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

Most of the major figures of the Third Reich have received satisfactory and even ample historiographical treatment during the past decades. It would be wrong to assert that Willhelm Frick, Hitler's long-time minister of the interior, is not among this group. There are indeed few details of Frick's political activities that have not adequately been recorded and evaluated in the pertinent literature, of which Hans Mommsen's Beamtentum in Dritten Reich (1966) is still the most authoritative work. But a fullfledged biography has hitherto not yet appeared, and Neliba can thus claim some intrinsic justification for his effort.

In describing this somewhat colourless henchman of the dictator as the "legalist" of the National-Socialist regime, the author does not deviate in any substantial way from the established view. The wealth of source material upon which he draws, both primary and secondary, dearly confirms that Frick was mostly a follower rather than an imaginative initiator. Especially during his first years of power Hitler at any rate valued this aide because of the latter's thorough familiarity with the structural and procedural properties of the German civil service and because of his unflagging devotion. However, towards the end of the 1930s the servant increasingly lost favour with his master, apparently because he misunderstood the basic nature of the Fuhrer's governance. Whereas the Third Reich thrived on inconsistencies, rivalries, and constant evolutionary change, Frick's juristic mind longed for order and legal stabilization. The incongruity was insuperable, and it was thus logical enough that in 1943 the minister, whose share of practical power had kept diminishing at a pitiful rate, ultimately even lost his official post.

Though this staunch legist's career ended in limbo and even with the committal of the ultimate sin of a German civil servant, the embezzlement of state funds for personal use, his contribution to the Third Reich's functioning was real and significant. Frick's endeavours to implement the Gleirhschaltung, the co-ordination and final unification of government apparatus and party organization, had remarkable success. While not all of his plans in this regard were carried out, his initiatives established the direction, and the principles underlying them gained wide acceptance. It was his ministry's responsibility to prepare and implement the laws, regulations, and decrees that were characteristic of the N.S.-regime and necessary for its operation on the domestic scene. Totally, dedicated to the party's ideology, Frick supplied the legal understructure for the brown dictatorship.

Some particular accomplishments stand out. Even Hitler, who usually had scant regard for the civil, service, recognized Frick's achievement in streamlining and co-ordinating the Reich's bureaucracy during the early years of the regime. The pivotal "Law for the Restitution of the Civil Service" (7 April 1933), which provided for the elimination of all unreliable members and especially those of Jewish origin from the Beamtenschaft, was the minister's own creature. The destruction of the multi-party system in spring and early summer of 1933 equally was largely guided by Frick, who as leader of the National-Socialist group in the Reichstag in the years before the seizure of power had had ample opportunity to study the workings of the parliamentary set-up.

Characteristically, Frick also played a leading role in conceiving the measures aiming at "purifying" the German people from what the Nazis considered ethnically alien or otherwise unwanted lives. Anticipating the wishes of the dictator, he got the sterization programme rolling through the initiation of the appropriate leial measures in 1933, and he furnished the legal frame as well as the executive expertise for the euthanasia measures early in the war. The Nurnberg Laws of 1935, the author succeeds in establishing, sure also largely the handwork of the minister of the interior. Although Frick did ultimately not approve of the mass killings in the concentration camps, he bears the guilt of having started the development that led to Treblinka and Bergen-Belsen. It has to be noted that his later objections were purely of a legalistic nature and had no basis in a changed outlook.

Doubtless the book could have been written in a more appealing manner. the style is bone-dry, very much in the fashion of its protagonist's supposed way of thinking. Perhaps more importantly, at least on occasion the huge quantity of the findings obviously overwhelmed their collector. Repetitions galore and the author's unfelicitous determination to assign a place to every and any note taken in the course of the research make the book much bulkier than it should be, especially in view of the fact that most of its material is already quite well known or more or less irrelevant. But even if this work shows many of the defects often found in doctoral dissertations, we should be glad to have it, as it is presently the most comprehensive work, and a factually reliable one at that, on one of the prominent figures of the Third Reich.
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Author:Sautter, Udo
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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