What does a superhero look like?
The main 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).
To play 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?
In 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.
The 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.
Regular 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 before.
And 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.
The 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 character perfectly).
Veteran 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.)
One can 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:
“On May 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 Court.”
The People vs Fritz Bauer opens Friday, Sept. 2 at Landmark's Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park and the AMC River East in Streeterville.
For times and tickets at Renaissance Place Cinema, visit: https://www.landmarktheatres.com/chicago/renaissance-place-cinema
For times and tickets at the AMC River East, visit: https://www.amctheatres.com/movie-theatres/chicago/amc-river-east-21
Top Photo: Burghart Klaussner as “Fritz Bauer.”
Bottom Photo: Klaussner with Pierre Shrady as “Eberhard Fritsch.”
Photos courtesy of Cohen Media Group.