Bumke's family background was Pomeranian middle class. His father was a doctor and his mother a factory owner's daughter. His brother Oswald Bumke was one of the twentieth century's leading psychiatrists.
As leader of Department II (criminal cases), he prepared, among other things, the Reichstag drafts for a new criminal code in 1927, which, of course, never saw the light of day. In 1930, Erwin Bumke became president of the International Criminal Law and Prison Commission. In 1929 Bumke became Reichsgericht president. Under his leadership, the Imperial Court declared on 25 October 1932 that the temporary removal of Land ministers' authority by a Reich Commissar (see PreuĂźenschlag) was valid.
Bumke would have been the Reich President's deputy under a law passed in December 1932, had the latter suffered a handicap or death; however, no such incapacitation on Paul von Hindenburg's part was ever shown to be the case. In the time of the Third Reich, Bumke was responsible for a whole series of unfair sentences, for instance, the judicial murder (Justizmord) perpetrated against Ewald Schlitt in 1942. For this reason, Erwin Bumke's portrait is not to be found among those of former Reichsgericht Presidents at the Bundesgerichtshof in Karlsruhe. Two days after the Americans marched into Leipzig, on 20 April 1945 â€“ coincidentally Adolf Hitler's birthday â€“ Bumke committed suicide.