German and Other Heroes – 8
Fritz Bauer, Fighter for Human Rights and a New Germany (part 1)
Fritz Bauer (1903-1968) has always been one of post-war Germany’s most important lawyers, but for quite a long time he was not remembered well (and certainly not remembered fondly by many). That seems to have changed somewhat during the last 15 years. In the mid-1990s, the Fritz-Bauer-Institute was founded in Frankfurt on Main to do research on and to document the Holocaust and its effects until today. For example, the Institute has a complete documentation of the Auschwitz Trial. In 2009, a large and wonderful biography by Irmtraud Wojak was published (see photo); and in 2010 a documentary film released: Fritz Bauer – Tod auf Raten/Death by Installments. It is a very good film, but I think my heading is more appropriate.
Before I tell you more about Fritz Bauer’s life, his achievements and failures, I want to give you an idea of the person and his character. In a short article, one of the very few in which he talks at some length about himself, he starts off with a story from his childhood. When he was eleven years old, one of his teachers asked him what he would like to become. He painted a large plate with his name and the term “Oberstaatsanwalt” (chief public prosecutor) on it. He did not really know then what a public prosecutor was, except that it meant something like a better lawyer. He adds that even today (i.e. in 1955), he would prefer the term “Rechtsanwalt” (lawyer, literally a representative of the law) instead of “Staatsanwalt” (public prosecutor, literally a representative of the state). Fritz Bauer was well aware of the fateful German tradition in the law profession to support the state, any state, and any laws decreed by it. He feels a lawyer should support the rights of man and their social existence, even against the state, certainly against a despotic state.
The major reason behind these early ideas about his vocation was an unpleasant experience in his very first days in elementary school. He had won a box in a contest, but after school some of his classmates attacked him. At some time, they started screaming: “you and you parents, you have murdered Jesus Christ.” When his mother consoled him and told him about the historical background, he was still unhappy; not only about the unjust attack against him but also about Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Policemen (who later turned into lawyers) would prevent all this. Reflecting on his event, he wrote:
“I still have this childhood experience clearly in front of my eyes, as if it happened yesterday. The harm and disappointment which this young school beginner suffered, his still vague rebellion against injustice wherever it occurs, his determination to resist and his daydream about a better, a good world, have “developed along my life”, to use Goethe’s basic words.”
Fritz Bauer ends his article with a distinction between two different kinds of lawyers, the law and order lawyer, and the freedom and liberty lawyer. He had found this distinction in an introduction into the law by Gustav Radbruch, a professor whom the Nazis dismissed in 1933 because he was a Social Democrat: “’These (freedom) lawyers are the outposts of the constitutional state against our innate penchant for the police state. For us, constitutional state is not only a political, but also a cultural term. It means preserving freedom against order, life against reason, chance against rule, richness against system.’ I had underlined these words heavily; I knew where I wanted to belong (Fritz Bauer, Im Kampf um des Menschen Rechte/Fighting for the Rights of Man; from the internet – my translation).”
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