Wilhelm Frick: The Man Who Nazified Germany

Frick was many things to the Nazi party. As one of their earliest members of parliament he drafted legislation which would eventually become the Nuremberg Laws. Frick was also the first Nazi granted a ministerial post. In 1930, he became the Minister of Education and Minister of Interior for the German state of Thuringia. There, he moved dedicated Nazis into positions within the police and educational bureaucracies. During his year in office, he also used this position to gain the Austrian-born Hitler his German citizenship. Finally, when the Nazis came to power, Frick was named Reich Minister of the Interior.

In the beginning, Frick’s power was severely limited, particularly over the police. Unlike most European Interior Ministers at the time (or today, for that matter), the German Interior Ministry had no control over police forces, which were traditionally run at the state level. However, Frick remit included the replacing all German federal and state government ministers and civil servants with Nazi loyalists. Since Frick had the power to hire and fire both federal and state officials in the Reich, he effectively gained control of all police forces, which he consolidated in 1934 when he, with Hitler’s approval, concentrated all state power in the Reich cabinet, abolishing state and local government.

As Interior Minister, Frick also held power over citizenship laws in the Reich, and he and his deputy, Dr. Stuckart, moved swiftly to remove the Nazis’ enemies from the citizenship rolls. Together they developed the first legal definition of a Jew for the purposes of excluding Jews from the economy, the government, and German society in general. This effort culminated in the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which stripped Jews of their citizenship and made all social or economic contact between Jews and German citizens illegal.

Frick also held power over the early concentration camp system, and was principally responsible for organizing the first of these centers: Dachau. Dachau’s function was to serve as a means by which opponents of the regime–social democrats, communists, trade unionists, Catholic politicians, and others–could be held in “protective custody”, which meant, in Nazi parlance, protection of the new society from dissident elements.

However, powerful though Frick was, he wasn’t exempt from the Law of Nature that Hitler claimed to follow. Over time, ambitious colleagues, particularly Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, chipped away at Frick’s authority. They whispered into important ears that Frick was too timid in issuing “protective custody” orders and that the SS, if freed from Frick’s control of Reich police forces, could tighten the oppression. Hitler ultimately agreed, consolidating the entire police force-the Gestapo, the SD, the plainclothes criminal investigators, and uniformed police–into the SiPo, with Himmler as Chief of German Police. While technically these departments remained under Frick, because Himmler was also Reichsfuehrer-SS, only Hitler had the power to give him orders. Effectively, Frick lost control of the Reich’s police forces and concentration camps, though he did still have to sign off on major policy decisions within his sphere of influence.

That Frick lost much of his power because he proved to be less extreme than his rivals in the SS doesn’t excuse his from his role as the architect of the Nazis’ racist legislation and of its concentration camp system. By restaffing the bureaucracy and terrorizing opponents, he removed all the brakes from the Nazi machine, which, by the time his power diminished, was set to roll over the peoples of Europe.

Next week: Block Wardens.

Earlier profiles: Reinhard Heydrich, Albert Goering.

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