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In this review by Cesarani, I found a bit more explanation of the complicated problem Fritz Bauer and others were up against in attempting to try the participants in the Nazi Holocaust machine. https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/utq/summary/v076/76.1cesarani.html
As Cesarani explains:
The trial of twenty men accused of aiding and abetting murder while serving as guards or kapos in Auschwitz that took place in Frankfurt between December 1963 and August 1965 was a pivotal moment in the process by which West Germans became aware of the crimes committed by the Third Reich. It was given saturation coverage by the media and made it impossible for West Germans to deny knowledge of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis.
[This is what is so amazing for someone who was not living at that time to understand. As I mentioned in my earlier post about the movie “Labyrinth of Lies”, it’s just mind-blowing to think that the public largely ignored what happened before that regarding the Nazi extermination system, the camps, the tortures, etc! I can understand better now why the fictional character in the movie is completely surprised when he first hears that Auschwitz was an extermination camp – and why the director+other writer decided to create the character and the story this way.]
However, as Rebecca Wittmann shows, this knowledge was partial and peculiar. It would take decades before Germans came to terms with the extent of popular complicity in racism, atrocity, and genocide during the Third Reich. This was not due to malice in the judiciary or any desire to avoid the truth. Rather, it was the strange result of punctiliously observing legal niceties.
The Auschwitz trial was conducted under the 1871 criminal code. The prosecution did not want to charge the defendants with perpetrating genocide or crimes against humanity because that would have meant invoking retrospective legislation, something that was anathema following Nazi manipulation of the law.
[What a terrible dilemma. It seems to me, had the prosecution tried the genocide trial route, that would have meant failure from the start. At the same time, having to use a legal framework from 1871 (!) completely hampered their efforts and goals.]
But this fastidiousness created numerous dilemmas. Owing to the statute of limitation the defendants had to be charged with murder.
[As an aside note, the notion of statute of limitations for serious crimes is often counter to justice.]
To convict on a count of committing or abetting murder, the prosecution had to attain a high threshold of evidence and, crucially, had to prove ‘base motives.’ If the defendants could convince the court that they were just obeying orders, which meant that they had no motive other than doing what they were told to do, they could be acquitted. So, ironically, the more they were obedient Nazis the less they were at risk of conviction.
Use of the old criminal code created an even worse distortion that warped public understanding of Nazi perpetrators. In order to show that the defendants acted from ‘base motives’ the prosecution had to demonstrate that they showed initiative and exceeded orders. To do this the prosecution invoked the regulations that pertained in the concentration camps and brought forward witnesses, such as the SS judge Konrad Morgan, who investigated alleged ‘excesses.’ This technique inadvertently established the standard brutality of the camps as an acceptable norm. Furthermore, to clinch a conviction the prosecution sought to show that the defendants acted sadistically. In several cases there was plenty of such evidence, but it had unintended consequences.
The West German public became convinced that Nazi perpetrators were not ordinary folk like them, but murderous sociopaths.
[What a convenient way to think! Especially when you are living in a country infested with Nazis, most of whom have been awarded total impunity for every kind of monstrous crime, including genocide.]
Other SS men, even if they were part of the machinery of mass murder, seemed like decent chaps doing their duty. Any sign of compassion or inconsistency could moderate the view taken of a defendant and few men were consistently violent or murderous. Because the prosecution focused on individual instances of vicious behaviour, the daily business of genocide receded into the background. The torture apparatus developed by one of the defendants made more of an impression on the public than the gas chambers.
Fritz Bauer, the attorney-general of the state of Hesse, who had pressed for the trial, hoped that it would expose the systemic racism, quotidian brutality, and genocide practised by Nazi Germany. He was thwarted because, ironically, the law itself militated against the effects he wanted to obtain. Wittmann remarks that ‘in the courtroom, the Holocaust faded almost entirely into the background, as excessive, unauthorized brutality was emphasized by the judges and prosecution.’ Even the worst offenders received relatively mild sentences that bore no relation to their role in a death factory that murdered over one million people. Indeed, the more Nazified they were the more lenient the court had to be because this, rather than personal, venal motives, explained their errant behaviour.
Wittmann’s study is a fine blend of political, cultural, and legal history, drawing on a deep knowledge of the Nazi era and the genocide against the Jews. Although in places her narrative is a trifle repetitive, she writes clearly and elegantly. Her account of the trial’s impact may seem perfunctory compared to the space devoted to exegesis of the proceedings, but this is a minor quibble over what will surely be regarded as a landmark study of a landmark trial.
I just saw the movie “Labyrinth of Lies” / Im Labyrinth des Schweigens / Le Labyrinthe du silence. Universal Pictures.
“Labyrinth of Lies” – post-war Germany’s dilemma over Nazi past – http://www.euronews.com/2015/05/15/labyrinth-of-lies-post-war-germany-s-dilemma-over-nazi-past/
This is a must-see movie. It’s a mixture of fact and fiction, revolving around the circumstances and one man’s determination that led to the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials. … A story that exposes the conspiracy of prominent German institutions and government branches to cover up the crimes of Nazis during World War II.”
I found the movie excellent, but was extremely puzzled about some of the director’s choices. As some others have inquired, why not make a movie about Bauer, where Bauer is the main character, given that he is the protagonist making the Trials happen in reality? Bauer’s life would make a very interesting movie. (16 July 1903 – 1 July 1968 – Bauer was a German judge and prosecutor, who played an essential role in starting the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials.)
Yet in “Labyrinth of Lies”, he is a relatively minor character and the hero position is given to the young, handsome fictional prosecutor of the movie, “Johann Radmann”, played by Alexander Fehling. I read one interview of the director, Giulio Ricciarelli, kind of touching upon the reason why he chose this, and while, as I said, I found the movie very good, I feel it is a sort of injustice to Bauer.
So what we need now is a movie about Bauer. I found this documentary exclusively on Bauer, but it’s in German, and it’s a documentary: Fritz Bauer – Tod auf Raten / Death By Instalments, by Ilona Ziok. http://www.fritz-bauer-film.de/en/index.htm
Given that I don’t know much about European history, as I started watching the film, I was completely puzzled and confused, to the point of not understanding the story. How could it be that in the beginning of the 60s, you have a whole slew of German public prosecutors, their secretaries, and other “normal” professionals that had never heard of Auschwitz and its primordial extermination function? How was this even remotely possible? Hadn’t the whole world heard of Auschwitz, the Nazis, the Holocaust, 20 years after it happened? I couldn’t understand. And yet, it appears this is true. But I still haven’t had time to read more about it to understand exactly what happened to the flow of information. I had always thought that after the Nuremberg Trials “everyone” knew. And not to give away much of the film, the scene where Radmann goes to the American military archive center in Germany, and the American chief there just shows him into the archive with the thousands of files on the Nazis, that the Americans are just sitting on, without doing anything whatsoever, it’s just mind-blowing!
from wiki: Fritz Bauer was born in Stuttgart, Kingdom of Württemberg, German Empire to Jewish parents. 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.
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.
Then there is the question of Bauer’s death, which happened in suspicious circumstances – he died in his bathtub. According to the findings of the investigating authorities, he had allegedly committed suicide using sedatives. http://de.metapedia.org/wiki/Bauer,_Fritz
Suicide – now isn’t that a very odd thing to do if you have committed your entire life to bringing Nazis to justice and are in the midst of preparing a new, major trial? I remember reading his death was actually never investigated, but I can’t find the reference.
Another reference: “Bauer was found dead in his apartment on June 30, 1968. He was busy preparing a new trial against euthanasia crimes of the National Socialist era. ” http://geopolis.francetvinfo.fr/fritz-bauer-le-heros-meconnu-du-film-allemand-le-labyrinthe-du-silence-60475
What I think the movie made me realize like never before is summarized in this Canadian CBC article: “Auschwitz convictions have been few and far between” – About 6,500 SS personnel are estimated to have worked at the Nazis’ most infamous concentration camp, but few have ever faced trial for their roles at Auschwitz. …
The scant number of people brought to justice for being part of Nazi death machinery has been called “an ongoing scandal of postwar history. Only 49 SS guards from Auschwitz have been convicted in German courts. …
1st Auschwitz trial – Forty senior SS officials who worked at Auschwitz were put on trial in late 1947 at Krakow, Poland, with all but one convicted and more than half put to death. …
Frankfurt Auschwitz trials – Twenty-two lower-level SS were charged and 18 found guilty. Sentences ranged from life to five years in prison.”
Indeed, what stands out is just how few Nazis were ever tried. Talk about impunity and an entire system of absolute injustice.
[Added later:] Wiki gives a larger overall number – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_Auschwitz_trials:
The Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, known in German as der Auschwitz-Prozess, or der zweite Auschwitz-Prozess, (the “second Auschwitz trial”) was a series of trials running from 20 December 1963 to 19 August 1965, charging 22 defendants under German criminal law for their roles in the Holocaust as mid- to lower-level officials in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death and concentration camp complex.
Overall, only 789 individuals of the approximately 6,500 surviving SS personnel who served at Auschwitz and its sub-camps were ever tried, of which 750 received sentences. Unlike the first trial in Poland held almost two decades earlier, the trials in Frankfurt were not based on the legal definition of crimes against humanity as recognized by international law, but according to the state laws of the Federal Republic.
More about the problem of Germany’s impunity mentality here: Buscher on Fritz Bauer Institut and Wojak and Meinl, ‘Im Labyrinth der Schuld: Täter – Opfer – Ankläger’ – https://networks.h-net.org/node/35008/reviews/43980/buscher-fritz-bauer-institut-and-wojak-and-meinl-im-labyrinth-der
From the link above:
Although the topics of the essays vary considerably, several themes emerge. Perhaps the most important is the notion that determined individuals can change the course of history. Fritz Bauer was one such individual. Irmtrud Wojak portrays him as an official who was too progressive for his time. However, although he confronted a public mood focused on drawing the final line under the Nazi past as well as the continued integration of Nazi perpetrators and fellow-travellers in West German society, Bauer was by no means discouraged. Dedicated to the construction of a free and democratic Germany, he decided to challenge this “heavy mortgage” (p. 19). Wojak and several other contributors, including Michael Greve, Langbein, and Duex, leave no doubt that there would not have been a Frankfurt Auschwitz trial without Bauer’s initiative.
The Generalstaatsanwalt was not interested in a normal proceeding, though. To be sure, he wanted to see justice done, but he saw the trial’s main function as educating the public about the utterly criminal purpose and nature of Auschwitz (p. 324). But Bauer was disappointed with the results. In 1965 the court convicted only seven defendants of murder and sentenced six to life. Three were found not guilty, and the remainder was convicted of the less serious charge of aiding and abetting murder. Similarly, the trial’s educational potential remained largely unfulfilled during the few remaining years of Bauer’s life. Certainly, as Greve rightly asserts, neither Bauer’s colleagues in the judiciary nor West German legislators felt a great urge to conduct “a thorough prosecution of [Nazi] crimes” throughout the 1960s and thereafter (p. 59).”
In addition, this system of injustice was largely fomented by the US as well, with its priority then being the Cold War. Trying Nazis got in the way of the agenda for fighting the Cold War.
More here: The Auschwitz Files: Why the Last SS Guards Will Go Unpunished – http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/the-german-judiciary-failed-approach-to-auschwitz-and-holocaust-a-988082.html
If you will be in Germany in May/June 2015, lots of great events to attend at the Fritz Bauer Institute: http://www.fritz-bauer-institut.de/
Lastly, there is this explosive claim from Haaretz http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/.premium-1.553006: “Secret life of the German judge who brought the Mossad to Eichmann
Much mystery surrounds the life of Fritz Bauer, the German-Jewish judge who told Israel where Adolf Eichmann was hiding. A new biography sheds light on Bauer – who hid the fact that he was Jewish and possibly homosexual.”
Since now every single (as in non-married) person in history is thought to have had a deformed homosexual mind, “without any doubt!” say liberals while stomping their feet, who knows. I didn’t read the Haaretz article because it’s paid. One thing is for sure, no liberal today wants to know how many millions of Germans and other Europeans were closeted homosexuals or bisexuals and staunchly supported the Nazis or participated in Nazi crimes. You never hear about those, do you? And if you search and search, you will only find very rare mentions.
Just like bringing Nazi criminals to justice could not get in the way of Cold War tactics, reality must not get in the way of the Narrative.
[Added Sept 18] I saw a mention somewhere, didn’t note source though, that apparently many years earlier Bauer had been identified as trying to pick up a male homosexual prostitute. So maybe he was a Perv.