Auerbach, Philipp

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AUERBACH, PHILIPP (1906–1952), German-Jewish political activist. Born in Hamburg, Auerbach received a traditional Jewish education and began an apprenticeship in the chemical export and import business of his father. During the Weimar Republic he was actively engaged in the Liberal Party (ddp). After a brief detention in 1933 he immigrated to Belgium in 1934, where he established a successful chemical business. His father was murdered in the concentration camp of Fuhlsbuettel in July 1938. Auerbach was arrested by German occupation forces on the day of their capture of Antwerp. After internment in various French camps he was brought to a Berlin prison in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz in January 1944. After the war, he was accused of mistreatment of other camp inmates, but the ensuing investigations were suspended with no proof of his misbehavior.

After his liberation, Auerbach soon rose to become the most prominent political spokesman of the reconstituted German-Jewish community. His political career began in the British Occupied Zone as a high official for the affairs of those persecuted under Nazi rule. Suspended from his office by the British authorities a few months later, he was employed by the Bavarian government as "State Commissioner for Racial, Religious, and Political Persecution" and was responsible for the establishment of the Bavarian Office for Restitution. He established the Union of Jewish Communities in the North Rhine Province in December 1945 and, following his move to Munich, was the leader of the Bavarian Jewish community and one of the chairpersons of the Central Council of Jews in Germany founded in 1950. He was an outspoken advocate of immediate financial restitution to Nazi victims and total exposure of Nazi crimes. His activities were recorded with much interest and often opposition by the German public.

In 1949 allegations were made by Bavarian government ministers against Auerbach concerning the misuse of his office, fraud, and the illegal use of an academic title. He was arrested in early 1951. The trial of August 1952 resulted in his acquittal of the most serious allegations, but he was found guilty of corruption, attempted blackmail, perjury, and the illegal use of his academic title. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The following night, Auerbach committed suicide, convinced of his innocence. His activities are still disputed. While most historians agree that he did not mishandle money for personal use, they also stress his unorthodox political style.


C. Goschler, "Der Fall Auerbach. Wiedergutmachung in Bayern," in: L. Herbst and C. Goschler (eds.), Wiedergutmachung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1989), 77–89; W. Kraushar, "Zur Virulenz des Antisemitismus in den Gruenderjahren der Bundesrepublik Deutschland," in: Menora, 6 (1995), 319–43; W. Bergmann, "Philipp Auerbach – Wiedergutmachung war, nicht mit normalen Mitteln durchzusetzen," in: C. Froehlich and M. Kohlstruck (eds.), Engagierte Demokraten (1999), 57–70.

[Michael Brenner (2nd ed.)]