|Governor-General of the |
General Government of Poland
26 October 1939 – January 1945
Hans Michael Frank
23 May 1900
Karlsruhe, Grand Duchy of Baden, German Empire
|Died||16 October 1946 (aged 46)|
Nuremberg, Allied-occupied Germany
|Political party||National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)|
|German Workers' Party (DAP)|
Brigitte Herbst (m. 1925)
|Branch/service||Imperial German Army|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
Frank was an early member of the German Workers' Party, the precursor of the Nazi Party (NSDAP). He took part in the failed Beer Hall Putsch, and later became Adolf Hitler's personal legal adviser as well as the lawyer of the NSDAP. In 1933, Frank joined the Hitler Cabinet as Reich Minister without portfolio.
After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Frank was appointed Governor-General of the occupied Polish territories. During his tenure, he instituted a reign of terror against the civilian population and became directly involved in the mass murder of Jews. He engaged in the use of forced labour and oversaw four of the extermination camps; the policies of enslavement and extermination would later be used extensively in conquered territories of the Soviet Union. By 1942 Frank had lost Hitler's favour, but remained head of the General Government until its collapse in early 1945.
Frank, the middle child of three, was born in Karlsruhe to Karl Frank, a lawyer, and his wife, Magdalena (née Buchmaier), a daughter of a prosperous baker. He graduated from high school at the renowned Maximilians gymnasium in Munich. At seventeen he joined the German Army fighting in World War I, but did not serve time at the front.
After the war, Frank studied law and economics, from 1919 to the summer semester 1921 at the University of Munich, between 1921 and 1922 at the University of Kiel, and back from the winter semester 1922 to 1923 at Munich. On 21 July 1923, he passed the final exam there. He subsequently obtained his Dr. jur. degree in 1924.
Between in 1919 and 1920, he was a member of the Thule völkisch society. He served also in the Freikorps under Franz Ritter von Epp's command, taking part in the crackdown of the Münchner Räterepublik. In 1919, as did other members of the Thule society, he joined the German Workers' Party (DAP) at its beginning.
Although the DAP evolved quite soon into NSDAP (Nazi Party), Frank waited until September 1923 to become a member of the Sturmabteilung (SA), and in October he officially joined the NSDAP. In November of the same year, Frank took part in the Beer Hall Putsch, the failed coup attempt intended to parallel Mussolini's March on Rome. In the aftermath of the attempted putsch, Frank fled to Austria returning in Munich only in 1924, after the pending legal proceedings were stayed.
Frank rose to become Adolf Hitler's personal legal adviser. As the Nazis rose to power, Frank also served as the party's lawyer. He represented it in over 2,400 cases and spent over $10,000. This sometimes brought him into conflict with other lawyers. Once, a former teacher appealed to him: "I beg you to leave these people alone! No good will come of it! Political movements that begin in the criminal courts will end in the criminal courts!" In September–October 1930, Frank served as the defence lawyer at the court-martial in Leipzig of Lieutenants Richard Scheringer, Hans Friedrich Wendt and Hanns Ludin, three Reichswehr officers charged with membership in the NSDAP. The trial was a media sensation. Hitler himself testified and the defence successfully put the Weimar Republic itself on trial. Many Army officers developed a sympathetic view of the National Socialist movement as a consequence.
Frank was elected to the Reichstag in 1930, and in 1933 he was made Minister of Justice for Bavaria. From 1933, he was also the head of the National Socialist Jurists Association and President of the Academy of German Law. Frank objected to extrajudicial killings as it weakened the power of the legal system (of which he himself was a prominent member), both at the Dachau concentration camp and during the Night of the Long Knives.
Frank's view of what the judicial process required was that:
[The judge's] role is to safeguard the concrete order of the racial community, to eliminate dangerous elements, to prosecute all acts harmful to the community, and to arbitrate in disagreements between members of the community. The National Socialist ideology, especially as expressed in the Party programme and in the speeches of our Leader, is the basis for interpreting legal sources.
In September 1939 Frank was assigned as Chief of Administration to Gerd von Rundstedt in the German military administration in occupied Poland. Beginning 26 October 1939, following the completion of the invasion of Poland, Frank served as Governor-General of the occupied Polish territories. Overseeing the General Government, the area of Poland not directly incorporated into Germany (roughly 90,000 km2 out of the 187,000 km2 Germany had gained).
Frank oversaw the segregation of the Jews into ghettos. From the outset Jews were discriminated against savagely and rations given to these people were slender. He oversaw the enormous Warsaw ghetto, and the use of Polish civilians as forced labour. In 1942 he lost his positions of authority outside the General Government after annoying Hitler with a series of speeches in Berlin, Vienna, Heidelberg, and Munich and also as part of a power struggle with Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger, the State Secretary for Security – head of the SS and the police in the General Government. Krüger himself was ultimately replaced by Wilhelm Koppe.
On 16 December 1941, Frank spelled out to his senior officials the approaching annihilation of the Jews:
A great Jewish migration will begin in any case. But what should we do with the Jews? Do you think they will be settled in Ostland, in villages? We were told in Berlin, 'Why all this bother? We can do nothing with them either in Ostland or in the Reichskommissariat. So liquidate them yourselves.' Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourself of all feelings of pity. We must annihilate the Jews wherever we find them and whenever it is possible.
When this was read to him at the Nuremberg trials he said:
One has to take the diary as a whole. You can not go through 43 volumes and pick out single sentences and separate them from their context. I would like to say here that I do not want to argue or quibble about individual phrases. It was a wild and stormy period filled with terrible passions, and when a whole country is on fire and a life and death struggle is going on, such words may easily be used... Some of the words are terrible. I myself must admit that I was shocked at many of the words which I had used.
An assassination attempt by Polish Secret State on 29/30 January 1944 (the night preceding the 11th anniversary of Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany) in Szarów near Kraków failed. A special train with Frank travelling to Lviv was derailed after an explosive device discharged but no one was killed.
Hans Frank participated in the growth of the politics leading to genocide in Poland. Under his guidance mass murder became a deliberate policy. The extermination and enslavement policies in Poland would later be used extensively in the Soviet Union.
The General Government was the location of four of the six extermination camps, namely, Bełżec, Treblinka, Majdanek and Sobibór. Chełmno and Birkenau fell just outside the borders of the General Government.
Frank later claimed that the extermination of Jews was entirely controlled by Heinrich Himmler and the SS and that he, Frank, was unaware of the extermination camps in the General Government until early 1944, a claim found to be untrue by the Nuremberg tribunal.
During his testimony at Nuremberg, Frank claimed he submitted resignation requests to Hitler on 14 occasions, but Hitler would not allow him to resign. Frank fled the General Government in January 1945 as the Soviet Army advanced.
Frank was captured by American troops on 4 May 1945, at Tegernsee in southern Bavaria. He attempted suicide twice, but failed both times. He was indicted for war crimes and tried before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg from 20 November 1945 to 1 October 1946. During the trial he converted, guided by Fr Sixtus O'Connor OFM, to Roman Catholicism, and claimed to have had a series of religious experiences.
Frank voluntarily surrendered 43 volumes of his personal diaries to the Allies, which were then used against him as evidence of his guilt. Frank confessed to some of the charges and expressed remorse on the witness stand, showing penitence for his crimes. On the witness stand, he said,
after having heard the testimony of the witness Rudolf Höss, my conscience does not allow me to throw the responsibility solely on these minor people. I myself have never installed an extermination camp for Jews, or promoted the existence of such camps; but if Adolf Hitler personally has laid that dreadful responsibility on his people, then it is mine too, for we have fought against Jewry for years; and we have indulged in the most horrible utterances.
He and Albert Speer were allegedly the only defendants to show remorse for their war crimes. At the same time he accused the Allies, especially the Soviets, of their own wartime atrocities. The former German Governor-General of Poland was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity on 1 October 1946, and he was sentenced to death by hanging. The death sentence was carried out at Nuremberg Prison on 16 October by US Army Master Sergeant John C. Woods. Journalist Joseph Kingsbury-Smith wrote of the execution:
Hans Frank was next in the parade of death. He was the only one of the condemned to enter the chamber with a smile on his countenance. And, although nervous and swallowing frequently, this man, who was converted to Roman Catholicism after his arrest, gave the appearance of being relieved at the prospect of atoning for his evil deeds.
He answered to his name quietly and when asked for any last statement, he replied "I am thankful for the kind treatment during my captivity and I ask God to accept me with mercy."
While awaiting execution, he wrote his memoirs, Im Angesicht des Galgens (In the face of the gallows). In the capacity as his attorney, Frank was privy to personal details of Hitler's life. In his memoirs, written shortly before his execution, Frank made the sensational claim that Hitler had commissioned him to investigate Hitler's family in 1930 after a "blackmail letter" had been received from Hitler's nephew, William Patrick Hitler, who allegedly threatened to reveal embarrassing facts about his uncle's ancestry. Frank said that the investigation uncovered evidence that Maria Schicklgruber, Hitler's paternal grandmother, had been working as a cook in the household of a Jewish man named Leopold Frankenberger before she gave birth to Hitler's father, Alois, out of wedlock. Frank claimed that he had obtained from a relative of Hitler's by marriage a collection of letters between Maria Schicklgruber and a member of the Frankenberger family that discussed a stipend for her after she left the family's employ. According to Frank, Hitler told him that the letters did not prove that the Frankenberger son was his grandfather but rather his grandmother had merely extorted money from Frankenberger by threatening to claim his paternity of her illegitimate child.
Frank accepted this explanation, but added that it was still just possible that Hitler had some Jewish ancestry. But he thought it unlikely because, "... from his entire demeanor, the fact that Adolf Hitler had no Jewish blood coursing through his veins seems so clearly evident that nothing more need be said on this."
Given that all Jews had been expelled from the province of Styria (which includes Graz) in the 15th century and were not allowed to return until the 1860s, scholars such as Ian Kershaw and Brigitte Hamann dismiss as baseless the Frankenberger hypothesis, which before had only Frank's speculation to support it. There is no evidence outside of Frank's statements for the existence of a "Leopold Frankenberger" living in Graz in the 1830s, and Frank's story is notably inaccurate on several points such as the claim that Maria Schicklgruber came from "Leonding near Linz", when in fact she came from the hamlet of Strones near the village of Döllersheim. Some suggest that Frank (who turned against National Socialism after 1945 but remained an anti-Semitic fanatic) made the claim that Hitler had Jewish ancestry as way of proving that Hitler was really a "Jew" and not an "Aryan"; and in this way, "proved" that the Third Reich's crimes were the work of the "Jewish" Hitler. The full anti-Semitic implications of Frank's story were borne out in a letter entitled "Was Hitler a Jew?", written to the editor of a Saudi newspaper in 1982 by a German man living in Saudi Arabia. The writer accepted Frank's story as the truth, and added since Hitler was a Jew, "the Jews should pay Germans reparations for the War, because one of theirs caused the destruction of Germany".
But Jewish-American author Ron Rosenbaum suggested another reason for Frank's story:
On the other hand, a different version of Frank emerges in the brilliantly vicious, utterly unforgiving portrait of him by his son, Niklas Frank, who (in a memoir called In the Shadow of the Reich) depicts his father as a craven coward and weakling, but one not without a kind of animal cunning, an instinct for lying, insinuation, self-aggrandizement. For this Hans Frank, disgraced and facing death on the gallows for following Hitler, fabricating such a story might be a cunning way of ensuring his place in history as the one man who gave the world the hidden key to the mystery of Hitler's psyche. While at the same time, revenging himself on his former master for having led him to this end by foisting a sordid and humiliating explanation of Hitler on him for all posterity. In any case, it was one Frank knew the victors would find seductive.
On 2 April 1925 Frank married 29-year-old secretary Brigitte Herbst (25 December 1895 – 9 March 1959) from Forst (Lausitz). The wedding took place in Munich and the couple honeymooned in Venetia. Hans and Brigitte Frank had five children:
Brigitte Frank had a reputation for having a more dominant personality than her husband: after 1939 she called herself "a queen of Poland" ("Königin von Polen"). The marriage was unhappy and became colder from year to year. When Frank sought a divorce in 1942, Brigitte gave everything to save their marriage in order to remain the "First Lady in the General Government". One of her most famous comments was "I'd rather be widowed than divorced from a Reichsminister!" Frank answered: "So you are my deadly enemy!"
In 1987, Niklas Frank wrote a book about his father, Der Vater: Eine Abrechnung ("The Father: A Settling of Accounts"), which was published in English in 1991 as In the Shadow of the Reich. The book, which was serialized in the magazine Stern, caused controversy in Germany because of the scathing way in which the younger Frank depicted his father: Niklas referred to him as "a slime-hole of a Hitler fanatic" and questioned his remorse before his execution.
Niklas is the sole living child of Hans and Brigitte Frank. Sigrid remained a committed Nazi who emigrated to South Africa during the apartheid regime and died there. Brigitte committed suicide in 1981; Michael and Norman died in 1990 and 2010, respectively.