Hans Frank was a senior Nazi official for most of the duration of the Third Reich. Up to the start of World War Two Frank was one of the leading legal figures in the Nazi hierarchy and became the legal advisor to Adolf Hitler. However, it is Hans Frank’s association with the government of part of Poland during World War Two for which he is most remembered and for which he was executed.
Hans Frank was born on May 23rd 1900. His father was a lawyer and it was seen as a natural course for son to follow father into the profession. However, in 1917, Frank served in the German Army during World War One. He was embittered by the peace process and joined the nationalist Freikorps (Free Corps) movement after the end of the war. They fought the communists in Germany to ensure that the ‘red fever’ from the new communist state of Russia did not engulf the new Weimar Republic. Frank then joined the ultra-nationalist German Workers Party - the original name for the Nazi Party. At this time, the Nazi Party had little support and was short of money. However, it brought him into contact with Hitler as he was one of the earliest card-carrying members of the Nazi Party.
Frank continued to study law and he passed his final exams in 1926. He gave the Nazi Party valuable legal advice and Hitler used him as his personal legal advisor. The Great Depression from 1929 to 1933 saw the rise of the Nazi Party to such an extent that Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Frank found himself serving as the legal advisor to the largest political party in Germany.
His proximity to Hitler brought him rapid promotion once the Nazis had gained effective control of the Reichstag. In 1933, Frank was made Minister of Justice for Bavaria and was also appointed President of the Academy of German Law in the same year. He wanted all issues dealt with in a proper legal manner so that there could be no recourse in future years. Initially he objected to the murders at Dachau as they were not seen as having gone through the appropriate legal proceedings. He also held the same opinions when it came to the Night of the Long Knives. While the latter clearly had Hitler’s seal of approval, Frank felt safe enough to voice his concern about the lack of legality with regards to the whole event. Hitler justified the killings by saying that for 24 hours he alone was the law in Nazi Germany and therefore the killings were legal. It was not something that Frank is thought to have argued against – Hitler had no qualms about killing an old comrade like Röehm, so Frank’s long time association with Hitler was no guarantee of his personal safety. It is probably no coincidence that Frank went on to say that Hitler’s word had to be considered law.
In 1934, Frank was made Minister without Portfolio. This gave him a senior position within the Nazi hierarchy but with no specific department to run. Effectively, he gave advice to men who held high positions within the Nazi Party. But as each man seems to have wanted to create their own power base, it is doubtful if his advice was ever taken on board.
World War Two completely changed the part Frank played within the Nazi administration. If after the war he had been tried for his crimes committed between January 1933 and August 1939, it is doubtful that he would have been sentenced to death. But the work he did in Poland condemned him to the hangman’s noose.
On September 1st 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. As the first country to suffer the impact of Blitzkrieg, defeat did not take long. Part of Poland was absorbed by Nazi Germany and was seen as being of that country. The Treaty of Versailles had removed part of eastern Germany and handed it to the new Poland. As far as Hitler was concerned, Germany was merely reclaiming land that had been illegally taken from Germany in 1919. However, this was not all of Poland. What was not absorbed into Nazi Germany was known as the General Government – about 50% of the country. This area was handed to Frank to administer and to go with this position he was made an Obergruppenfűhrer in the SS.
It was for crimes committed in the General Government that Frank was to pay with his life. Frank oversaw the creation of the ghettoes and the removal of Jews to these ghettoes. He initiated the arrest of the Polish upper class and Polish intellectuals regardless of their religion as he saw them as a potential threat to his authority in the General Government. He used non-Jewish Poles for forced labour. Four of the six extermination camps used during the Holocaust were built in the Greater Government. At the Nuremburg Trials, Frank claimed not to have known about these camps until 1944 but had said in public: “I must ask you to rid yourself of pity. We must annihilate the Jews.”
However, he found himself involved in a power struggle with the head of General Government police, Friedrich Krűger, as to who had the final say in the General Government. As Governor General, Frank clearly believed that he had. However, he no longer had the immediate support of Hitler who had been angered by some of the speeches that Frank had made.
As the Red Army swept west across Eastern Europe, Frank fled the General Government. On May 3rd 1945, he was arrested by the Americans in southern Bavaria. On two occasions while in custody he tried to commit suicide but failed. For a man who believed in his own innocence, it was a curious and desperate thing to do. He protested that he was innocent of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials - so why attempt suicide twice within two days if this was the case? The evidence against Frank was overwhelming. As an example, it was customary for the Nazis to put up a list of names of those executed within a certain area as a warning to others. Frank had publicly boasted that there were not enough trees in the General Government to cut down to make the paper required to list all of those people he had had killed in his capacity as Governor General.
On October 1st 1946 Hans Frank was sentenced to death by hanging. His execution was carried out on October 16th 1946.