Richard Franke 1906 - 1943 Edit

Born 20.1.1906 in Meerane
Died 18.1.1943 in Gusen


When the new Reich Minister of Justice, Otto Georg Thierack, took up his post in late summer 1942, he was determined to reorganise the German justice system. One of the plans he had in mind was not to have the many ‘foreign race’ and ‘irredeemable’ offenders sentenced by the regular courts in future, but instead to hand them over to the police.

At a meeting between Thierack and Himmler on 18 September 1942, this annihilation programme was agreed as the ‘transfer of antisocial elements from the prison system to the Reich Chief of the SS for annihilation through work.’ The handover of the inmates took place in two operations, which can be described as ‘general’ and ‘individual’ handover. The ‘general handover’ meant that all Jews, Sinti and Roma, Russians and Ukrainians in penal institutions (and workhouses) were to be transferred. The same applied to Polish prisoners with sentences of over three years. Finally it also included those held under preventative detention in general. Over half the convicts who fell under the general handover had been sentenced to preventative detention. Most presented no particular criminal threat; rather they had been written off as ‘antisocial’ or ‘inferior’.

Richard Franke was one of those sentenced to preventative detention who fell under the ‘general handover’. His father had died in 1910 when he was four years old and he had spent three years being educated in a special school. After the First World War he had scratched a living as an unskilled labourer. He had been arrested regularly for small thefts and sentenced to a few weeks or months in jail, for the first time at the age of 20. He had been unemployed since 1929. Over the following years he criss-crossed Germany looking for work and an income, during which time he committed further minor offences. Thus in 1937 he was sentenced to 15 months’ penal servitude for stealing a garden hose. After his release he tried not to break the law but then stole several chickens and rabbits between the end of 1939 and spring 1940. He probably knew that under the new, draconian, wartime criminal code, as an ‘antisocial parasite’ he was at risk of the death sentence; in any case he tried to commit suicide while in custody awaiting trial. In view of the economic situation that had driven Franke to his crimes, the judge of the Jena special court did refrain from passing the death sentence and instead sentenced Franke to 15 years’ penal servitude with subsequent preventative detention.

The agreement between Himmler and Thierack meant this was a death sentence all the same. On 29 November 1942, Richard Franke was handed over to the police as an ‘antisocial’, who then sent him to Mauthausen concentration camp. Less than two months later he was dead.

Nikolaus Wachsmann



Translation into English: Joanna White



Bundesarchiv Berlin, Besprechung mit Reichsführer SS Himmler am 18. September 1942 in seinem Feldquartier [Meeting with Reich Führer of the SS Himmler on 18 September 1942 at his field office], R 3001/alt R 22/4062, Bl. 35a–37.

Thüringische Staatsarchiv Meiningen, Zuchthaus Untermaßfeld Nr. 311.




Nikolaus Wachsmann: Gefangen unter Hitler. Justizterror und Strafvollzug im NS-Staat [Imprisoned Under Hitler. Judicial Terror and the Penal System in the Nazi State] (Munich 2006), pp. 309–319. 


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