Life and work
In 1928, after receiving his doctor of laws degree (at 25, the youngest Doktor der Rechte [Jur.Dr.] in Germany), Bauer became an assessor judge in the Stuttgart local district court. By 1920, he already had joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD). In the early 1930s, Bauer was, together with Kurt Schumacher, one of the leaders of the SPD's Reichsbanner 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 Schumacher and Bauer were arrested with others and taken to Heuberg concentration camp. The more prominent and older Schumacher, who had been an outspoken opponent of the Nazis as an SPD deputy in the Reichstag, remained in concentration camps (which destroyed his health) until the end of World War II, whereas the young and largely unknown Bauer was released, which probably spared him from becoming a victim of Nazi genocide. A short time later Bauer, like most Jews, was dismissed from his civil service position.
In 1935, Bauer emigrated to Denmark, then in 1943 to Sweden after the Danish government resigned and the Nazis declared martial law which endangered the Jewish population in Denmark. 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 (West Germany) was being established, and once more entered the civil service in the justice system. At first he became director of the district courts, and later the equivalent of a U.S. district attorney, in Braunschweig. In 1956, he was appointed the district attorney in Hessen, based in Frankfurt a. M. Bauer 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 (the Mossad) that allowed Eichmann to be captured. Bauer thus was instrumental 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 1958, he succeeded in getting a class action lawsuit certified, consolidating numerous individual claims in the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, which opened in 1963.
In 1968, working with German journalist Gerhard Szczesny, Bauer founded the Humanist Union, a human-rights organization. After Bauer's death, the Union donated money to endow the Fritz Bauer Prize. Another organization, the Fritz Bauer Institute, founded in 1995, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to civil rights that focuses on history and the effects of the Holocaust.
Fritz Bauer's work contributed to the creation of an independent, democratic justice system in West Germany, as well as to the prosecution of war Nazi 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 Frankfurt am Main of heart failure, aged 64.
- Die Kriegsverbrecher vor Gericht ("War Criminals in Court"), with a postscript by Hans Felix Pfenninger. Neue Internationale Bibliothek, 3. Europa, Zürich 1945.
- Das Verbrechen und Gesellschaft ("Crime and Society"). Reinhardt 1957.
- Sexualität und Verbrechen ("Sexuality and Crime"). Fischer 1963.
- Die neue Gewalt ("The new Oppression"). Verl. d. Zeitschrift Ruf u. Echo 1964.
- Widerstand gegen die Staatsgewalt ("Resistance to State Oppression"). Fischer 1965.
- Die Humanität der Rechtsordnung. Ausgewählte Schriften ("The Human Vales of Legal Process; Selected Documents"). Joachim Perels and Irmtrud Wojak, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, New York 1998, ISBN 3-593-35841-7.
- Irmtrud Wojak: 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
- 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