, together with Kurt Schumacher, one of the leaders of the local Reichsbanner chapter in Stuttgart. In May 1933, a plan to organize a General Strike in the Stuttgart region against the Nazis failed, and Schumacher and Bauer were arrested with others, and taken to Heuberg concentration camp. Whereas the much more prominent and older Schumacher (a crippled veteran of World War One), who had been a fierce and prominent opponent of the Nazis as SPD deputy in the Reichstag, stayed in concentration camps until May 1945 (which completely destroyed his health, the charismatic SPD leader died in 1952), the young and largely unknown Bauer was released, which probably spared him from becoming a victim of the Shoah. A short time later Bauer was dismissed from his civil service position.
In 1935, Bauer emigrated to Denmark and then to Sweden (1943) after the former was occupied by German troops during the Second World War. In Sweden, Bauer founded, along with Willy Brandt, the periodical Sozialistische Tribüne (Socialist Tribune). Bauer returned to Germany in 1949, as the postwar Federal Republic was being established, and once more entered civil service in the justice system. At first he became director of the district courts, and later the equivalent of District Attorney in Braunschweig. In 1956, he was appointed to office as the District Attorney in Hessen, based in Frankfurt a. M. Bauer held this position until his death in 1968.
Bauer was active in the ongoing postwar efforts to obtain justice and compensation for victims of the Nazi regime. In 1958, he succeeded in getting a class action lawsuit certified, consolidating numerous individual claims in the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, the proceedings of which opened in 1963. He was also instrumental in the intelligence that he relayed to the Mossad in 1957 that allowed Adolf Eichmann to be captured. From 1957-1960 Fritz Bauer was instrumental in tracking Eichmann down in Argentina and bringing him to trial in Israel.
With Gerhard Szczesny, Bauer founded the Humanist Union, a human-rights organization, in 1961. After Bauer's death, the Union donated money to fund the Fritz Bauer Prize. In addition, the Fritz Bauer Institut, founded in 1995, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to civil rights that focuses on history and the effect of the Holocaust.
Fritz Bauer's work contributed to the building of a democratic justice system in Germany, as well as to the consistent, lawful prosecution of Nazi injustices and the reform of the criminal law and penal systems. Without Bauer's persistent involvement, the Auschwitz trials in Frankfurt might never have come to fruition.
Within the postwar German justice system, Bauer was a controversial figure due to his sociopolitical engagement. He supposedly once said, "In the justice system, I live as in exile."
Bauer died in Frankfurt am Main.
- Die Kriegsverbrecher vor Gericht (with a postface by Hans Felix Pfenninger). Neue Internationale Bibliothek, 3. Europa, Zürich 1945.
- Das Verbrechen und Gesellschaft. Reinhardt 1957
- Sexualität und Verbrechen. Fischer 1963
- Die neue Gewalt. Verl. d. Zeitschrift Ruf u. Echo 1964
- Widerstand gegen die Staatsgewalt. Fischer 1965
- Die Humanität der Rechtsordnung. Ausgewählte Schriften. Hrsg. von Joachim Perels und Irmtrud Wojak, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, New York 1998, ISBN 3-593-35841-7
- Wojak, Irmtrud: Fritz Bauer und die Aufarbeitung der NS-Verbrechen nach 1945. Blickpunkt Hessen, Hessische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung, Nr. 2/2003
- Irmtrud Wojak: Fritz Bauer. Eine Biographie, 1903-1963, Munich: C.H. Beck, 2009, ISBN 3-406-58154-4
- Ilona Ziok: Fritz Bauer - Death By Instalments, Germany, 2010, (film) 110 min.
- Ronen Steinke: Fritz Bauer: oder Auschwitz vor Gericht, Piper, 2013, ISBN 978-3492055901
- The People vs. Fritz Bauer, a 2015 German film
- Wojak, Irmtrud (2009). Fritz Bauer 1903-1968: eine Biographie. Munich: C.H.Beck. p. 54. ISBN 978-3-406-58154-0.
- An inside look at Israel's operation to capture Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann, Haaretz