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Oral History with Niklas Frank

Niklas Frank
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Niklas Frank is the youngest child of Hans Frank, a high-ranking Nazi official who managed the occupied region of Poland known as the General Government. Born in March 1939, only a few months before his father was appointed Governor-General, Niklas and his four older siblings spent their early childhood in occupied Kraków.

As the Soviet army advanced westward through Poland in 1944, the Frank family fled to Germany, where Hans Frank was captured by American troops in May 1945. In October 1945, the International Military Tribunal held in Nuremberg, Germany sentenced the former Governor-General to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews in killing centers operating in the General Government. Niklas was only seven years old when Hans Frank was executed on October 16, 1946.

In 2016, Niklas granted an interview for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Oral History Archive about his family story.1 In the excerpts of the interview included here, he describes his early childhood memories of his father.2 He also reflects on Hans Frank's past, struggling to understand his motivations for serving the Third Reich. Finally, Niklas touches upon how his family background affected his and his siblings' lives and the way they dealt with it in their adulthood.

Unlike many children and grandchildren of former Nazi officials, Niklas Frank expresses a strong desire to examine his family's role in the crimes of the Third Reich and the Holocaust. His testimony suggests significant reflection and highlights the complicated family legacies for the generations of Germans that followed the Nazi era.3 In the wider context of Germany's efforts to come to terms with the Nazi past, Frank's direct examination of this history can be viewed as somewhat exceptional.4

Niklas Frank has also published several books, including a memoir dedicated to his father, published in English as In the Shadow of the Reich (New York: Knopf, 1991). He also appeared in the documentary films Hitler's Children (2011) and What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy (2015). 

The entire interview is available online.

In "Laying Claim to Painful Truths in Survivor- and Perpetrator-Family Memoirs," scholar Irene Kacandes explored the ways in which a new generation of Germans confronted their family stories through writing memoirs. See Persistent Legacy: The Holocaust and German Studies, ed. Erin McGlothlin and Jennifer M. Kapczynski (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2016), 178–193. See also Harald Welzer, Grandpa Wasn't a Nazi: The Holocaust in German Family Remembrance (American Jewish Comnittee, 2005) for details on knowledge of the histrory of the Third Reich within the context of the German family backgrounds. 

Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or "coming to terms with the past" has formed a major area of scholarly inquiry in the history of Nazi Germany and postwar communist East Germany. For more details, see Jeffrey Herf, Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1999).

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Q: What are your memories of your father? Because you were born in 1939, and what stays in your mind of what you remember of him, directly?

A: There is one short scene which I have in mind, that the earliest one, when I went, as a very small boy, into his bathroom on the [indecipherable] of Wawel. And he was shaving himself, and put something of his foam to my nose. It was the only intimate moment I had with my father.

Q: Really?

A: The next one was after we as – must be February or March in 1945. He has already left the government general, was at the lake of Schliersee in upper Bavaria, and I saw him standing, and his glasses were laying on the little table, and I took the glasses, looked at his eyes, and broke the – the spectacles.

Q: You broke the – you broke his spectacles.

A: Yes.

Q: And do you remember why you did it?

A: My first political deed. He was so surprised, I will never forget, just look at me, and he immediately gave me – in German you call it – in Bavarian [speaks German]. Clapped me into the face, which was okay.

Q: Mm-hm. Why was it o –

A: And there was another scene I just forgot, the most important scene was – it was in the Bellevue, in the castle in [indecipherable], and I was running around the room – round table, and he was always on the opposite side, and I was longing to get into his arms. And I was crying. And he said to me, what do you want? You are a friend here, a stranger? You are not belonging to our family, what do you want? And I cried, and I cried.

Q: Was he teasing you, or was he serious?

A: Nah, he – no, he was – I – it was both of it, because he saw that I’m not his son, but the son of his best friend, Karl Lasch, who was shot by Himmler during the war. He was a governor also in the government general of Poland.

Q: Do these episodes – are these episodes the ones that you remember, or are these episodes not only the ones you remember, but the only real time you were in your father’s presence?

A: For sure I was very often in his presence, but I – I’ve forgotten about it.

Q: Okay.

A: That – as a child.  

------

A: Yeah, you have to remember the scene, when I was very young, and from this point when I was running around the round table, there was a really, healthy distance between my father and me.

Q: When he called you a stranger.

A: Yeah. And don’t let me get into his arms. And this was – it was my s – it saved me. It saved me, because later Mikey defended, like three others, our father, the innocent victim. I never did. So I had an – I had an advance. But he loved – back to Mikey, he loved him very much, and he was very sad when he was hanged. And –

Q: What did – what – what did he do when – when he learned of that? When you say sad.

A: He started to cry. He cried a lot, and ah, he was really – we had to comfort him.

Q: Oh. He was distraught.

A: Yes, he was distraught.

Q: Okay.

A: And later, when he was 22, 23 years old, still very slim, and very sportiv, he started suddenly to drink milk, til – til 13 liters a day.

Q: Thirteen liters a day?

A: And he married, and his wife didn’t know where to hide the milk for the babies, because Mikey was searching all the house, to find all the last milk for the babies, and drank it.

Q: Oh my goodness.

A: And became, as you can imagine, fatter and fatter and fatter. And I think it was because he couldn’t get around with his father.

Q: Okay.

A: It was – the oldest brother, Norman, became an alcoholic. The second – the eldest daughter, Sigrid emigrated with her second husband to South Africa, because they liked very much the apartheid. Michael drank a lot of milk, til he was dying. Brigitte committed suicide because she didn’t want to become older than our father. And who is still alive, and very happy? Niklas.

Q: And you put it down to the favor, from the very beginning, that your father did you when he wouldn’t take you in his arms.

A: I – I would say so. I would say so. I may – maybe at – and I’m very, very happy that he was hanged. I am completely against death penalty, but in this case, he had earned it. And imagine he would have survived? He would have poisoned my brain, when you are young. That’s not easy, to live with a guy who was so well educated as my father was.

Q: Okay. We’ll come to that. We’ll come to that.

A: So –

Q: I’m still – I’m still in the early years –

A: Conversations are always round.

Q: Yes, yes.

A: Don’t be a German interviewer, one card after the other.

Q: Although I’ve read some of the articles that were written, some of them are very, very good, very detailed. Very, very good –

A: Oh yeah. I had to rewrite them.

Q: You said when you were little, and he didn’t take you in his arms and – in this Schloss Bellevue, were – you were stunned. Is that right? How come he doesn’t do it, I’m being rejected? And that’s the feeling you had of distance? Is this what I’m trying to understand?

A: I – I would say I don’t have the same sentence had – in my brain.

Q: Yeah.

A: You – you notice it.

Q: You feel it, yeah.

A: You feel it, and you – you have only two possibilities. You endure it, or you are broken. And with me I was happy that I could endure it. Maybe because of Mikey, because I was very happy with Mikey. Maybe because of Hilde(ph), because I was very happy also with Hilde. Maybe because of all the others around being so experienced, because of my little car, because of all what I experienced. Becaut of –because of killing fishes, and killing birds around the lake of Schliersee. A lot of other thing were good for me.

Q: Okay.

A: But it was a distant which survived everything. Also, you asked for my mother.

Q: Yeah.

A: When my father was hanged, my mother – that was the 16th of October in 1946. We were in the kinderheim.

Q: You were in – uh-huh –

A: And – at this time. And my mother visited us, Gitty(ph), Mike(ph) and me, and she had spring clothes, full of color, and like it was spring, but it was late of autumn.

Q: Yeah, it’s October.

A: And she took us to a walk, and told us that now our father is dead, and he is in heaven. And for me it was just information, I was – I knew it already, because we – when we visited him last time, I knew that he will be hanged. So for me it was quite a confirmation. 

Q: You knew because someone told you?

A: No, no. And so – and Mikey was starting to cry, and also Gitty(ph) – Brigitte was starting to cry. And my mother said to them, why do you cry? Your father is happy in heaven now, and look at Niki(ph), he also don’t cry, and then he pressed my hand and said, why are you not crying? And so, just as I – the distant. I don’t have a personal – I had no personal feeling, like. And by the way, I always was very pragmatic in my life. Now I knew the next time we will see our mother, she will tell us that our father is dead.

Q: You knew it, but no adult had told you that this would be.

A: Well, in the summer of ’46, his lawyer, Dr. Zeidel(ph) came to our family and said, Mrs. Frank, there is no chance. He will get the death penalty, for sure. The proofs against him are so magnificent, are so unbelievable, and he couldn’t do any –

Q: You were – you were in earshot of this?

A: It was also – it was – I knew it then. I know it was connecting with the visit of Mr. Zeidel(ph). And everybody else, also my brother Norman, and so – so we talked to each other about it. I don’t know exactly the conversations any more. But I knew that when the invitation co – came in September, we had to go – September ’46, we have to go to the prison to visit our father. It was the first time after he was arrested, on the fourth of May in 1945. I knew that will be my last visit to see my

father alive.

Q: So it’s actually the first and the last visit –

A: Yes.

Q: – for you, and it was you and all of his children, and your mother.

A: Yes, yes.

Q: And it was – and it’s because Mr. Zeidel(ph) had come to your home, and the children talked about it with one another, that you were already aware.

A: Yes, also from my mother.

Q: Okay, so she had told you about this?

A: No, it’s – then I was six – six and seven years old.

Q: Yeah.

A: I can’t repeat you conversations.

Q: Of course, of course.

A: I know only that I knew he will get the death penalty, and it will be over. So that was – I – I can’t repeat anything. But I know then from Norman also, which I talked to him a lot during our life, that it was Zeidel’s(ph) visit who ended all our hopes – or their hopes, not my hope – that he will survive. And by the way, whenever I was already in school, and I came to school in the autumn of ’45. And the Nuremberg trial was broadcasted. Every evening there was one hour they talked about the day. And everybody, because we knew each other, everybody in the family of the other children, the parents of them, they’re talking about it. Also Hans Frank was in the prison in Nuremberg, and that’s this big trial. And the children in my school sometimes said to me, one of them, that, hi Niki(ph), you know now your father will be hanged. And I said yes. So, it was some – it wasn’t cruel. They knew it.

Q: It was common knowledge.

A: It was common knowledge, yes.

Q: Okay. I want to – I’ll jump ahead, and then I’ll move back.

A: Like me.

Q: But I remember in your book, you – you say afterwards, that your Aunt Margo(ph) had se –

A: Margot(ph).

Q: – had séances where she would communi –

A: No, no, this is my Tante Marta(ph).

Q: Tante Marta(ph) would have sans – séances –

A: Don’t mix my aunts.[laughter]

Q: My – my sincere apologies. My sincere apologies. How could I? How could I?

Okay. So Tante Marta(ph) knew how to speak to the dead, yeah? And she would have séances, and in those first months afterwards, your mother participated in them. And lo and behold there were – there was communication with your father, yes? In these séances. And then your uncle passed away, and then that stopped.

A: He committed suicide.

Q: Yeah.

A: He threw himself under a train.

Q: And why did he do that, by the way?

A: Because of his wife. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Q: You don’t know.

A: She was a little bit – he was crazy.

Q: Okay.

A: He was out of his brain, he also was running along the main street in Munich, Kaufingerstrasse, and throwing stones into the windows. And my Aunt Marta(ph) was running by, and to – to stop him as well. He was –

Q: So maybe he was mentally ill?

A: Yes, he was, for sure.

Q: Okay. But what I wanted to say with this, is that there is a section where you write, that when the communications with your father ceased – that is, you kept – you know, in the séance, they kept wanting to bring his spirit up, you yourself tried to do so. I think it was, you know, if Uncle Julius was a butterfly, then you were seeing, was your father here, was your father there. And it ended up with a little dog, that you thought maybe his spirit had rested in the little dog?

A: Yes, but was – was more on the funny side, in the – in this book. This, with the – with the butterfly is correct. It wasn’t me, but it was Tante Marta(ph) –

Q: That’s right.

A: – she was sitting in the English garden, and suddenly Uncle Julius came along

as a butterfly.

Q: The butterfly.

A: And the dog also as well, yes.

Q: The reason why I bring it up is that when I read that passage, yes, I know it was supposed to be humorous, but it also gave me a sense of a child who is missing his father, who wonders whether his father is here, his father is there, his father is someplace else.

A: Maybe.

Q: Did you miss him?

A: I didn’t know him. Hm. I’m not sure. I – I would say, more I would say because as a normal child, you are missing your father, it could be, for sure. But it’s not something which haunts me.

Q: Yeah.

A: Or has haunted me. Could be. The good thing was in this time, that a lot of families, they lost their father due to the war. They all were killed in the Wehrmacht. So, it was comparable to other families who – where the children also grew up without a father. The special thing on the Frank family and this, it was like an honor. You were special because your father got a year long trial, and afterwards, he wasn’t shot by a Russian in the war, or by a French, or an English, but he was hanged, so that was special. So –

Q: Prestigious, in a way?

A: In a way, prestigious. We were something special. And, don’t forget, my father was sitting in the first row of the defendants, not in the second one.

Q: Even more special.

A: My mother liked it, my mother, it’s even more special. 

-----

Q: No, no. When did you start really investigating, and reading?

A: It was always, by the way, when I was 22 – when I met my wife first, I was 22 years old, and at first, if you, after the first kisses, you are telling your biography. So I was telling her th – mine, and telling her, once upon a time, I will write about my father. I forgot about it, that I have said this. And I was nearly 50, when I did it, really. I wanted, first subconscious and then full – in full conscious, I said, I don’t want that my parents ruin my life. That’s my life, by God’s plan, or by coincidence, I was born into this family, so I will have my own life as Niklas Frank, and not as the son of – of those two.

Q: Your discussions with your siblings, did they take place over a course of many years?

A: Yes. Well, always we were together. Immediately we were in discussion about our parents. It was always the same.

Q: And can you tell us about what was discussed?

A: It was always discussed, the main topic was, was he innocent, or was he guilty? I had the documents, they had nothing. They had just her love – their love. I had no love, but I had the documents.

Q: And they didn’t have any desire to read any of those documents?

A: They have read it. I know from the children of Michael, for instance, who was an ardent defender of the innocence of our father, he read this – two German scientists gave out the shortcut of the ’42 volumes of this Dienstag buch. It was that size. And he read it and – during the holiday. And his sons have seen him sitting all days long, very, very sad, at the beach, reading this. But he never opened up to say what I have just said. It’s so unbelievable. He must have read the same thing that I quoted before. They are in there. But he was always defending him.

Q: So – 

A: And we are told that they knew more about different situations in the family.

They were telling them, laughing about it, and I was very interested in – to hear all this, what I don’t know because I was the youngest one. It was always very funny when we were together. Always – also when we are struggling against each other, we never lost our – all right, we’ll say we never lost our love.

Q: Well, that was my question, is what kind of relations you had with each other afterwards?

A: Great. Very good, very good. And when my book came out, my brother Michael attacked me in public, heavily, that I am a liar and nothing is true what I have written, and all this kind of stuff. But we decided, you can do this, I’ll do – go my way, and we have nice children, so we don’t let destroy our personal relationship.

And that was a good idea.

Q: And what about –

A: And it worked.

Q: And what about – you said Brigitte, your sister, Gitty(ph), what ha –

A: Gitty(ph), ah, Gitty(ph), she always was very funny when we were together.

She was a – was a funny [indecipherable]

Q: But you said –

A: But then she – you don’t have to forget, we all had a profession, so we were not every weekend together. It was two or three times in a year.

Q: But she took her own life.

A: She took her own life, yes.

Q: And why?

A: She had cancer, but as the doctors told me is she could have survived about five, six, seven years. But she has written in her diary when she was 16 years old, I don’t want to became older than Fatti(ph) – our father. And this was a self-fulfilling promise.

Q: Prophecy.

A: Which she did.

Q: Did she have children?

A: And she did it in an awful, very awful manner. She had from different – two different husbands, two sons. And with – from the second husband, her son, he was eight years old when she committed suicide, and she did it the following way. She took this eight year old boy into her bed in the evening. Told him, now it’s nice day, let’s sleep together. So he slept during the night, and when he woke up, his mother was lying beside him, dead. Because she committed with lot of tablets and alcohol, and what – what a gruesome, what – unbelievable for this poor child. I don’t understand.

Q: Did – did this burden, was it visited on your children, the other generation, the children of your siblings?

A: I don’t know the word burden.

Q: All right.

A: If you acknowledge something, you – you – mostly you are like me. When I think of my father, when I think of the victims, and when I think of what he could have done to – to leave his job –

Q: Yeah.

A: – and to go into the inner immigration, that’s for – I’m always furious about him. Still furious. Why has he done it? But it’s not a burden.

Q: Then maybe I’m choosing the wrong word, but nevertheless, it’s an influence.

A: For sure it’s an influence.

Q: It’s – it was an influence, and it was something that became part of your life.

A: I never – I never had a father who was a carpenter, or the engineer, or a teacher.

Q: Yeah.

A: It was always this bloody Hans Frank.

Q: And so my question still stays. Was the third generation affected by who he was?

A: For sure. The best way I did for my daughter, which she told in an interview – I was really surprised – she said that my father build around me, a wall, because of what he has written, and what he has done. But he doesn’t mean it the way he build up a wall that I don’t know anything. On the other hand, that I can live secured. I know everything, what my father found out about my grandfather, so I – I can lead my own life, my happy life.

Q: That’s a huge thing.

A: I was very satisfied when I heard this.

Q: Yeah.

A: She never said it to me.

Q: Yeah. But it’s a huge thing for a child to feel that.

A: Well, she said it when she was grown up. 

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 2016.104.1
Date of Interview
June 6, 2016
Time Selection 7:23–11:38, 40:50–44:08, 2:20:09–2:27:44
Interviewee
Niklas Frank
Interviewer
Ina Navazelskis
Language(s)
English
Location
Washington, DC
Reference Location
Kraków, Poland
Interview Type Oral History
How to Cite Museum Materials