*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- biographies Hans Frank

World War II Biographies: Hans Frank (Germany, 1900-46)

Hans Frank
Figure 1.--Here Hans Frank's wife Brigitte with their children Niklas and Brigitte visit during the 1946 War Crimes Trial. Brigitte during the War styled herself the Queen of Poland while her husband served as General Govenor. Years later Niklas wrote a book about his father who he described as "a slime-hole of a Hitler fanatic". He also questioned the remorse his father expressed at Nuremberg. Some Germans were offended by a son describing his father thusly.

Hans Frank was born in Karlsrule, Germany (1900). During World War I he joined the German Army when he reached conscription age (1917). After the War like other young men with right-wing politics, he joined the Freikorps. He thus participated in the suppression of the Communist uprising in Munich. Soon afterwads he joined te NAZI Party. He was with Hitler in the Beer Hall Putsch (1924) Like Hitler he was not severely punished and studied law. He then became a legal adviser to Adolf Hitler and the NAZI Party. NAZI Party fortunes changed with the Depression (1929). Frank was one of the many NAZI deputies elected (1930). After Hitler was appointed Chancellor, he appointed Frank Minister of Justice in Bavaria (1933). Frank oversaw the brutal NAZI occupation of Poland. It is unclear why Hitlr chose him for the job, but his virulent anti-Semitism is certainly one of the reasons. After the War He denied responsibility for the mass killings of Jews. He did, unlike some other NAZI leaders express remorse for what he did in Poland. Many including his son Niklas doubt his sincerity.


Hans Frank was born in Karlsrule, Germany into middle-class Catholic family (1900). His parents were Karl Frank, a lawyer, and Magdalena (nee Buchmaier). Therecwere three children. He had an elder brother (Karl Jr) and a younger sister (Elisabeth). He ppears to have acquired virulently anti-Semetic beliefs at an early age, but we do not yet know the details.

World War I (1914-17)

Frank ws still a young teenagr when World War I broke out (1914). He joined the German Army when he reached conscription age (1917).


After the War like other young men with right-wing politics, he joined the Freikorps. He thus participated in the suppression of the Communist uprising in Munich.

NAZI Party

Frank was a very early member of the NAZI Party. In fact he joined while the Party was still called the German Worker's Party (1919).

NAZI Beer Hall Putch (1923)

Adolf Hitler decided to use the SA to seize power in what came to be called the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Frank was with Hitler. Like Hitler he was not severely punished. And like many of those with Hitler was rewarded with important offices after the NAZIs seized power.


Frank married 29-year-old secretary Brigitte Herbst (1895-1959) from Forst, Lausitz in Munich (1925). The newlyweds honeymooned in Venetia. They had five children: Sigrid (1927- ), Norman (1928- ), Brigitte (1935- ), Michael (1937- ), Niklas (1939- ). Brigitte appears to have been a rather domineering wife--not the properly submissive NAZI Frau. After Frank's appointment as Govenor General, she took to calling herself "K�nigin von Polen" ("Queen of Poland"). While they had several children, their marriage was not a happy one. Finally Frank asked for a divorce (1942). Brigitte pleaded with him not to divorce her. She is reported to have said, "I'd rather be widowed than divorced from a Reichsminister!" His son Niklas wrote a book about his father who he described as "a slime-hole of a Hitler fanatic". He also questioned the remorse his father expressed at Nuremberg. [N. Frank] Some Germans were offended by a son describing his father thusly.

NAZI Lawyer

After the Beer Hall Putch, Frank studied law. He passed the final state examination (1926). He became the leading NAZI lawyer. The Party's penchant for violence meat that there were countless court cases. Frank personally handled over 2,400 cases. He was by all accounts a compent lawyer and eventually became Adolf Hitler's personal attorney. As Hitler's personal legal advisor, he had closr access to the rising political star than virtually any other individual. And Hitler had legal problems, most steming from his relatives. There was the suiside of his niece. An then there was his nephew, William Patrick Hitler, who finally fled Germany. Frank was privy to all the embarassing details. After the War he described them in detail in the memoirs he wrote that he had occasion to investigated Hitler's family in 1930 after William Patrick Hitler sent a "blackmail letter". He accprdig to Frank threatened to reveal the details of Hitler's ancestry. Frank claimed that Hitler's father was the illegitimate son of a Jew named Leopold Frankenberger. Hitler's grandmother worked as a domestic for the Frankenberger family. According to Frank, Hitler personally informed him that his grandmother had demanded child-support money from the Frankenburgers by threatening to claim his paternity of her illegitimate child. There is no evidence to confirm Frank's sensational claims that Hitler was one-fourth Jewish. his charge has been widely discussed by Historians attempting to assess the roots of his anti-Semitism. It is unclear just how to assess Frank's claims as many of his other statements after the War.

NAZI Seizure of Power

NAZI Party fortunes changed with the Depression (1929). Frank was one of the many NAZI deputies elected (1930).

NAZI Judiciary

Bavarian Minister of Justice

After Hitler was appointed Chancellor, he appointed Frank Minister of Justice in Bavaria (1933). It was in Bavaria, that Himmler set up the first concentration camp--Dachau. Frank as Minister of Justice objected to the extra-legal killings at Dachau. [Housden] Hitler to placate the Army moved against Ernst Rohem and his Sturm Abteilung (SA)--the Night of the Long Knives (1934). The initial plan was to execute 110 SA commanders without any judicial process. Aoparently Frank's intervention was effective. Hitler only allowed 20 executions. It cost Frank his influence with Hitler for a time. Frank's concept of the lawis somewhat difficult to undertand, especially when it came ito conflict with his anti-Semitism. He explained his concept of a judge's proper role, "[A 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." [Evans, p. 73.]

Early NAZI Posts

Frank was a Reich Minister without portfolio (1934). As the most important jurist within the NAZI heirarchy, Hitler appointed him leader of the National Socialist Lawyers Bund (1933-1942). He was a member of the Reichstag. He was President of the International Chamber of Law (1941-42) and of the Academy of German Law. He also had the rank of SS-Obergruppenf�hrer.

German Invasion of Poland (September 1939)

Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland (September 1, 1939). Within 2 weeks the Polish Army was larghely defeated . At this times the Soviet Red Army invaded from the East, leading to the total collapse of Polish resistance. After the invasion, Hitler assifnef Frank as Chief of Administration to Field MarshallGerd von Rundstedt who had commanded the invasion of Poland. We do not know what instructions Hitler gave Frank. This was a substantial shift. Up to this point Frank received judicial appointments of various kinds. It is unclear why Hitler turned to him for this important administrative position. Surely Frank's vicious anti-Semitism must have been a factor.

Government General

Hitler was insistent that Poland should be wiped off the map. After seizing Poland (September 1939), the Nazis created the so-called Generalgouvernement (General Government). This wasNAZI occupied Poland. The term Generalgouvernement was selected as it was the term the Germans used for the administration they set up in the Polish territory seized from the Russians during World War I (1915). The General Government was divided into four districts: Krakow, Warsaw, Radom, and Lublin. The Governor-General, Frank, was located in Krakow. It was an autonomous part of "Greater Germany", similar to the status of occupied Czechoslovakia (Bohemia and Moravia). The NAZI General Government was central Poland. Western Poland (the Polish Corridor, Lodz and Polish Silesia were annexed into the German Reich. Eastern Poland was seized by the Soviets. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler by decree ordered the Polish voivodeships of Eastern Galicia (with a largely Ukrainian population) were added to the Government General as Galicia District. The NAZIs administed the Government General differently than other areas, in part because they could not find ny suitable Polish Quislings. I was not administered as a pupper state like Slovakia and Bohemia-Moravia. The NAZIs were not really interested in finding Poles to collaborate with. The NAZIs avoid even using the term Poland. The purpose of the occupation was to destroy Poland and much of the population that could not be aranized. There were no Polish puppet offucials.

Poland: Govenor General (1939-45)

Hitler appoited Frank Govenor General of Poland. He continued in this post until the Red Army drove the NAZIs out of Poland. As Govenor General he oversaw one of the most brutal occupation regimes in history. An estimated 6.5 million Poles perished during the War, about a quarter of the population. After the War Frank denied responsibility for the Holocaust claiming that the killing was done in secret by the SS. It is difficult to believe that he did not have a full understanding of what transpired, but even if the Holocaust is not considerd, his reign in Poland was horific resulting in the death of over 3 million non-Jewish Poles.

Governor General

Hitler once it control of Germany share of Poland, formally appointed Frank as Governor-General of the General Government for the occupied Polish territories (Generalgouverneur f�r die besetzten polnischen Gebiete) (October 26, 1939). There was no puppet regime established in Poland. Frank ruled as absolute dictator, subject only to the F�hrer's authoriyu. To add to his authority, he was granted the SS rank of Obergruppenf�hrer. The Government General was a term from World War I, the area of Poland that the German Army had seized from Russia. The term was chosen as it effectively eliminated Polandcfrom the map. It included a substantial area of central Poland including Warsaw. It was about half of the German share of pre-War Poland. At the time western Poland was divided into two provinces and annexed to the Reich. Eastern Poland as planed in the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggressuion was seized by the Soviets.

Anti-Jewish measures

Under Frank, the NAZIS in the Government General conducted one of the most brutal occupation regimes in the War. The NAZIs evicted Jews in western Poland to the Government General. Eventually some 3.5 million Jews were concentrated there. Frank as Govenor General personally issued orders which separated Jews from other Poles, stripped them of their property, confined them to ghettos where they were forced to do slave labor and slowly starved. Frank stated in a speech, "We cannot shoot these 3.5 million Jews, we cannot poison them, but we will take measures that will somehow lead to successful destruction; and this in connection with large-scale procedures which are to be discussed in the Reich, the Government-General must become as free of Jews as the Reich ..... We must destroy the Jews wherever we find them and wherever it is at all possible, in order to maintain the whole structure of the Reich... " (December 16, 1941).

The Holocaust

Despite the draconian anti-Semrtic policies he pursued as Governor General, Frank after the War denied that he was responsible or even knew about the Holocaust until late in the War. It is true that the concentration and the death camps in Poland were under the control of SS Commander Heinrich Himmler. It isalso true that the Holocaust was largely conducted in Poland, in both the Government General and the areas of pre-War polabnd to the east. Frank claimed after the War that he was not aware of the mass killings in the camps until late in the war. This is very difficult to believe. He claims that he raised the issue with Himmler who denied knowledge of any mass killings (February 7, 1944). Frank claimed durng the Nuremburg trials that he attempted to resign as Govenor General 14 times, but Hitler would not hear of it. As with much of Frank's writings after the War and testimony at the trials, it is difficult to know what to belief. It is quite pssible he tried to resign and Hitler refused to allow it, although the motives of each are difficult to assess. The claim that he attemted to reign 14 times is implausible at best.

Anti-Polish measures

While the murder of Polish and foreign Jews were the most horific NAZI actions in the Government General, the policies Frank persued against other Poles was terrible enough. The NAZI goal and the policies persued by Frank were designed to compeletly eliminate the Polish nation and Polish national identity. The Government General was essentially to be turned into a slave state which the Reich could use as a source of uneducated, manual labor. Poland's leaders, educated elite, and clergy were to be eliminated. Here the first major NAZI undertaking was the AB Action designed to eradicating Polish intellectual life. Frank oversaw the use of Polish civilians as "forced and compulsory" labor.

NAZI power struggles

Frank was involved in internal struggles within the NAZI Party. Here he made the cardinal era of irritating Hitler as aresult of a series of speeches in Berlin, Vienna, Heidelberg, and Munich. He became involved in a struggle for control of the Government Generl with Friedrich Wilhelm Kr�ger, the State Secretary for Security�head of the SS and the police within the Government General. The result was that Frank lost any real authority outside the Government Generl. He seems to have retained enough of his influece with Hitler to keep his position as Govnor General. Kr�ger was replaced with Wilhelm Koppe.


During Frank's reign as Governor General, Poland was desimated. About 6.5 million Poles perished. Half were Jews, but sometimes lost in the discussion of the Holocaust was that about 3.5 million gentile Poles were also killed. About 0.5 million Polish slodiers perished, most as POWs in NAZI concentration camps. Most of the Poles that died, perished in prisons, death and concentralion camps, executions, and ghettos. Other perished from starvation and ill treatment. The NAZIs looted large quantities of food from the Govrnment Generaland shipped it to the Reich. Poland ws left with 1 million war orphans and over 0.5 million invalids.

Arrest and Nurenberg Trials (1946)

Frank finally fled Poland as the Red Army approached Krakow (January 1945). He returned to Bavaria. American troops captured him at Tegernsee (May 3, 1945). He attempted unsuccessfuly to comit suicide. Frank voluntarily turned over 43 volumes of his personal diaries to the Allies. They became evidence at the Nuremberg Trials. The Allies indicted him for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Frank was one of the principal NAZI leaders at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal War Crimes Trials (November 20, 1945 - October 1, 1946). He reafirmed ghis childhood During the trial he renewed his childhood practice of Catholicism. Like many other individuals in his situation, he claimed a seris of religious relevations. Most of the Nuremberg defendants dedined knowledge of the Holcoaust and justified their actoins as following legitimate orders. Some claim that Frank appeared to be genuinely ashamed at the reveations presented at the trials. He accepted responsibility as a NAZI leader, but rejected any personal connection with the Holocaust. "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 also said, "A thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will not be erased." Frank was found guilty. When asked for any last statement, he replied in a muffled voice, " ...I ask God to accept me with mercy." He was executed by hanging (1946).


Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich in Power (Penguin 2005).

Frank, Niklas. Der Vater: Eine Abrechnung ("The Father: A Settling of Accounts") (1987). It was published in English in 1991 as In the Shadow of the Reich.

Housden, Martyn. Hans Frank's Opposition to the SS: Social Behavior, Consistency and the Power of the Situation (University of Bradford).


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Created: 1:18 AM 4/19/2008
Last updated: 8:57 PM 9/19/2009