Fritz Bauer | AP | 16132gh
Fritz Bauer became Germany’s youngest judge in 1930 at the age of 27. He was sent to a concentration camp when the Nazis came to power in 1933 and released nine months later after being coerced into signing a statement pledging obedience to Nazi rule. He fled to Denmark and Sweden where he lived out the rest of the war.
When Bauer returned to Germany in 1949, he found that many Third Reich values were still admired. Former Nazis held key positions in government. The closest aide and national security adviser to the then Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, was Hans Globke, a former Nazi government member who helped draw up Nazi race laws.
Anti-Semitism was so prevalent that he hid the fact that he was Jewish to avoid being labelled a traitor who was “bent on revenge”. West Germany still enforced Nazi-era laws outlawing homosexuality. He lived in fear of being publicly denounced and ousted from his job because he was gay. His attempts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice earned him the reputation as a judge who “fouled his own nest.” He once told a colleague: “As soon as I leave the confines of my office, I am on enemy territory.” Death threats were common.
He made history when in 1957 he was tipped off by a colleague in Argentina that Adolf Eichmann had escaped to Buenos Aires and was living there under an assumed name. Bauer was then chief state prosecutor in Frankfurt. His mistrust of post-war West Germany was so great that he kept Eichmann’s whereabouts secret from the German judiciary. Instead he told the Israeli secret service Mossad. Under West German law his actions were a treasonable offence.
Mossad agents kidnapped Eichmann in a spectacular operation in 1960. He was tried and hanged in Israel 1962.
Bauer was found drowned his bathtub at his Frankfurt home in 1968. A post-mortem examination showed that he had taken sleeping pills. There is speculation that he may have committed suicide because of the strain he was under.
Fritz Bauer, judge and prosecuter, born 16 July 1903, died 1 July 1968.