Niklas Frank: exposing the evil crimes of my Nazi leader father

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Content warning: this article contains discussion of antisemitism and the Holocaust

As Niklas Frank points out to me, everyone in Germany has some sort of familial link to someone who served in the Third Reich. The difference for Niklas Frank is that his father, Hans Frank, was no ordinary officer, but was the head of the Nazi government in Poland throughout World War Two, overseeing the deaths of over four million innocent lives.

For the first half of his childhood, Niklas Frank lived at the heart of this Nazi government in Poland, in the home of his father, the Butcher of Poland, as Hans Frank came to be known. Whilst Niklas Frank was enjoying such a wonderful, happy childhood, he tells me he was unaware that countless others his age were suffering immense pain and terror in concentration camps on the same very soil, and that this pain was inflicted under the government of his very own father.

“I didn’t know anything. I remember one visit together with my nurse, and together with my mother and the chauffeur, to the Krakow ghetto. But I didn’t know that this was a ghetto. I was surprised because of all the sad people around, and the sad children my age who were walking around or just staring at me.” When he was older, Niklas Frank asked his childhood nurse, Hilda, about this event, and she confirmed that it was indeed a ghetto that they had visited.

Hans Frank was a Hitler fanatic, someone who, according to his son, loved Hitler more than his own family. Before Hitler became Chancellor, he served as his personal lawyer for many years. Then “after we invaded Poland in 1939, he got the call from the Fuhrer that he should take over as the Governor-General.” Niklas Frank “really very often was thinking why Hitler did this. And the only answer I found was Hitler knew exactly the doggish character of my father. This guy would never make any problems to his programme for instance killing all the Jews around Europe.” This was true, for under Hans Frank’s oversight, over 4 million innocent Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, and others lost their lives at the hand of Nazi brutality in concentration camps. Niklas Frank is adamant that his father “was politically responsible for every killing of anybody on this soil [Poland].”

Hitler knew exactly the doggish character of my father

It was not until adulthood that Niklas Frank became fully aware of these actions, but, from the start, he had a cold, distant relationship with a father who would not recognise him as his own, but rather as a stranger. He even remembers a scene in the castle of Belvedere in Warsaw, in which he was running around the round table, “trying to get into the arms of my father, and I was crying and he was always on the other side, telling me ‘What do you want, you are a little stranger?’” Indeed, as Niklas Frank tells me, his father loved Hitler more than his own family. He was, after all, a Hitler fanatic.

Perhaps Niklas Frank’s most striking memory of his father is his final one. It comes from his visit to the prison at Nuremberg, where his father was on trial for his crimes. “All the siblings, myself, and our mother knew that he will get the death penalty. And I was sitting on the lap of my mother and was looking through the window. Behind, he was sitting beside a white helmet American soldier or a guard, and he was lying to me, saying we will soon celebrate in a happy way Christmas at our house at the lake of Schliersee in Upper Bavaria, and I was thinking ‘Why is he lying? He knows that he will get the death penalty. Why is he lying to me?’ So, it was also the last scene, very disappointing for me.” The young boy was right, his father was going to die. On 1st October 1946, he was found guilty of war crimes and crime against humanity, and was sentenced to death by hanging, which happened a couple of week later. The young boy was now fatherless, and so would be Christmas.

Growing up in post-war Germany, “suddenly we were the family of a mass murderer, and no money was left and no castle was left and suddenly we were very poor, at which [point] I really admired my mother.” The family were plunged into poverty, having been at the pinnacle of the Nazi government in Poland. Now, Niklas Frank’s mother, who was previously the self-described “Queen of Poland”, was thrown to the bottom of German society, and had to make a way through life for the family, and she succeeded in doing so, despite great adversity. Surprisingly, “it was wonderful to grow up as the son of a criminal who was a big Nazi in the new Germany… it was really great when they [former Nazis] found out that I was the son of the ‘innocent’ Hans Frank, they always gave me money or they gave me some meals also, so it was really positive to grow up as the son of this mass murderer.”

The situation right now in my mind in Germany is horrible

Unlike so many other children of senior Nazis, and indeed three of his four siblings, Niklas Frank has never sort to redeem his father, or try to make him seem somewhat respectable. From early on, spurred on by a burning desire to get to the truth, he dug for the truth and found it, and felt the need to tell it to the world, especially since “in all my meetings with other people around Germany – there is still a big, big, antisemitism. And that made me very furious. So I tried harder to find out what kind of a father he really was. And this was ugly in a certain way.” His father’s actions first dawned on Niklas Frank with “the first shock I got, and this shock is still living in me, [which] was in the autumn of 1945, there came newspapers in Bavaria printed by the Americans, and there were a lot of pictures of dead bodies in concentration camps, and also bodies of my young age then, and this gave me a shock.”

He has faced up to the brutal reality of the man and will never allow himself to forget this. I couldn’t help thinking if Niklas Frank had any difficulty in so strongly condemning his father, despite his crimes. After all, as mentioned, so many children of Nazis ignored the evil truth and defended their parents. But he is unequivocal. “It was not so hard… I am not responsible that I was born into this family.”

Throughout our conversation, Frank makes clear that not only does he have an eye on the past, he has an eye on the future, and worries that Germany is in a dangerously similar position as it was before Hitler. He does not believe that Germany has left its bloody past behind, rather “Germany is again being in the same kind as we have been before the Third Reich started… The situation right now in my mind in Germany is horrible.” The fact that Niklas Frank, someone who, as a child, was so intimately connected biologically and experientially to Nazi Germany and has spent his life considering the state of Germany as a journalist, says this, should be food for thought for us all. Niklas Frank is so concerned about the state of Germany today that, in his jacket, he always keeps a photo of his father, after his execution. “Look at him and see him now smiling all over his face because he is not dead, he is back in town, he is back in Germany, he is back influencing the German people with his bloody ideology.”

Suddenly we were the family of a mass murderer, and no money was left and no castle was left

Recently, Niklas Frank built a monument (see the photo), depicting a big crocodile tear, in his garden in his German village, dedicated to those Jewish children, women and men who lost their lives at the hands of such an evil regime. He desperately does not want the memory of what happened to fade into history, since antisemitism is alive in Germany. He wants people to imagine their loved ones in the position of those who died in the Holocaust. “You have to do this, then maybe you get the imagination, one millionth of all the pain we delivered to innocent people.”

Niklas Frank stands out. He stands out because, unlike others in his position, he stood up to what his father did, looked him right in the eye, and condemned his evil crimes. He did not hide, but, governed by a distinct sense of right and wrong, spoke out. Having spent much of his life dealing with, and condemning, the legacy of a father who had a major role in one of the greatest atrocities in the history of humanity, his warnings about the state of Germany today must not be ignored, but must be taken to heart by everyone.

Images: Niklas Frank

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