Berlin, Germany · October 26, 1939

On this date in 1939 in Poland, 56 days after Ger­many in­vaded that coun­try, Dr. Hans Frank, Ger­many’s chief jurist and one of the most vicious pro­ducts of Nazism, was appointed Gover­nor-Gen­er­al of the Gen­er­al Govern­ment—that half of Nazi-occu­pied Poland not directly incor­por­ated into the Reich. It included much of Cen­tral and South­ern Poland, Western Ukraine, as well as the major Polish cities of Warsaw and Kraków.

In a “paci­fi­ca­tion oper­a­tion” named Ausser­ordent­liche Be­friedungs­aktion, or AB-Aktion, during the spring and sum­mer of 1940, Frank approved (on May 16) and over­saw the arrest of more than 30,000 Poles who were sus­pected of en­gaging in “cri­mi­nal [i.e., anti-Nazi] acti­vi­ties.” (Working from lists of names drawn up before the war, some 60,000 Poles were rounded up and mur­dered soon after the Ger­man inva­sion of Poland.) During the 1940 AB-Aktion, which may have been coor­di­nated with the Soviets in Soviet-occu­pied Poland, some 7,000 arrested mem­bers of the Polish poli­ti­cal elite, aris­toc­racy, intel­li­gent­sia, and priest­hood were mas­sa­cred, mostly by auto­ma­tic wea­pons. Other Poles were sent to Ger­man con­cen­tra­tion camps, most notably to the newly created camp of Au­schwitz in an area of Poland that was in­cor­po­rated into the Reich, as well as Sach­sen­hausen (20 miles north of Berlin) and Mauthausen (Upper Austria).

An anti-Se­mitic fana­tic, Frank also over­saw the segre­ga­tion of the Jews into Polish ghettos. Jews were barred from en­gaging in a long list of acti­vi­ties: par­ti­ci­pating in athle­tic events, walking in public parks, using rail­road waiting rooms, having gold fillings, riding in taxis, carrying brief­cases, wearing felt hats, calling from phone booths, etc. Frank told his senior of­fi­cials on Decem­ber 16, 1941, about the approaching anni­hi­la­tion of the Jews: “Gentle­men, I must ask you to rid your­self of all feelings of pity. We must anni­hi­late the Jews wher­ever we find them and when­ever it is pos­si­ble.” To that end the Gen­eral Govern­ment became the loca­tion of four Nazi exter­mination camps on Polish soil (see map below).

Frank fled the Gen­eral Govern­ment in Janu­ary 1945 in ad­vance of the Red Army. Cap­tured by Amer­i­can troops in Bava­ria, he was tried during the Nurem­berg Trials (1945–1946), found guilty of war crimes, and hanged on October 16, 1946.

Occupied Poland, Nazi Death and Concentration Camps, and Hans Frank

Death and concentration camps in occupied Poland, 1939–1945
Governor-General Hans Frank, Krakau, Poland, 1939Hans Frank (1900–1946) in custody, Nuremberg, 1945

Top: Map depicts borders of Poland up to 1945. For poli­tical and logis­ti­cal rea­sons, Nazi Ger­many built most exter­mi­na­tion camps in occu­pied Poland, home of the greatest con­cen­tra­tion of Euro­pean Jewry. Four of seven Nazi exter­mi­na­tion camps in Poland were built in Hans Frank’s Gene­ral Govern­ment district: Bełżec not far from a railroad station of the same name, where an esti­mated 600,000 were killed; Majdanek on the outskirts of Lublin, where 360,000 were killed; Sobi­bór near the village of the same name, where 250,000 were killed; and Tre­blinka, where 800,000 were killed. The largest killing com­plex was at Auschwitz–Birke­nau in West­ern Poland, an area annexed by Nazi Ger­many in October 1939 and where an estimated 1.1 mil­lion people were mur­dered. In all of Poland, roughly 3.4–3.5 mil­lion peo­ple were killed in Nazi death camps. One autho­rity claims that between 1939 and 1945 approx­i­mately 5.6–5.8 mil­lion Poles lost their lives, of whom 3.1 mi­llion were Polish Jews, two million were eth­nic Poles, and the remaining half-million were minorities; e.g., Roma (Gypsies).

Bottom Left: SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Hans Frank at a 1939 police parade in Kra­kau (present-day Kra­ków), capi­tal of Ger­many’s new Gene­ral Govern­ment. During his tenure as Gover­nor General (1939–1945), Frank insti­tuted a reign of ter­ror against the Polish popu­la­tion, engaged in the sys­tem­atic plun­der and bru­tal eco­no­mic exploi­ta­tion of Poland, and became directly involved in the mass mur­der of Polish citizens, both Jews and non-Jews.

Bottom Right: In this 1945 photograph taken before the start of the Nurem­berg War Crimes Trials, Frank can be seen with Gen. Alfred Jodl (left), Chief of the Opera­tions Staff of the (Ger­man) Armed Forces High Com­mand (Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht, or OKW), and Alfred Rosen­berg (right), one of the chief authors of Nazi ideo­lo­gical creeds, including its racial theory, per­se­cution of the Jews, and Lebens­raum (“living space”). All three men were con­victed of war crimes and crimes against humanity and executed on the same day, October 16, 1946.

Life in German-Occupied Poland: The General Government of Hans Frank (1939–1946)