Bob Schwartz

Tag: Nazi Germany

Hitler’s Lawyer

“Frank was a typical example of the Nazi intellectual gangster. He had joined the party in 1927, soon after his graduation from law school, and quickly made a reputation as the legal light of the movement. Nimble-minded, energetic, well-read not only in the law but in general literature, devoted to the arts and especially to music, he became a power in the legal profession after the Nazis assumed office, serving first as Bavarian Minister of Justice, then Reichsminister without Portfolio and president of the Academy of Law and of the German Bar Association. A dark, dapper, bouncy fellow, father of five children, his intelligence and cultivation partly offset his primitive fanaticism and up to this time made him one of the least repulsive of the men around Hitler. But behind the civilized veneer of the man lay the cold killer. The forty-two-volume journal he kept of his life and works, which showed up at Nuremberg, was one of the most terrifying documents to come out of the dark Nazi world, portraying the author as an icy, efficient, ruthless, bloodthirsty man. Apparently it omitted none of his barbaric utterances.”
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Hitler, like all successful tyrants, subverted the legal system to his own ends. Part of this was finding lawyers willing to switch their allegiance from law and morality to Der Fuehrer. Some switched out of fear, but many switched because they agreed with Hitler’s ideology and were passionate enablers of his plans.

Hans Frank is often called Hitler’s Lawyer. That is precisely how he began his Nazi career, going on to roles as Commissioner of Justice and Reich Law Leader and as Governor General of Poland.

Hans Frank was tried and convicted of war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials. Before his execution, he claimed contrition. Along with other Nazi war criminals, he was executed.

Following are excerpts about Hans Frank from William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.


In the spring of 1930 three young lieutenants, Ludin, Scheringer and Wendt, of the garrison at Ulm were arrested for spreading Nazi doctrines in the Army and for trying to induce their fellow officers to agree that in the case of an armed Nazi revolt they would not fire on the rebels….A week after the Nazi successes in the September elections of 1930, the three subalterns were arraigned before the Supreme Court at Leipzig on charges of high treason. Among their defenders were two rising Nazi lawyers, Hans Frank and Dr. Carl Sack.

But it was neither the lawyers nor the accused who occupied the limelight at the trial, but Adolf Hitler. He was called by Frank as a witness. His appearance represented a calculated risk. It would be embarrassing to disown the three lieutenants, whose activities were proof of the growth of Nazi sentiment in the Army, which he did not want to discourage. It was embarrassing that Nazi efforts to subvert the Army had been uncovered. And it was not helpful to his present tactics that the prosecution had charged the Nazi Party with being a revolutionary organization intent on overthrowing the government by force. To deny that last charge, Hitler arranged with Frank to testify for the defense. But in reality the Fuehrer had a much more important objective. That was, as leader of a movement which had just scored a stunning popular triumph at the polls, to assure the Army and especially its leading officers that National Socialism, far from posing a threat to the Reichswehr, as the case of the Nazi subalterns implied, was really its salvation and the salvation of Germany….

The Civil Service law of April 7, 1933, was made applicable to all magistrates and quickly rid the judiciary not only of Jews but of those whose Nazism was deemed questionable, or, as the law stipulated, “who indicated that he was no longer prepared to intercede at all times for the National Socialist State.” To be sure, not many judges were eliminated by this law, but they were warned where their duty lay. Just to make sure that they understood, Dr. Hans Frank, Commissioner of Justice and Reich Law Leader, told the jurists in 1936, “The National Socialist ideology is the foundation of all basic laws, especially as explained in the party program and in the speeches of the Fuehrer.” Dr. Frank went on to explain what he meant:

There is no independence of law against National Socialism. Say to yourselves at every decision which you make: “How would the Fuehrer decide in my place?” In every decision ask yourselves: “Is this decision compatible with the National Socialist conscience of the German people?” Then you will have a firm iron foundation which, allied with the unity of the National Socialist People’s State and with your recognition of the eternal nature of the will of Adolf Hitler, will endow your own sphere of decision with the authority of the Third Reich, and this for all time.

That seemed plain enough, as did a new Civil Service law of the following year (January 26, 1937), which called for the dismissal of all officials, including judges, for “political unreliability.” Furthermore, all jurists were forced to join the League of National Socialist German Jurists, in which they were often lectured on the lines of Frank’s talk….

Such was the government of the Third Reich, administered from top to bottom on the so-called leadership principle by a vast and sprawling bureaucracy, having little of the efficiency usually credited to the Germans, poisoned by graft, beset by constant confusion and cutthroat rivalries augmented by the muddling interference of party potentates and often rendered impotent by the terror of the S.S.-Gestapo.

At the top of the swarming heap stood the onetime Austrian vagabond, now become, with the exception of Stalin, the most powerful dictator on earth. As Dr. Hans Frank reminded a convention of lawyers in the spring of 1936, “There is in Germany today only one authority, and that is the authority of the Fuehrer.”….

What was left of Poland after Russia seized her share in the east and Germany formally annexed her former provinces and some additional territory in the west was designated by a decree of the Fuehrer of October 12 as the General Government of Poland and Hans Frank appointed as its Governor General, with Seyss-Inquart, the Viennese quisling, as his deputy. Frank was a typical example of the Nazi intellectual gangster. He had joined the party in 1927, soon after his graduation from law school, and quickly made a reputation as the legal light of the movement. Nimble-minded, energetic, well-read not only in the law but in general literature, devoted to the arts and especially to music, he became a power in the legal profession after the Nazis assumed office, serving first as Bavarian Minister of Justice, then Reichsminister without Portfolio and president of the Academy of Law and of the German Bar Association. A dark, dapper, bouncy fellow, father of five children, his intelligence and cultivation partly offset his primitive fanaticism and up to this time made him one of the least repulsive of the men around Hitler. But behind the civilized veneer of the man lay the cold killer. The forty-two-volume journal he kept of his life and works, which showed up at Nuremberg,* was one of the most terrifying documents to come out of the dark Nazi world, portraying the author as an icy, efficient, ruthless, bloodthirsty man. Apparently it omitted none of his barbaric utterances.

“The Poles,” he declared the day after he took his new job, “shall be the slaves of the German Reich.” When once he heard that Neurath, the “Protector” of Bohemia, had put up posters announcing the execution of seven Czech university students, Frank exclaimed to a Nazi journalist, “If I wished to order that one should hang up posters about every seven Poles shot, there would not be enough forests in Poland with which to make the paper for these posters.”

Himmler and Heydrich were assigned by Hitler to liquidate the Jews. Frank’s job, besides squeezing food and supplies and forced labor out of Poland, was to liquidate the intelligentsia. The Nazis had a beautiful code name for this operation: “Extraordinary Pacification Action” (Ausserordentliche Befriedigungsaktion, or “AB Action,” as it came to be known). It took some time for Frank to get it going. It was not until the following late spring, when the big German offensive in the West took the attention of the world from Poland, that he began to achieve results. By May 30, as his own journal shows, he could boast in a pep talk to his police aides of good progress—the lives of “some thousands” of Polish intellectuals taken, or about to be taken.

“I pray you, gentlemen,” he asked, “to take the most rigorous measures possible to help us in this task.” Confidentially he added that these were “the Fuehrer’s orders.” Hitler, he said, had expressed it this way:

“The men capable of leadership in Poland must be liquidated. Those following them… must be eliminated in their turn. There is no need to burden the Reich with this… no need to send these elements to Reich concentration camps.”

They would be put out of the way, he said, right there in Poland.

At the meeting, as Frank noted in his journal, the chief of the Security Police gave a progress report. About two thousand men and several hundred women, he said, had been apprehended “at the beginning of the Extraordinary Pacification Action.” Most of them already had been “summarily sentenced”—a Nazi euphemism for liquidation. A second batch of intellectuals was now being rounded up “for summary sentence.” Altogether “about 3,500 persons,” the most dangerous of the Polish intelligentsia, would thus be taken care of.

Frank did not neglect the Jews, even if the Gestapo had filched the direct task of extermination away from him. His journal is full of his thoughts and accomplishments on the subject. On October 7, 1940, it records a speech he made that day to a Nazi assembly in Poland summing up his first year of effort.

My dear Comrades! …I could not eliminate all lice and Jews in only one year. [“Public amused,” he notes down at this point.] But in the course of time, and if you help me, this end will be attained.

A fortnight before Christmas of the following year, Frank closed a cabinet session at Cracow, his headquarters, by saying:

As far as the Jews are concerned, I want to tell you quite frankly that they must be done away with in one way or another… Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourself of all feeling of pity. We must annihilate the Jews.

It was difficult, he admitted, to “shoot or poison the three and a half million Jews in the General Government, but we shall be able to take measures which will lead, somehow, to their annihilation.” This was an accurate prediction….

Everything possible was squeezed out of Poland by the greedy Nazi conquerors. “I shall endeavor,” said Dr. Frank, the Governor General, “to squeeze out of this province everything that is still possible to squeeze out.” This was at the end of 1942, and in the three years since the occupation he had already squeezed out, as he continually boasted, a great deal, especially in foodstuffs for hungry Germans in the Reich. He warned, however, that “if the new food scheme is carried out in 1943 a half-million people in Warsaw and its suburbs alone will be deprived of food.”

The nature of the New Order in Poland had been laid down as soon as the country was conquered. On October 3, 1939, Frank informed the Army of Hitler’s orders.

“Poland can only be administered by utilizing the country through means of ruthless exploitation, deportation of all supplies, raw materials, machines, factory installations, etc., which are important for the German war economy, availability of all workers for work within Germany, reduction of the entire Polish economy to absolute minimum necessary for bare existence of the population, closing of all educational institutions, especially technical schools and colleges in order to prevent the growth of the new Polish intelligentsia. Poland shall be treated as a colony. The Poles shall be the slaves of the Greater German Reich.

 

American Nazi Rally, Madison Square Garden

This post was drafted a month ago, but I decided that maybe I had been mentioning Nazi Germany too frequently. If you’ve read some of those earlier posts (here and here, for example), you see that I have never made an explicit connection between the current situation and that one.

Now President Obama has been bold enough to speak of this expressly:

“We have to tend to this garden of democracy or else things could fall apart quickly.…That’s what happened in Germany in the 1930s, which despite the democracy of the Weimar Republic and centuries of high-level cultural and scientific achievements, Adolph Hitler rose to dominate. Sixty million people died. . . .So, you’ve got to pay attention. And vote.”

Naturally, the reaction has been swift from Trump apologists—who already hate Obama—claiming that it is heinous to compare Trump to Hitler, and no such death of democracy is in the offing. On the contrary, they say, we are finally on our way to reviving our past glory.

The message in a democracy is inarguable: know your history, pay attention, and vote. Part of not knowing and not paying attention is the delusion that “it can’t happen here.”

Above is a picture of the American Nazi Rally at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939. It was a full house of 22,000 “patriots”, with a giant god-like image of George Washington on stage, thought of as the father of their White Christian America.

Those who tried to disrupt the Madison Square Garden rally were arrested. Which is worse: being silent knowing that something is horribly wrong, or not being believed—actually being arrested—when you speak up?

 

Letting Off Steam: Jokes About Hitler in Nazi Germany

Did German citizens tell jokes about Hitler during the Third Reich? Actual jokes like this:

Hitler and Göring are standing on top of the Berlin radio tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to put a smile on the Berliners’ faces. Göring says, “Why don’t you jump?”

Were these people punished? Did the jokes have any effect?

These are some of the questions addressed in Dead Funny: Telling Jokes in Hitler’s Germany by Rudolph Herzog. Herzog explains:

Contrary to a common myth, targeting Hitler using quips and jokes didn’t undermine the regime. Political jokes were not a form of resistance. They were a release valve for pent-up popular anger. People told jokes in their neighborhood bars or on the street because they coveted a moment of liberation in which they could let off a bit of steam. That was ultimately in the interests of the Nazi leadership. Consequently, the Führer and his henchmen rarely cracked down on joke-tellers and if they did, the punishments were mild – mostly resulting in a small fine. In the last phase of the war when the regime felt threatened by “dissenters,” though, this changed. A handful of death sentences were handed down to joke-tellers, though the true reason for this was rarely their actual “crime.” The jokes were taken as a pretext to remove blacklisted individuals – people the Nazis feared or detested because of who they were rather than because of what they had done. Among others, these included Jews, left-wing artists, and Catholic priests. As I show in my book, a staunch party member could walk free after telling a joke, whereas a known “dissenter” was executed for exactly the same quip.

We can’t deny the significance of laughing and humor during the hardest times, personal and social. Jokes, like other subversive art, have a way of digging deep and even encouraging change. There is the example of the king’s fool, who was allowed to say things that others feared to say. But make no mistake, when the king was unhappy, not even the fool was protected from retribution and punishment.

Tomorrow Belongs to Me

tomorrow-belongs-to-me

There are two outstanding movie moments—one light, one dark—that tell two stories about Nazi Germany.

We will start light, from the movie The Producers (1968). In it, Mel Brooks incorporated an unthinkable stage musical called Springtime for Hitler. The title song-and-dance number mocks the lunatic aspirations and monstrosity of the Third Reich—mockable because just twenty-three years earlier, they had lost the war. It provides the most laughs anyone has provided or will provide on the subject. It is the most audacious thing any movie director has put on film.

Germany was having trouble
What a sad, sad story
Needed a new leader to restore
Its former glory
Where, oh, where was he?
Where could that man be?
We looked around and then we found
The man for you and me

And now it’s
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Deutschland is happy and gay!
We’re marching to a faster pace
Look out, here comes the master race!
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Rhineland’s a fine land once more!
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Watch out, Europe
We’re going on tour!

Springtime for Hitler and Germany!
Winter for Poland and France
Come on, Germans
Go into your dance!

The second, darker vision is from the movie Cabaret (1972). It is set in 1931 Berlin. The characters sit at an outdoor café. A young man in a brown shirt begins singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me. It is a sweet tune at first (“The sun on the meadow is summery warm…”), but as the crowd stands to join in, the song grows belligerent and menacing. We know how the story turns out, and though some may think rehashing it is overdone and almost clichéd, we are chilled each time. Because the threat is never as far as we might think.

The sun on the meadow is summery warm
The stag in the forest runs free
But gathered together to greet the storm
Tomorrow belongs to me

The branch on the linden is leafy and green
The Rhine gives its gold to the sea
But somewhere a glory awaits unseen
Tomorrow belongs to me

Now Fatherland, Fatherland, show us the sign
Your children have waited to see
The morning will come
When the world is mine
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow belongs
Tomorrow belongs
Tomorrow belongs to me