does a superhero look like?
character in the highly lauded 2014 film Labyrinth
of Lies -- a film about Germany’s Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials -- is a man named “Johann Radman.” Labyrinth of Lies did extremely well
on the international film festival circuit, and it was nominated for four
prestigious awards by the German Film Academy in 2015 (including Outstanding
Feature Film, Best Screenplay and Best Film Score).
Radmann, director Giulio Ricciarelli chose actor
Alexander Fehling. Seeing Fehling on screen, a man with the face and
figure of an Aryan stereotype, was the first thing about Labyrinth of Lies that set off my Jew-dar. Was I prepared to
embrace a hero in a film about the Holocaust who looked like a model for a Hitler
Youth propaganda poster?
fact, the hero of Germany’s Frankfurt Auschwitz
Trials was not Johann Radman (who is a “composite”
character), but Fritz Bauer, a very real person who was born in Stuttgart
(Germany) in 1903.
In 1933, Bauer was imprisoned in the Heuberg
concentration camp (near Stetten, Germany). Upon his release in 1935, he fled
to Denmark, and when Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, he fled to Sweden. Bauer returned to Germany in 1949, where he
was eventually appointed to office as the district attorney in Hessen in 1956.
He remained in that position, based in Frankfurt, until his death in 1968.
Need I say that in the years he lead the
prosecution of Germany’s
Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials (1963 to 1965), Bauer was the polar opposite of a
strapping young Aryan? To be blunt, Bauer looked like exactly who he was: the
epitome of a Jewish stereotype. The real superhero was short, overweight, and
unkempt. He was also enormously intelligent and ferociously committed.
If you have seen already Labyrinth
of Lies, then you are obligated to see The
People vs Fritz Bauer as a corrective. If you have not yet seen Labyrinth of Lies, then don’t. See The People vs Fritz Bauer, and
you will be glad that you did.
plot of The People vs Fritz Bauer
actually precedes the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials
and is almost entirely concerned with Bauer’s role in the capture of Adolf Eichmann.
readers know that we have gone round and round this Eichmann story several
times already together, but this is an entirely new take with essential
elements which -- to the best of my knowledge -- have never been seen on screen
unlike Labyrinth of Lies, which not
only trivializes the connection between Bauer and the Mossad, but completely
mischaracterizes the Mossad’s parallel search for Joseph Mengele, almost
everything in The People vs Fritz Bauer
is true to the historical facts as I know them to be.
exception is the character of “Karl Angermann.” Angermann, the most trusted of Bauer’s associates, is played by actor Ronald Zehrfeld who also starred in Christian
Petzold’s recent films Barbara and Phoenix. Remarkably, I barely
recognized him. Without his beard, Zehrfeld has a baby face which makes him
appear both younger and more innocent (attributes which fit the Angermann
actor Burghart Klaußner stars as Fritz
Bauer. Cinephiles will recognize him from his roles in recent award-winning
films like Good Bye Lenin!, The
Edukators, and The White Ribbon. The
German Film Academy nominated Klaußner
for a Best Actor award in 2016 for his performance as Fritz Bauer. (Ironically
they also nominated Gert Voss in 2015 for his performance as Fritz Bauer in Labyrinth of Lies, although, of course,
his was a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.)
quibble. Although the screenplay that director Lars
Kraume wrote with Oliverier Guez is taut, the direction itself is somewhat
melodramatic and the soundtrack is abysmal. But in this case, the importance of
historical accuracy overrides any purely aesthetic considerations.
I will let Ha’aretz make the case for Fritz Bauer in this
quote from a 2012
review of an exhibit on the capture and trial of Adolf
Eichmann at Beit Hatfutsot: Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv:
23, 1960, the Mossad representative in Germany received a top-secret cable,
stating: ‘Go to Tolstoy immediately and tell him Dybbuk has been captured and
taken to Israel.’ ‘Tolstoy’ was the Mossad code name for Dr. Fritz Bauer, the
Hessen district attorney. ‘Dybbuk’ was another of the code names for Eichmann.
The cable's signatory was Mossad man Shlomo Cohen Abarbanel, brother of Haim
Cohen, the Israeli attorney general and subsequently president of the Supreme
The People vs Fritz
opens Friday, Sept. 2 at Landmark's Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park
and the AMC River East in Streeterville.
times and tickets at Renaissance Place Cinema, visit: https://www.landmarktheatres.com/chicago/renaissance-place-cinema
times and tickets at the AMC River East, visit: https://www.amctheatres.com/movie-theatres/chicago/amc-river-east-21
Photo: Burghart Klaussner as “Fritz Bauer.”
Bottom Photo: Klaussner with Pierre
Shrady as “Eberhard Fritsch.”
courtesy of Cohen Media Group.