The German invasion of Poland in September of 1939 caused countless repercussions that spanned the duration of World War II and the years that followed. It was Adolf Hitler’s first attempt at overtaking a nearby nation – and it proved successful, solidifying the power of the Third Reich in Europe while the rest of the world pondered what was to follow.
Though the taking of Poland rendered Hitler, and his control of Germany, a place within history, it also increased the position and power of another member of the Nazi party – that of Hans Frank, the lawyer who earned a name for himself as a German lawyer and as Hitler’s personal attorney. Hans Frank was much more powerful, and much more influential, than the average member of Hitler’s entourage.
During his life, and throughout his service under Hitler, he became both a recognizable figure within the Nazi regime and a wanted murderer as the man responsible for killing countless Polish citizens.
Hans Frank did not begin his life as a murderer; rather, he lived simply as the middle child in a family of three children, born to Karl and Magdalena Frank in Karlsruhe, Germany. At the age of 17, Frank enlisted to aid Germany’s army during World War I, seeing no front line combat during his years with the military. When the war ended, he stayed in touch with his army comrades, joining the Thule volkisch society.
Along with his fellow Thule members, Frank became a member of the German Workers’ Party when it first appeared in 1919 – the earliest origins of what would quickly evolve into the Nazi Party. When the Nazi Party became official, Frank joined its ranks in September of 1923. Within just two months of joining, he participated in a failed coup; when unsuccessful, Frank fled to Austria for safety.
As Adolf Hitler continued his rise to power throughout the 1920s in Germany, Hans Frank was hard at work as well. He earned his law degree by the year 1926, passing the state examination that year, and soon after became Hitler’s personal attorney.
With the Nazi Party, and its dictator, quickly gaining ground in Germany, Frank handled all of the regime’s legal issues and counsel; he represented more than 2,400 Nazi legal cases. By the fall of 1930, Frank was serving as the Nazi defense lawyer in the court-martial hearing of three Reichswehr officers charged by the German government for participating in the Nazi party. This incredibly sensational trial garnered great media attention, as Hitler himself took the stand to testify against the nation’s leadership.
Thanks to this trial and Frank’s work on building a strong, sensational defense, the military, and the German people were left sympathizing with the Nazi movement rather than their own government leadership.
This proved a shining moment for Hans Frank – after the trial, he was elected to membership within the Reichstag in 1930 and ascended to the position of Minister of Justice in Bavaria by 1933. That same year, Frank achieved even greater positions within the Nazi regime as head of the National Socialist Jurists Association and President of the Academy of German Law.
While serving in these prestigious and prominent positions, Frank made clear his position on murder: he declared that any killings beyond those handed down from the judicial system would only serve to weaken the German legal system’s power; he even spoke at the Dachau concentration camp, and various other locations, espousing the damage unnecessary murders would cause for legal officials. Despite this, Frank was not one to forgo the Nazi party agenda or its beliefs.
As he himself remarked, Nazi judges existed 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, … is the basis for interpreting legal sources.” Though he claimed to disagree to an extent with the Nazi agenda, his primary purpose was to carry out the Party’s wishes, no matter how he saw fit.
Frank continued to rise through the ranks of Hitler’s regime, obtaining the position of Reich Minster without Portfolio in 1934. By the fall of 1939, Frank earned the role of Chief of Administration to Gerd von Rundstedt, a German military official who oversaw the regime’s rule in occupied Poland.
He lasted just one month in this role; in October of that same year, upon the completion of Hitler’s Polish invasion, Frank was promoted to Governor-General of the newly acquired Polish territories. In this regime role, he controlled the General Government, or the areas of Poland that weren’t immediately absorbed into Germany itself.
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