Minister Frick banned Erich Maria Remarque’s novels and threw Jews and Communists out of the civil service.

Wilhelm Frick is in the defendant's dock at Nuremberg. A professional attorney, he went to work as a policeman in his youth – in Germany, they are called “bulls”. He joined Adolf Hitler in the early 1920s, lobbying for his switch from Austrian to German citizenship. During the Third Reich, he was Minister of the Interior, authored discriminatory laws, and eradicated German national law.

Bavarian Policeman

Wilhelm Frick was born on 12 March 1877 in the Palatinate municipality of Alsenz in south-west Germany, into the family of a schoolteacher. In 1896 he entered the University of Munich. There he studied philology for half a year, but quickly lost interest in this field and decided to pursue a career in law.

Frick worked as a trainee solicitor in Kaiserslautern from mid-1900, and three years later was admitted to the civil service after passing the state exam. From 1904, he was a public solicitor in the district government of Upper Bavaria and also a state attorney in the police department of Munich. In 1914, he became acting district executive of the Pirmasens.

Frick was unfit for military service, so he did not fight in World War I. Instead, he was promoted to the Munich Police Department, where he investigated economic crimes. According to Frick's letter to his sister, his interactions with Jewish moneylenders reinforced his anti-Semitic sentiments.

Wilhelm Frick was married twice and had five children.

In 1919, Frick was appointed county chief of the political police – a position where he sympathised with right-wing extremists. It was then that Wilhelm Frick first met Adolf Hitler and voiced his support for his newly-formed party. In 1923, he was promoted to senior bailiff and was head of security for the Munich Criminal Police, and in November he took part in Hitler's “Beer Hall Putsch”. During the riots of 8-9 November, Frick was at the police headquarters and made sure his superiors were not alerted in time about the Nazis’ actions.

Those actions, however, did not go unnoticed. In 1924 Frick was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for “complicity in high treason”, but was released five months later. He avoided removal from the civil service: the Bavarian Disciplinary Court concluded that Frick had no “treasonous intentions”. From 1926 to 1930 and from 1932 to 1933 he was employed by the Bavarian State Examination Office for Social Security. Hitler would mention Frick in his major book “Mein Kampf” and later, in 1935, recognise his participation in the “Munich Putsch” with the medal “Decoration in Memory of 9 November 1923” (aka the “Blood Order”).

Thuringian ‘Cleaner’

After his release from prison, Frick was elected to the Reichstag on 4 May 1924 in constituency 24 (Upper Bavaria-Schwabia). On 1 September 1925, he became a member of the National Socialist German Worker's Party (the Nazi party), and in 1928 he became the leader of the twelve-member Nazi parliamentary group. His speeches in the Reichstag were characterised by radical anti-Semitism and racism, as well as insults against his opponents.

Social Democratic Party MP Gerhart Seeger, whose testimony was heard at the Nuremberg trials, recalled his conversation with Frick in December 1932:

“When I gave an emphatic answer to Frick concerning the particular matter discussed, he replied, ‘Don't worry, when we are in power, we shall put all of you guys into concentration camps’.”

On 23 January 1930, Wilhelm Frick became Minister of the Interior and National Education in Thuringia, the first Nazi minister in the Weimar Republic. He issued instructions for the dismissal of Communist teachers, the cutting of posts held by Social Democrats, and the preferential hiring of National Socialists in the police. It came to the point that on 19 March, Weimar Republic Interior Minister Carl Severing blocked state subsidies for the Thuringian police, and on 15 April, the state government assured that no National Socialists would be employed in the police.

Against the will of the professors at the University of Jena, Frick pushed through the appointment of race researcher and eugenicist, Hans Günther, to the faculty of social anthropology. The minister also fought against works of art. On 8 February 1930, Frick ruled that the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque could no longer be studied in any Thuringian school. The film of the same name, which was released in December of that year, was banned by the Thuringian film inspectorate. On Frick's orders, many art school teachers lost their jobs. And in October 1930, the art collection of the Palace at Weimar was “cleansed” of modernists and avant-gardists – works by Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, Emil Nolde, and Ernst Barlach were removed from the exhibition.

This scandalous activity lasted less than a year and a half. On 1 April 1931, Frick was given a vote of no confidence and had to leave the Thuringian government. However, he continued to work in the Reichstag and even chaired the foreign affairs committee there.

In 1932, Frick went to great lengths to ensure that Hitler, an Austrian, was granted German citizenship.

Berlin Cerberus

On 30 January 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Reich Chancellor. His first cabinet included two Nazis, Hermann Göring and Wilhelm Frick, who became Reich Minister of the Interior.

Frick was initially very influential and played a major role in the Nazification of Germany. Robert Kempner, who later served as assistant US chief counsel during the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, described him as follows: “He was the administrative brain who devised the machinery of state for Nazism, who geared that machinery for aggressive war.”

“He promoted the accession to power of the Nazi conspirators and the consolidation of their control over Germany(...)”, Sidney Alderman, Associate Trial Counsel for the United States, said of him, listing the charges against Frick at Nuremberg. “He promoted the military and economic preparation for war, participated in the political planning and preparation for Wars of Aggression (...) He authorized, directed and participated in war crimes(...)against humanity, including a wide variety of crimes against persons and property”.

It was Frick who drafted the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the German People of 4 February 1933 and the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State of 28 February, which severely restricted the civil rights of Germans – in particular freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. On 23 March, to get the Enabling Act, formally titled “Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich” through the Reichstag and give Hitler plenary powers, Frick proposed to change the rules of procedure and oblige “deputies who were absent without a valid reason” to attend a parliamentary sitting. On 31 March, the “First Gleichschaltung Law” for “co-ordinating the Reich and Länder” was passed, whereby the results of the national elections, minus the Communist votes, were automatically extrapolated to the state parliaments. On April 7, the “Second Gleichschaltung Law” was passed, which completely stripped the Länder of their independence – regional power was transferred to the Reich Governors (Reichsstaatthalters) appointed by Hitler. Frick signed some 235 laws and decrees between 1933 and 1934.

“On 31 January 1934, the last vestiges of Land independence were destroyed by the Law for the Reconstruction of the Reich,” Major Frank Wallis, Assistant Trial Counsel for the United States, said at the Nuremberg Trials. “Defendant Frick, Minister of the Interior throughout this period, has written of this Law for the Reconstruction of the Reich as follows:

‘The reconstruction law abolished the sovereign rights and executive powers of the Länder and made the Reich the sole bearer of the rights of sovereignty. The supreme powers of the Länder do not exist any longer. The natural result of this was the subordination of the Land government to the Reich Government and the Land ministers to the corresponding Reich ministers. On 30 January 1934, the German Reich became one state’.”

As Minister of the Interior, Frick was also responsible for supporting professional sports, which were used as a tool for Nazi propaganda and proof of the superiority of the 'Aryan race'. Under his leadership, athletes were trained for the 11th Summer Olympics in Berlin.

The Reich Minister made considerable efforts to put racial ideology into practice in the Third Reich. As early as 7 April 1933, a ban on Jews and Communists working in the civil service came into force - later they were deprived of other rights as well. On 14 July 1933, the “Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases” was passed, which stipulated forced sterilisation for entire categories of citizens. Another related law, the euthanasia law, never entered into force, but with Frick's knowledge, murders of invalids were carried out without legal justification – as part of the so-called Aktion T-4 programme.

“Several times a week, buses arrive in Hadamar with a considerable number of such victims. School children of the vicinity know this vehicle and say, 'There comes the murder box again’,” Kempner cited a letter from the Bishop of Limburg of 13 August 1941 to the Reich Minister of Justice. “After the arrival of the vehicle, the citizens of Hadamar watch the smoke rise out of the chimney and are tortured with the ever-present thought of the miserable victims, especially when repulsive odours annoy them, depending on the direction of the wind. The effect of the principles at work here are: Children call each other names and say, 'You're crazy; you'll be sent to the baking oven in Hadamar.' Those who do not want to marry or find no opportunity say, 'Marry, never! Bring children into the world so they can be put into the bottling machine!' You hear old folks say, 'Don't send me to a state hospital! After the feeble-minded have been finished off, the next useless eaters whose turn will come are the old people'.”

Bohemia’s Figurehead

Despite his commitment, Frick kept losing power. Already in March 1933, some of the functions of the Ministry of the Interior were transferred to the new Ministry of National Education and Public Enlightenment, headed by Joseph Goebbels. In May 1934, Frick's responsibilities were once again curtailed in favour of the new Ministry of Science, Education and Culture. At the same time, Frick became Prussian Minister of the Interior (in this role he reported to the acting Prussian Prime Minister Hermann Göring). In 1935, the Ministry of Church Affairs came into existence, and in 1936 Hitler appointed SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler as State Secretary in the Ministry of the Interior and Chief of the German Police. The German police forces of the individual states were then replaced by a single All-German police force, and Frick lost ultimate power in the Ministry of the Interior.

In 1942, he celebrated his 65th birthday and received a gift of 250,000 Reichsmarks from Hitler. On 20 August 1943, the Führer sacked the Minister of the Interior, appointing Himmler to replace him. The exact reason for that decision was unknown. At the Nuremberg trials, Frick claimed that he had no direct access to Hitler as early as 1937. In any case, since 1940 Hitler had had very little contact with Frick on important matters and had repeatedly ignored his requests for meetings. According to Goebbels’ notes, in 1942 the Führer remarked that Frick was not fully a Nazi and “failed to keep pace with the course of time”.

Frick's disgrace could be explained in part by the reform of the state apparatus he promoted. Frick proposed a clearer division of powers between ministries and departments, eliminating redundant bodies and positions. Such an initiative was not to the liking of the Reich's sprawling establishment elite. But above all, it contradicted the managerial style of Hitler, who wanted to maintain an amorphous power structure with competition between departments and unclear responsibilities of officials.

After his resignation, Frick went to Prague to take up the post of Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. It was an honourable exile. By then, the de facto power over the territory already belonged to Karl Hermann Frank, the “Reich Minister of the German Protectorate”. Frick even wanted to refuse the appointment, but in the end, he submitted to Hitler's will.

“The Defendant Frick shares responsibility for the grave injury done by the officials of the Leadership Corps to the concept of the rule of law by virtue of his efforts to give the colour of law and formal legality to a large volume of Nazi legislation which was violative of the rights of humanity, such as the Nazi discriminatory legislation designed to degrade, stigmatize, and eliminate the Jewish people of Germany and German-occupied Europe,” Executive Trial Counsel for the United States Colonel Robert Storey summarised at the trials.


Gerhard Schulz: Frick, Wilhelm. In: Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB)

Steffen Raßloff: Der „Mustergau“. Thüringen zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus

Joachim Bergmann: Die innenpolitische Entwicklung Thüringens in der Zeit von 1918 bis 1932

Günter Neliba: Wilhelm Frick: Der Legalist des Unrechtsstaates. Eine politische Biographie

Hans-Günter Richardi: Hitler und seine Hintermänner: Neue Fakten zur Frühgeschichte der NSDAP

Erich Stockhorst: 5000 Köpfe. Wer war was im 3. Reich

Nuremberg Trials Stenograph. Volume I-III, Second Edition (2019). Translated from English by Sergey Miroshnichenko.

By Daniil Sidorov