The Children of Nazi Leaders: How Were They Affected and What Do They Think?

by Danielle Z.

December 6, 2005

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Holocaust

(course homepage, web projects index page)

UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2005

Hans Frank and Niklas & Norman
Heinrich Himmler and Gudrun
About the author

Introduction (back to top)

In the book My Father' s Keeper by Stephan and Norbert Lebert, the stories of six children of Nazi leaders are portrayed. Journalists Stephan and Norman Lebert conducted a series of interviews and uncover the intimate background of these children. The way these stories are written is unique; it is a comparison of interviews and research done after the war in the early fifties by Norbert Lebert, and in the early nineties by Stephan Lebert. In 1959 Norbert Lebert conducted the first round of interviews, which included Wolf-Rudiger Hess, Martin Bormann junior, Niklas and Norman Frank, Gudrun Himmler, Edda Göring, and the von Schirach brothers. He focused on how the children were "bearers of notorious names that made them outcasts to some, and symbols of a lost glory to others" (Lebert). Forty years later, Lebert' s son Stephan followed up with Gudrun Himmler, and Norman and Niklas Frank, as well as the others, to find out what had become of them, and how their perspectives had changed. Stephan Lebert gives readers detailed information about his father's findings and his own interviews. Through his use of dialect, he vividly portrays the compelling stories and perspectives of these children of Nazi leaders. There are many children of Nazi leaders and they were all affected by the role their fathers played in the Holocaust. But for this project, I am specifically focusing on the history of Hans Frank, his role in the Holocaust, the interviews of his sons Niklas and Norman, and comparing it with the history and role of Heinrich Himmler, and the interviews of his daughter Gudrun Himmler.

Both Heinrich Himmler and Hans Frank had powerful roles in the development of the Holocaust. Himmler was head of the S.S., which were the soldiers of the Nazi party, and Frank was the party jurist and governor general in Poland. Frank had a major role in the spread of Nazi efforts in Poland. These men were a part of mass killing and bloodshed while they were fathers, and they both had children who were seriously affected by their actions during the Holocaust, as well as their subsequent trials and deaths. This poses the question of what role the trials and justice of Nazi leaders played for their children, and how did this ultimately affect their opinions about their fathers? Hans Frank was "condemned at the Nuremberg trials in 1946 and hanged" (Klessmann, 39). During the 1959 and 1999 interviews, Niklas and Norman Frank express strong disapproval for their father's actions, and both convey their happiness about his prosecution. Heinrich Himmler was captured and put in a British jail, however, he committed suicide before he could be tried. Unlike the Frank brothers, Gudrun Himmler's love and respect for her father stayed strong throughout both interviews. 

Hans Frank & his sons Niklas and Norman (back to top)

Brigitte, Hans and Niklas FrankBrigitte, Hans and Niklas Frank

As the party jurist and head of Poland, Hans Frank assisted in two major aspects of the Nazi party. Under his rule and assistance, the innocent lives of millions of people were taken. Even though he was not one of the most "powerful of men in the hierarchy of the Third Reich . . . he was one of those chiefly responsible for the bloody German reign of terror in Poland" (Klessmann, 39). It was said that "Frank attempted to model himself into a replica of the Führer he idolized, [Hitler]" (Klessmann, 43). Much of the information that is known about Franks crimes comes from the very detailed and up to date diaries he kept. On June 2, 1943, he wrote, "We began here with three and a half million Jews; of those we have only a few labor companies left, all the rest have let us say -emigrated" (Lebert, 129). Ironically, on May 1, 1945, just hours before his arrest he told his son that" [he] must be the only minister who is looking forward to his own arrest" because when it happens "[he] shall hand over his diaries. Every day is accounted for . . . [he] has nothing to fear" (Lebert, 127). He did turn over that diary, and it was one of the main pieces of evidence used in sentencing him to "death by hanging" at the Nuremberg trials.

When Hans Frank was hanged on October 16, 1946, he left a wife and five children. The Frank family was accustomed to living the lavish lifestyle of good food,  large homes, and a lot of money. Hans Frank was the head of Poland after all. These luxuries became mere memories the day the heavily armed Poles came in and ordered Brigitte Frank and her five children to get "against the wall" (Lebert, 130), and interrogated them about where Frank was hiding. As the "Poles" were tearing the house apart looking for any sign of their corrupt head of state, the Frank family was able to make their getaway. They were forced to move to the next village and live on 300 Deutschmark a month. The traumatic interrogations, the major changes of life style, and the realization that their father aided in millions of deaths are all factors that cause the Frank brothers to despise their father. After their father was captured, the Franks had a hard time enrolling in schools, were discriminated against by their teachers and peers, and were constantly accused of being Nazis. "One day in February 1946, Niklas failed to come home from school at the usual time," his mother finally found him at the school detention. He was accused of drawing a swastika on the board because he "was the kind of boy who'd draw [one]" (Lebert, 135). This is precisely the type of event that compelled Niklas to devote a great portion of his life to  writing books and articles about the "filth" (Lebert, 147) of his father's life. In the final sentences of his book, Niklas imagines how he opens his mouth and "bites into [his father's] heart, and feels him screaming and screaming . . . until it stops pumping and goes limp" (Lebert, 153). Niklas' book and articles were not received well by the general population, but that did not stop him. In the 1959 interview Norman says that  "[he] holds [his] father guilty. He committed dreadful crimes and paid for them with his death" (Lebert, 122). Then again at the end of the 1980s Norman states that he does not want to have kids because "the name of Frank should bid this world farewell" (Lebert, 150). His strong hatred for his father stayed with him throughout his life. For him to not want to start a family of his own because of the crimes his father committed, shows a true sign of resentment. On behalf of the Frank children, Norman told Lebert that they are not going to try and recover any of Hans Frank's assets, because "they are loaded with guilt" (Lebert, 139). The Frank children want to rid themselves of the name, life, and memory left of their infamous father.

Heinrich Himmler & his daughter Gudrun (back to top)

As head of the S.S. from 1929 to 1945,Heinrich and Gudrun Himmler Himmler had a very powerful and central role in the Holocaust. In his sixteen-year term he succeeded in recruiting more than 50,000 soldiers. With his well-built army and strong leadership, he was able to supply enough man power to help capture and murder nine million people. Through the help of the S.S., the Nazis were able to maintain control of the many different camps around Europe. Himmler' s pride for his S.S. and devotion to exterminate the "non-Aryan race," is evident from his speech in October of 1943. He defines the "S.S. as a National Socialist Order of men selected for their Nordic characteristics and a sworn blood brotherhood," and states that the S.S. are "brave enough to be unpopular . . . brave enough to be hardhearted and unfeeling!" (Ackermann, 105). In this same speech he explains to his S.S. general that "the Jewish people are being exterminated . . . and most of you will know what it is like to see a hundred corpses lying together, or 500 or 1000 . . . This is a glorious page of our history" (Ackermann, 105). Himmler, like Hitler, felt that even though Jews are "identically biological . . . with human looking features, they are mentally and spiritually lower than any animal; sub-human" (Ackermann, 109). Himmler was captured and put in a British prison for his heinous actions, but like Hitler, his most ardent follower was able to escape prosecution by committing suicide.

Gudrun Himmler's reaction to her father's role was completely opposite of the Frank brothers'. Her father had one of the most powerful roles during the Holocaust, but Gudrun refused to see it. Her love and respect for her father kept her alive and constantly fighting for her name. "At fourteen . . . she cut out every picture of him from the newspapers and glued them into a large scrapbook" (Lebert, 155). After they were captured, Gudrun and her mother were put in jail after jail and left with nothing. Even through the ruthless interrogations at the Nuremberg trials, "she vowed herself to him. She did not weep, but went on hunger strikes. She lost weight, fell sick, and stopped developing" (Lebert, 157). When Gudrun found out that her father had committed suicide, "the fifteen-year-old suffered a psychological and medical breakdown. Shivering . . . day and night she lay delirious on the bed in her cell" (Lebert, 164). Even after the trials were over, Gudrun and her mother were forced to live in a protestant nursing home at Bethel under an alias, because they did not have any money or valuables. Gudrun struggled with her everyday life because of her name. She was denied acceptance to schools, turned down by scholarship programs, and was unable to receive a job. Due to the fact that she refused to take on another name, she constantly had "to start from scratch, introduce herself, say her name, her father' s name" (Lebert, 179). Even through her adulthood, Gudrun stayed faithful to her father. In a 1999 interview she talked about trying to save enough money to go to America and examine the evidence that would help her compare her childhood memories with the documents stating her father's views, and the orders he gave. Ultimately, her goal is to write a book called "simply Heinrich Himmler . . . to clear her father' s name" (Lebert, 155).

Conclusion (back to top)

Clearly, the reactions of Gudrun, Norman, and Niklas are each unique. Their fathers' actions during, and fate after the Holocaust, prove to be significant landmarks in their lives. Even though Himmler and Frank' s children reacted differently, their lives were severely altered. Gudrun Himmler was unable to maintain a job because of her Himmler name, Norman Frank did not start a family to "rid the world of the Frank name," and Niklas Frank devoted a large part of his life to writing about his negative views on his father. Himmler and Frank's roles during the Holocaust and the Nuremberg Trials seem to be prominent events in the way their children's lives ended up. Ultimately, in studying and comparing the lives of only two Nazi families, it is clear that the events that happened during and after the reign of the Third Reich seriously affected the destiny of the children of Nazi leaders.

Bibliography (back to top)

  • Klessman, "Hans Frank: Party Jurist and Governor-General in Poland," in: R. Smelser and R. Zitelman (eds.), The Nazi Elite (New York: NYU Press, 1993), 39-47.
  • Josef Ackermann, "Heinrich Himmler: Reichsfuhrer-SS," in: R. Smleser and R. Zitelman (eds.), The Nazi Elite (New York: NYU Press, 1993), 98-113.
  • Stephan and Norbert Lebert, My Father' s Keeper: Children of Nazi Leaders--An Intimate History of Damage and Denial (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 2001) [$4-10 at amazon]
  • See also this Feb. 2004 book review by Kayla Knoess for Prof. Marcuse's Hist 133c course.

About the Author (back to top)

Danielle Z.
I am a sophomore business-economics major, with a minor in philosophy. I traveled through Israel after I graduated from high school, and I  visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum while I was there. I am thinking about becoming a lawyer, so the Nuremberg trials were an appropriate topic for me to study. I chose to write about the children of Nazi leaders, because there are many studies done about the children of Holocaust survivors, but I had never seen any done about the children of Nazi leaders.

essay by Danielle Z., prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on12/5/05; last updated: 12/14/05; 8/27/10
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