After years of deep research and undercover work in Germany, a private American citizen posing as a neo-Nazi sympathizer has implicated Bernhard Frank, alleged to be the high-ranking Nazi officer who signed the “start order” that commenced the genocide of Europe’s Jewish population.
Having met Frank and gained his trust over four years, Holocaust scholar Mark Gould confronted the SS Colonel last Thursday during a videotaped meeting in Frankfurt, Germany, listing his alleged crimes against humanity and presenting a copy of a lawsuit newly filed in U.S. Federal Court in the District of Columbia.
“It’s been over six decades since Bernhard Frank took a pivotal role in the Nazis’ extermination program, but given the cover-up of his identity and the lack of criminal remedies, this led to the decision to file a civil suit and to publish his crimes — at the very least, allowing the civilized world to recognize and condemn his deeds,” said Gould, whose Jewish relatives were among those murdered as a result of the orders signed by Frank.
The civil action charges Frank with genocide, torture, kidnapping, and crimes against humanity. The suit was brought by Gould along with Burton Bernstein, the brother of composer Leonard Bernstein, both of whose relatives were murdered during the Holocaust.
“We believe that this case is unprecedented and historic in that it represents the first time that heirs of those murdered by Nazi atrocities have brought civil suit against one of the perpetrators of the Holocaust,” stated Gould’s lead attorney, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner. “There have been criminal prosecutions, but no one has ever located a Nazi war criminal and brought a civil suit. For those long frustrated by the criminal justice system, this provides a bold new approach for survivors to take action, hunt war criminals themselves and prosecute them in civil court.”
Co-counsel Robert Tolchin agrees that, “in the history of Holocaust cases, institutions have been sued, but never a victim suing an individual perpetrator.”
Gould, with the consensus of international academics, asserts that now-97-year-old Frank was a senior official of the Nazi elite Schutzstaffe (SS) who rose to the rank of Obersturmbannfuhrer (Lieutenant Colonel), reporting directly to Himmler and later to Hitler. In videotaped interviews, Frank himself confirms that, on July 28, 1941, he personally signed the “start order” allowing the first mass execution of Jews in the Pripjet Swamps near the Polish, Belarussian/Ukrainian border. This effectively served as the flashpoint of the Holocaust.
“Bernhard Frank actually wrote his PhD on the folklore behind the Nazi ideal of blood and soil,” says Dr. Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation and founding director of the UK Holocaust Centre. Smith explains that Frank served as a librarian at Wewelsberg and was central to the ideology that trained the SS. “He was at Dachau himself, so he knew precisely what he was preparing them for. As one of only twelve Nazi officers in Himmler’s inner circle, he was right in the eye of the storm,” says Smith. “The remarkable thing is that Mark Gould has dug up the most significant Nazi alive, one that represents the very essence of the regime and the mechanism of the genocide. The Holocaust would not have happened without people like him.”
Gould, a professional information data broker of Jewish immersion, has long been interested in history, amassing a substantial collection of Holocaust photos and other memorabilia. In 1996, through a dealer at a gun show in Orange County, California, Gould purchased the gold-plated Walther PPK surrendered by Hermann Goering upon his arrest in May 1945. Gould’s investigation of the story behind the gun spurred his interest in uncovering untold stories of Nazi atrocities and American Jewish heroism during World War II. He filmed WWII veterans, both Allied and Axis, as well as Holocaust survivors, but wanted to know more.
Gould decided to go underground in Germany. Blond, blue-eyed and six feet, he had enough of the classic Aryan look and was willing to cut his hair into a neo-Nazi style in order to blend in. In 2002, under the guise of a “wealthy American neo-Nazi who wanted to own pieces of the Third Reich in order to preserve them and spread the message,” he began meeting with various leaders in the movement: buying documents and memorabilia, and attending neo-Nazi rallies.
This paved Gould’s way to higher-level SS gatherings and, in 2006, to Dr. Bernhard Frank, Himmler’s most trusted subordinate, who nevertheless was not prosecuted at the Nuremberg Trials and has lived openly in Frankfurt for many years. Gould has shot hundreds of hours of high-definition footage capturing Frank’s stories, bolstered by research at the restrictive Ludwigsburg Archives for Nazi War Crimes.
The findings from Gould’s four-year undercover investigation of Frank will be painstakingly detailed in The Last Nazi (working title), a book to be published by Random House in Fall 2011, and he is also utilizing his expertise to help develop an authoritative database to further aid researchers and combat Holocaust deniers.
John E. Dolibois, a military intelligence interrogation officer during the Nuremberg Trials, has been a longtime supporter of Mark Gould. “In the past several years I have followed [the] development [of your undercover work] with a great deal of interest, convinced that it is a most worthy endeavor,” wrote Dolibois, who also served as former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. “I have been impressed by your intelligent pursuit of the subject, your honest attention to detail, and your understanding of the historical background.”