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Hans Frank
Hans Frank
Governor-General of the General Government

In office
26 October 1939 – January 1945
Personal details
Born Hans Michael Frank
(1900-05-23)23 May 1900
Karlsruhe, Baden, Germany
Died 16 October 1946(1946-10-16) (aged 46)
Nuremberg, Germany
Nationality German
Political party National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)
Spouse(s) Brigitte Herbst (married 1925)
Religion Roman Catholic

Hans Michael Frank (23 May 1900 – 16 October 1946) was a German lawyer who worked for the Nazi party during the 1920s and 1930s. After Hitler's ascension to power in 1933, Frank became Nazi Germany's chief jurist and Governor-General of occupied Poland's 'General Government' territory. During his tenure (1939–1945), he instituted a reign of terror against the civilian population, systematic plunder and brutal economic exploitation and became directly involved in the mass murder of Polish citizens of both Jewish and non-Jewish background. At the Nuremberg trials, he was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and was executed.

Pre-war career

Frank was born in Karlsruhe to Karl Frank, a lawyer, and his wife, Magdalena (née Buchmaier). He had an older brother, Karl Jr., and a younger sister, Elisabeth. He joined the German army in 1917, during World War I. After the war he served in the Freikorps under Franz Ritter von Epp's command, and then joined the German Worker's Party (which soon evolved into NSDAP), in 1919. He was one of the party's earliest members.

Frank studied law (he passed the final state examination in 1926) and 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. One, 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!"[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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 promient member),[4] both at the Dachau concentration camp and during the Night of the Long Knives.

Frank's view of what the judicial process required should not be exaggerated:

[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.[5]

From 1934, Frank was Reich Minister Without Portfolio.

Wartime career

Ruler of occupied Poland

In September 1939 Frank was assigned as Chief of Administration to Gerd von Rundstedt in the German military administration in occupied Poland. From 26 October 1939, following the end of the invasion of Poland, Frank was assigned Governor-General of the occupied Polish territories (Generalgouverneur für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete), controlling 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). He was also granted the SS rank of Obergruppenführer.

Frank oversaw the segregation of the Jews into ghettos and the use of Polish civilians as "forced and compulsory" 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 with Wilhelm Koppe.

On 16 December 1941, Frank spelt 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."[6]

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.[7]

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 Krakow failed. A special train with Frank traveling to Lviv was derailed after an explosive device discharged but no one was killed.[8][9]

The General Government was the location of four of the six extermination camps. 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 in 1944. 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.


Hans Frank took an avid interest in chess. He not only possessed an extensive library of chess literature but was also a good player. He received the Ukrainian chess grandmaster Efim Bogoljubow at Wawel castle. Frank was a patron of General Government chess tournaments (1940–1944). On 3 November 1940 he organized a chess congress in Krakow. Six months later he announced the establishment of a chess school under Bogoljubow and the World Chess Champion, Dr. Alexander Alekhine, and he visited a chess tournament in October 1942 at the "Literary Café" in Krakow.[10]

Capture and trial

Frank (center, wearing a glove after an unsuccessful suicide attempt shortly after his arrest) at the Nuremberg trial, with Alfred Jodl and Alfred Rosenberg

Hans Frank as a defendant before the International Military Tribunal

Frank was captured by American troops on 3 May 1945, at Tegernsee in southern Bavaria. He was manhandled and beaten, walking the gauntlet of American soldiers, and because of that, he tried to cut his own throat; two days later, he lacerated his left arm while attempting to slit his wrists in a second unsuccessful suicide attempt. 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 renewed the faith of his childhood, Roman Catholicism, and claimed to have 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.[11] 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 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."[12] He and Albert Speer were allegedly the only defendants to show remorse for their war crimes.[13] At the same time he accused the Allies, especially the Soviets, of their own wartime atrocities. The former Governor-General of Poland was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity on 1 October 1946, and was sentenced to death by hanging. Frank viewed his sentence as a form of atonement for his sins.

The death sentence was carried out on 16 October by 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.[14]

Hans Frank's corpse after his hanging

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."[14]


While awaiting execution, he wrote his memoirs. 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.[15] 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."[16]

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.[17][18][19][20] 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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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".[24] But 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".[25]


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:

  • Sigrid Frank (born 13 March 1927, Munich - d. in South Africa)
  • Norman Frank (born 3 June 1928, Munich - d. 2010)
  • Brigitte Frank (born 13 January 1935, Munich – 1981)
  • Michael Frank (born 15 February 1937, Munich – 1990)
  • Niklas Frank (born 9 March 1939, Munich)

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!"[26]

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.[27]

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.[28]

In literature

Curzio Malaparte, an Italian writer who during the war also served as a reservist Italian army officer, and unofficial diplomat because of his ties with Germany, wrote extensively in his 1944 opus "Kaputt!" on Frank and the convivial dinners the Governor held in his mansions outside Warsaw and Cracow for Malaparte and other guests. He also mentions that Frank was a capable piano player.


In a 1940 interview in the Völkischer Beobachter:

In Prague, big red posters were put up on which one could read that seven Czechs had been shot today. I said to myself, 'If I had to put up a poster for every seven Poles shot, the forests of Poland would not be sufficient to manufacture the paper.'[29]
A thousand years will pass and still Germany's guilt will not have been erased.[30]
There is still one statement of mine which I must rectify. On the witness stand I said that a thousand years would not suffice to erase the guilt brought upon our people because of Hitler's conduct in this war. Every possible guilt incurred by our nation has already been, completely wiped out today, not only by the conduct of our war-time enemies towards our nation and its soldiers, which has been carefully kept out of this Trial, but also by the tremendous mass crimes of the most frightful sort which-as I have now learned-have been and still are being committed against Germans by Russians, Poles, and Czechs, especially in East Prussia, Silesia, Pomerania, and Sudetenland. Who shall ever judge these crimes against the German people?"[31]

Portrayal in the media

Hans Frank has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions.[32]

  • Hans Schwarz Jr. in the 1954 West German film Geld aus der Luft
  • Lothar Bellag in the 1968 East German television miniseries Wege übers Land.
  • Voja Miric in the 1971 Yugoslavian television production Nirnberski epilog
  • Jerzy Duszyński in the 1976 Polish film Ocalić miasto
  • John Baileydisambiguation needed in the 1978 United States television production Holocaust
  • Robert Austin in the 1984 United States television production Pope John Paul II
  • Frank Moore in the 2000 Canadian/U.S. T.V. production Nuremberg
  • Matt Craven in the 2005 Polish television production Karol, un uomo diventato Papa
  • Andreas Conrad in the 2005 German T.V. miniseries Speer und Er.
  • Harald Posch in the 2005 Italian/U.S./Polish television production Pope John Paul II
  • Will Keen in the 2011 BBC production The Man Who Crossed Hitler

See also


  1. Evans, Richard J. (2004). The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Press, p. 179. ISBN 978-1-59420-004-5
  2. Wheeler-Bennett, John (1967). The Nemesis of Power, Macmillan: London, p. 216.
  3. Wheeler-Bennett, John (1967). The Nemesis of Power, Macmillan: London, pp. 216–220.
  4. See Martyn Housden, Hans Frank's Opposition to the SS: Social Behavior, Consistency and the Power of the Situation, University of Bradford.
  5. Quoted in Evans, Richard J. (2005). The Third Reich in Power. Penguin Press, p. 73. ISBN 978-1-59420-074-8
  6. Speech by Frank to his senior officials, 16 Dec 1941, repr. in: Office of Chief Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality, OCCPAC, quoted in A. Polonsky, The Jews in Poland and Russia, Volume III, 1914 to 2008, (2012) p.434
  7. From the transcript of his cross-examination during his trial. See Testimony of Frank at Nuremberg TMWC, XII, p. 20
  8. Wroński, T. (1974). Kronika okupowanego Krakowa. Wydawnictwo Literackie, p. 320.
  9. Dąbrowa-Kostka, S. (1972). W okupowanym Krakowie. Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej, pp. 160–167.
  10. "Hans Frank and Chess" by Edward Winter
  11. Hans Frank case for de defence at Nuremberg trials
  12. From the transcript of his cross-examination during his trial. See Testimony of Frank at Nuremberg
  13. Gilbert, G. M. (1995). Nuremberg Diary. De Capo Press, p. 19. ISBN 978-0-306-80661-2
  14. 14.0 14.1 See Smith, "The Execution of Nazi War Criminals"
  15. Rosenbaum, Ron (1998). Explaining Hitler, New York: Random House, pp. 21–22.
  16. Dieter Schenk (2006). Frank: Hitlers Kronjurist und General-Gouverneur, p. 65. ISBN 978-3-10-073562-1: "Dass Adolf Hitler bestimmt kein Judenblut in den Adern hatte, scheint mir aus seiner ganzen Art dermaßen eklatant bewiesen, dass es keines weiteren Wortes bedarf," (p. 330 of Frank's memoirs published in 1953 as Im Angesicht des Galgens. Deutung Hitlers und seiner Zeit aufgrund eigener Erlebnisse und Erkenntnisse).
  17. "Hatte Hitler jüdische Vorfahren?". Holocaust-Referenz. 
  18. "Was Hitler part Jewish?". The Straight Dope. 9 April 1993. 
  19. "Was Hitler Jewish?". Jewish Virtual Library. 
  20. Rosenbaum, Ron (1998). Explaining Hitler, New York: Random House, pp. 24–25.
  21. Rosenbaum, Ron (1998). Explaining Hitler, New York: Random House, p. 21.
  22. Rosenbaum, Ron (1998). Explaining Hitler, New York: Random House, pp. 21 & 30–31.
  23. Rosenbaum, Ron (1998). Explaining Hitler, New York: Random House, p. 30.
  24. Rosenbaum, Ron (1998). Explaining Hitler, New York: Random House, p. 31.
  25. Rosenbaum, Ron (1998). Explaining Hitler, New York: Random House, p. 25.
  26. "Hans Frank – Pre-war career, Wartime career, Quotation, Fiction and film," in Cambridge Encyclopedia, Vol. 32. Retrieved 20 January 2008
  27. See Frank, Niklas (1991). In the Shadow of the Reich. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-58345-7. See also Susan Benesch's Review in Washington Monthly, November 1991
  28. Niklas Frank, Hitler's Children, 2012 documentary
  29. Date of publication was 6 June 1940. Cited in Davies, N. (2003) Rising '44. Macmillan, London. p.84 ISBN 978-0-333-90568-5. A slightly different translation is given by Czapski, J. (1987). The Inhuman Land. London: Polish Cultural Foundation, p. 306. ISBN 978-0-85065-164-5: The occasion was a widely distributed proclamation in Czechoslovakia announcing the execution of seven Czech students. This is what he said: 'If I had to order a distribution of posters announcing such an event every time I order a shooting of seven Poles, there would not be enough trees in the Polish forests to supply the necessary paper.'
  30. William L. Shirer. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, foreword. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1960.
  31. Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 22: Saturday, 31 August 1946. p. 385:
  32. "Hans Frank (Character)". Retrieved 1 June 2008. 

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