Fritz Bauer - Death By Instalments

A film by Ilona Ziok

Germany 2010, 97 minutes, format Digital Beta, c & b/w


A german public prosecutor who, during his investigations of National Socialist crimes, gets caught in the old Nazi apparatus

A film about a righteous man and his work in the 60s and a nation that wants nothing to do with its past.

German post war history at the brink?


We immigrants made our holy mistakes. The fact that Germany lies in ruins is for its own good, we thought. The debris will be removed and then we'll build cities of the future. Bright, expansive and philanthropic. [...] Then came the others who said: "But the sewers under the ruins are still working!" And so, the German cities were rebuilt atop the old sewers. [...] What do you think this country could become? Do you think it is salvageable? [...] Take the first Bonn years! No armed forces! No power politics! Now contemplate the present politics and the emergency laws! Take a ruler for all I care. Where does it point? To the right! What will come of us when these laws are expanded?

Fritz Bauer

Gerhard Zwerenz: Gespräche mit Fritz Bauer. In: Streit-Zeit-Schrift VI,2,
Frankfurt a.M., September 1968, S. 89-93, look at page 92f.

In the conservative (and often anti-democratic) Cold War climate of post war West Germany, Fritz Bauer, the General State Attorney (Prosecutor) of Hess and Lower Saxonia, like no other, saw clearly and spoke frankly. He fearlessly and tirelessly promoted the democratization of the country. We will pull back the curtain on the political climate of the young republic of West Germany and reveal the faults of the Adenauer era as well as the obstacles Fritz Bauer faced while trying to promulgate democracy. The investigation will be supported by moving testimonies and impressive archival documents

After 37 years as a cold case, we may hit some dead ends in our investigation; much of the 'Bauer File' is still classified and under lock and key.... But the deeper we delve into Bauer's life, the more we discover an exceptional personality. That is the man we want to memorialize with this film.


He was the most widely known public prosecutor in the Federal Republic of Germany. A Social Democratic legal philosopher and human rights advocate, he believed that "discomfort was the first civil duty." Bauer was convinced that a citizen had not only the right but the duty to resist brutal acts of the state. He fought for this in a sensational trial in Braunschweig (1952/53), the so-called “Remer Trial” ( Ernst Remer had accused the July 20, 1944 conspirators -- who attempted to assassinate Hitler -- of being traitors). Bauer won the slander suit and the conspirators were rehabilitated. Bauer also used the trial to justify and defend the meaning of resistance against Hitler

With the Remer trial as a precedent, Bauer used his newfound notoriety to reveal and avenge other Nazi-crimes. As Attorney General for the state of Hesse (1956-1968), he was the leading prosecutor of the world famous Frankfurt Auschwitz Trails.

Bauer also played an important part in the abduction and extradition of the notorious Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann. Since he had reasonable suspicions that the German Court would neither demand extradition of Eichmann nor properly indict him for the many thousands of murders he had ordered, Bauer revealed the whereabouts of the notorious executor of the “Final Solution” to the Israeli secret service (the Mossad), so that Eichmann could be tried and sentenced in Jerusalem.

During his term of office in Frankfurt, Hesse became the leading state in the campaign to reform the West German judicial system. To Bauer, its “humanization” was essential for a humane society.

Through his frequent, often sensational appearances -- he once addressed prisoners as "my comrades" -- and because of his relentless pursuit of Nazi crimes, Bauer became a disturber of the peace while the Adenauer government was trying to ignore National Socialist crimes. Criticism of Bauer came from both the political right and left. Bauer’s essays and speeches with titles such as ”The Murderers Among Us" and "In the End were the Gas Chambers" offended many ordinary Germans in the 1950's and 60's. Bauer, a Jew, became the target of anti-Semitic slurs. Ordinary middle class Germans who had failed – or refused -- to recognize the danger of handing over power to Hitler, were similarly indifferent to the Nazis who still held government positions in the young Federal Republic. Bauer was horrified that German society paid no heed to its past; there was no possibility of a new beginning with these old attitudes still pervasive.

Bauer’s ideas were rejected by everyone--conservatives, opportunists, and pacifists alike. West Germany suffered from what is known today as "postwar syndrome;" fighting the Cold War was more important than confronting old crimes. This was true both for the young Republic and for its new allies, particularly the United States. Bauer did not succeed in overcoming this blindspot. The right wing launched intrigues, acts of sabotage, and personal attacks on Bauer in the attempt to destroy his reputation. Only after a new generation came of age in 1968 did Germans make an attempt to “confront their past.”

Bauer was too far ahead of his time. His vision of a righteous humanitarian society, subject to international law and an international court, were unacceptable to the vast majority. The right conditions did not exist. West Germany’s reluctance to confront its past took decades to overcome—and by then Bauer was dead.

More and more, Bauer withdrew into his work on political trials. He described his position in the judiciary as one “of exile” (because of the system's toleration of old Nazis) and his environment as a "hostile foreign country'"

The “emergency acts” instituted by the Bundestag in 1968 severely demoralized Bauer. Aimed at countering student protests and terrorism from the radical left, the restrictive laws did not affect the formerly Nazi, anti-democratic right. Bauer saw this declaration of a state of emergency as a turn towards an authoritarian state, in which the young republic gave up the democratic ideal in favour of self protection at all costs. When the “Dreher paragraph” inserted in the criminal code in May 1968 led to the invocation of the statute of limitations for murder, it brought a halt to the prosecution of a large number of Nazi war criminals. Bauer felt that his life work was finished.

Shortly afterwards, on June 30th, 1968, he was found dead in the bathtub of his Frankfurt home. The room had been "thoroughly cleansed." Bauer’s unfinished writings and research materials were usually scattered everywhere. But everything had vanished. Even today the mystery of his death remains unsolved

The director has carried out meticulous research in the archives and obtained startling testimonies from the General State Attorney in Hesse. Around this she has built, in the form of a mosaic, extraordinary film archives, selected works of classical and contemporary music as well as the eye witness accounts of Bauer's contemporaries: friends, relatives and those who fought with him for justice. This film not only provides the exciting biographical depiction of a unique life, it also paints an impressive portrait of one of the most important lawyers of the 20th century.

© 2010 CV Films