Jeremy Havardi recalls his encounter with the son of Hans Frank, legal adviser to Hitler.
What must it feel like to have a parent responsible for truly hideous crimes? Such a question has been challenging 75-year-old Niklas Frank throughout his life.
His father, Hans Frank, served as Hitler’s legal adviser and was in charge of Poland’s ‘General Government’ for the duration of the World War II. Hans Frank therefore had considerable responsibility for the murder of millions of Polish Jews, resulting in his execution at Nuremberg in 1946.
Frank the son has made no secret of how he feels about his father. In the eyes of his son, Hans Frank was a criminal because “he knew exactly what was going on in Sobibor, Madjanek, Belzec and Treblinka” and was happy when Hitler refused his resignation requests.
In 1987 Frank, by then an established journalist, wrote a book, Der Vater – eine Abrechnung (The Father – a Revenge), which stunned Germany. In provocative and sometimes highly graphic detail, he confronted his father with the terrible legacy of his crimes.
Hans Frank is often referred to as a “monster” but his son insists that is incorrect. The word ‘monster’ would excuse him, he says, suggesting perhaps that he was “out of his brain”. On the contrary, “he was fully aware of what he was doing all his lifetime” and was a highly forceful character.
Hans Frank was also a serial liar, telling falsehoods “almost anytime he opened his mouth”. At Nuremberg, his claim of knowing nothing about the death camps was found to be untrue, based on a careful reading of his voluminous diaries.
His son says if he could have just one last meeting with his lying father, he “wouldn’t kill him personally” but confront him with all the files in his possession and “then hand him over to justice”. This would be the son’s revenge. Frank has also talked about the difficult relationship he had with his mother. “She was the strongest woman I ever came across,” he says. Though she was a greedy person who “enjoyed being the queen of Poland”, he says he “loved her in a desperate way”.
Perhaps one reason is that she “never glorified the name of the Frank family”, Frank goes on: “She never told me or our siblings that her husband was an innocent man being hanged.”
Frank has spoken out for many years against the evils of Nazism, Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. He has addressed German audiences many times and offers a slightly gloomy perspective. “The majority of Germans don’t want to hear anymore. They should acknowledge what the Germans have done” – but “they are looking for the slightest thing to escape”.
Frank says he is worried by the resurgent hatred of Jews in Europe and that Germany is no exception, despite the legacy of the Holocaust. He fears that if Germans again experience years of devastating economic problems, as they did in the 1930s, they may point accusing fingers at the Jews and say “they’re guilty, they are the ones who are strangling our German nation”.
It’s a sobering thought, given that anti-Semitism shows no sign of abating. History may not repeat itself but, as Mark Twain famously observed, it does rhyme.