I was blown away by German director Lars Kraume’s riveting and revelatory film “The People vs. Fritz Bauer” starring Burghart Klaussner in a brilliant portrayal of indomitable Nazi hunter Bauer. A based-on-fact thriller, the film chronicles the travails and obstacles faced by Fritz Bauer—a German attorney general who—in the 1960’s— was unrelenting in his search for Adolf Eichmann eventually helping the Mossad [an act of treason!] find him and bring him to justice in Israel. In his film notes Kraume posits that Bauer wanted “to teach the Germans to be a better people, to fundamentally change the country during the Adenauer era”.
Bauer, a Jew, was born in Stuttgart in 1903. An atheist, he became the youngest district judge in Germany in 1930, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1933, fled to Denmark, then Sweden, returned to Germany in1949 to become attorney general of Hesse in Frankfurt-am Main [till his death in 1968].
I called Lars Kraume in Germany:
ML: How did you come to do the film?
LK: My co-writer, a [French-Jewish] journalist wrote a book…described the Auschwitz trials in the 1960’s. I grew up in Frankfurt—never heard of Bauer, he was just a short chapter…in the ‘50’’s he was unknown.
ML: What was the reaction about opening this can of worms.
LK: It was well received in Germany…a big success…. It irritated people that in the 50’s and 60’s no one knew about the German atrocities. He died in 1968…. When you show the film to younger people it’s difficult for them to understand so many people at the top of society had jobs during the Nazi regime…
ML: Did you film in exact locations?
LK: No. Germany changed. We filmed whatever we could find…and filmed in Israel.
ML: What was the reaction in Israel?
LK: The first time in Israel it was basically for me the greatest benefit …I got in touch with so many people…the reception in Israel was mixed. I think the Israeli critics did not like basically what the film is…. I think in reality what really happened was the Bauer asked Eichmann to be brought to Germany [and] knew it would never happen. He knew the Israelis would not let him go…. Ben Gurion had the trial to bring out the horrible truth about the Holocaust…it was not only for propaganda reasons, but had economic, political reasons. This is something the Israeli critics did not appreciate…Germany always wanted Eichmann…the Adenauer administration didn’t want Eichmann…he did not want to talk about these crimes. The only one who wanted it in Germany was Bauer.
ML: How was Bauer perceived.
L.K.: Germany is not full of heroes and it’s time to know who this man was. We can be proud of what he really did. Germans had been facing their parents…but it was due to men like Fritz Bauer to not forget. He was an outsider and had the guts to say what was in the past…. an inspiring character. Fritz Bauer ran into opposition for being a “Jew out for revenge”…. permanently surrounded by powerful enemies…none of the German authorities wanted to cooperate with him…. This legendary statement came from him: ‘When I leave my office I am entering an enemy, foreign country. To me he is a genuine hero.
The film opened August 19 — Go see!