A biography of the Auschwitz survivor Philipp Auerbach documents German anti-Semitism after 1945.
I am not acting out of cowardice, not out of a confession of guilt, but because I no longer believe in what is right […]. I am irresponsibly convicted […]. I have never enriched myself personally and cannot continue to bear this dishonorable judgment. I fought to the end. It was free. My blood be on the heads of the perjurers.”
When Philipp Auerbach left these lines to the public in August 1952, he was 45 years old. He died penniless and marked by a serious illness. He was driven to suicide by a monstrous, intriguing court case. The trial against him is one of the most dazzling judicial affairs in the early Federal Republic, which also attracted attention abroad.
Auerbach was the best-known representative of the Jewish community in post-war Germany. His funeral resembled a political demonstration attended by around 2,000 people. And yet his story is now forgotten. Now a new biography of Hans-Hermann Klare has been published, which can finally make the “Auerbach Affair” known to a wider public.
Philipp Auerbach was born in Hamburg in 1906. Politically, he was involved in the left-liberal German Democratic Party and the democratic military association “Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold”. In 1934 Auerbach escaped to Antwerp with his family. From 1940 he was deported to various French camps, and his wife and daughter were able to escape to the USA in 1941. Auerbach himself survived Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen and Buchenwald.
Tracking down Nazis and profiteers
After the liberation he came to Düsseldorf. There the British used him to look after former concentration camp prisoners. In addition, Auerbach tried independently to track down Nazis and profiteers who had found shelter in the authorities, which he quickly made enemies not only among the Germans. When he had material collected on the earlier work of the Upper President of the Province of Rhineland, Robert Lehr, the British military government suspended him.
In 1946 Auerbach was summoned to Munich as “State Commissioner for the Racist, Religious and Politically Persecuted”. At that time, more than 150,000 Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) lived in the US American zone – mostly in the hope of a quick onward journey abroad. However, some stayed longer, the last DP camp existed until 1957. Many non-Jewish Germans saw the camps as hotbeds of the black market and their residents not as survivors and refugees in need of support.
Philipp Auerbach and his agency tirelessly tried to improve the situation of the DPs. He also spoke regularly in public. In Bavarian Radio, for example, he spoke in 1947 on the anniversary of the liberation. In 1951 he commented in radio speeches on a demonstration in Landsberg am Lech for pardons for Nazi war criminals imprisoned there. At the time, protests by DPs were met with shouts of “Jews out”, and the police finally used rubber truncheons against the former concentration camp inmates.
The anger of the Germans
With his public speeches, Auerbach drew the ire of many Germans who died wanted to oust Nazi rule along with their own involvement. Among them was not only Robert Lehr (CDU), who had risen to become Federal Minister of the Interior. Auerbach was also a thorn in the side of the Bavarian Minister of Justice Josef Müller (CSU), who may have known about his secretive past as a lawyer involved in Aryanization.
With the support of Lehr, Müller launched an intriguing smear campaign. He collected compromising material against Auerbach, launched rumors in the press, and even publicly blamed him for much of the anti-Semitism.
At the beginning of 1951 there was a raid lasting several weeks on the State Compensation Office. Auerbach was eventually arrested and tried on charges of extortion, embezzlement, embezzlement, passive bribery and improper use of an academic title.
In his book, Klare reconstructs the course of the process and its dynamics with great meticulousness. Added to this is the detailed contextualization of the biographies of the presiding judges. All three had been members of the NSDAP and Nazi sub-organizations. Applications from Auerbach’s defense for bias were rejected – with reference to Auerbach’s alleged “over-anxiousness”.
“A Psychopathic Personality”
Right from the start, Auerbach admitted that he had a false doctorate, but the psychiatrist Vult Pulling, who was also a former member of the NSDAP and SS, certified Auerbach as “a psychopathic personality from the start”, which is characterized by a “querulous aggressiveness”. Auerbach’s alleged compulsive lying would have “taken him to and over the edge of criminality earlier.”
The prosecution and the court ignored the fact that the main prosecution witness was being prosecuted for perjury at the same time. After 62 days of trial, Auerbach was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and a fine of 2,700 marks. Now he was out of the way. For Auerbach, the belief in justice, reparations and a Jewish future in Germany finally collapsed with the verdict.
Banners were displayed at Auerbach’s funeral, attacking the presiding judge as a “Nazi judge” and addressing the Minister of Justice, “Are you satisfied now?” In 1954, an investigative committee of the Bavarian state parliament completely rehabilitated Auerbach: Tasks like his “cannot be solved with normal means and also not by personalities who, although working according to the law, would have been quite helpless in the face of the extraordinary situation,” it said.
Hans-Hermann’s Klares biography is an important study that is well worth reading. Where nothing could be reconstructed, Klare leaves unanswered questions.
It would have been interesting to find out more about how the “Auerbach Affair” was received abroad; as well as a more systematic analysis of the positions in the Bavarian state government and in the state parliament as well as the press releases on the subject.
In any case, it becomes clear how Philipp Auerbach’s post-war biography is shaped by what the Israeli psychoanalyst Zvi Rex once said: that the Germans will never forgive the Jews of Auschwitz.