Hans Frank

Generalgouverneur and Reichsminister

hans frank in poland344

Hans Frank – centre in the General Gouvernement

Hans Frank was born in Karlsruhe on 23 May 1900, the son of a barrister who had been struck off for corruption. After a brief spell in the Freikorps, Hans Frank joined the Deutsche Arbeits Partie (NSDAP) and then in September 1923 became a storm trooper. In November of the same year he participated in the march on the Feldernhalle, in Munich, the so-called putsch by Hitler that failed. In 1926 he passed the State bar examinations and began to practise as a lawyer in Munich. In the intervening years before Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, he defended Adolf Hitler in several hundred actions, emerging as the star defence counsel of the NSDAP and head of its legal office in 1929.

Already Hitler’s personal lawyer, he was awarded with a series of high offices following the Nazi rise to power in 1933. He was appointed the Bavarian Minister of Justice, Reich Leader of the NSDAP, Reich Minister of Justice, President of the Academy of German Law, as well as the International Chamber of Law and Frank became Reich Minister without Portfolio in 1934. In spite of these imposing titles, Hans Frank never belonged to Hitler’s innermost circle of power, perhaps because of his profession. Hitler despised lawyers and detested Frank’s middle class origins. Additionally Frank had raised formal objections at the time of Ernst Röhm’s murder in 1934, which led to a decline in Frank’s political influence.

Frank’s dreams of resurrecting German popular law, his misunderstanding of the relations between Nazi application of ideals and the goals of the Party programme, and his insecurity and romantic idealism prevented him from playing a leading role in the Nazi hierarchy. Nevertheless, following the conquest of Poland in 1939, Hans Frank was appointed Governor-General and made responsible for civil administration in the ‘vandal Gau’ as he called it. Frank treated the Poles as slaves of the Greater German Reich, to be mercilessly subordinated, exploited and wiped out as a national entity. The cream of Poland’s intelligentsia were exterminated, the country’s art treasures were ransacked for private gain, and while the Poles starved, Frank set up tables in extravagant luxury, ruling his vassal kingdom from the Wawel Castle in Krakow. He boasted to a Nazi newspaper correspondent;

‘If I put up a poster for every seven Poles shot, the forests of Poland would not be sufficient to manufacture the paper for such posters.’

Frank’s policy towards the Jews of Poland was even more brutal and at the end of 1940 this speech demonstrates his hatred:

‘The winter here will be a hard winter. If there is no bread for the Poles, there should be no complaints..... make short work of the Jews. What a pleasure, finally, for once to be able to tackle the Jewish race physically. The more that die the better.’

In a notorious speech on 16 December 1941, he declared:

I ask nothing of the Jews except that they should disappear. They will have to go..... we must destroy the Jews wherever we meet them and whenever opportunity offers so that we can maintain the whole structure of the Reich here.

We can’t shoot these 3.5 million Jews, and we can’t poison them, but we can take steps which, one way or another, will lead to extermination, in conjunction with the large scale measures under discussion in the Reich.’

Subsequently, Hans Frank complained that the extermination policy, which he approved of in principle divested him of valuable labour-power and he found himself at loggerheads with the SS and Police authorities in Poland – especially SS- Obergruppenführer Friedrich Wilhelm Kruger, the Higher SS and Police Leader East, who eroded his authority at every given opportunity. In July 1942 following the execution of his friend Dr. Carl Lasch – First President of the German Law Academy on embezzlement charges, Frank in a lecture tour of German universities called for a return to constitutional rule. Within a month he was stripped of all his Party honours and legal offices, being replaced as Reichskommissar of Justice by Otto Thierack though he remained as Governor- General of Poland, a post that Hitler regarded as the most unpleasant he could give anyone.

After the fall of the Third Reich, the ‘slayer of Poles’ and the brutal exterminator of Jews was brought to trial at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg, abjectly confessing his guilt, pleading contrition and declaring that ;

A thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will not be erased.

By this time Frank had become reconciled to the Catholic Church and even attacked Hitler as a betrayer of millions of Germans. He was executed as a war criminal in Nuremberg prison on 16 October 1946


R.S. Wistrich, Who’s Who in Nazi Germany, published by Routledge, London and New York 1995

M Wildt, An Uncompromising Generation, published by the University of Wisconsin Press 2009

Professor Matthew Feldman - Teesside University

Photograph - Chris Webb Archive

© Holocaust Historical Society 2014