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Hermann Göring

[gair-ing, gur-; Ger. gœ-ring]
Hermann Wilhelm Göring (also spelled Goering) (12 January 1893 15 October 1946) was a German politician, military leader and a leading member of the Nazi Party. Among many offices, he was Hitler's designated successor and commander of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force). With twenty-two confirmed kills as a fighter pilot, he was a veteran of the First World War and recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite ("The Blue Max"). He was the last commander of Manfred von Richthofen's famous Jagdgeschwader 1 air squadron (Red Baron).

Following the end of the Second World War, Göring was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials. He was sentenced to death by hanging, but committed suicide the night before he was due to be hanged.

Family background and relatives

Göring was born at the sanatorium Marienbad in Rosenheim, Bavaria. His father Heinrich Ernst Göring (31 October 1839 7 December 1913) had been the first Governor-General of the German protectorate of South West Africa (modern day Namibia) as well as being a former cavalry officer and member of the German consular service. Göring had among his patrilineal ancestors Eberle/Eberlin, a Swiss-German family of high bourgeoisie.

Göring was a relative of such Eberle/Eberlin descendants as the German aviation pioneer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin; German romantic nationalist Hermann Grimm (1828–1901), an author of the concept of the German hero as a mover of history, whom the Nazis claimed as one of their ideological forerunners; the industrialist family Merck, the owners of the pharmaceutical giant Merck; one of the world's major Catholic writers and poets of the 20th century German Baroness Gertrud von LeFort, whose works were largely inspired by her revulsion against Nazism; and Swiss diplomat, historian and President of International Red Cross, Carl J. Burckhardt.

In an historical coincidence, Göring was related via the Eberle/Eberlin line to Jacob Burckhardt (1818–1897), a great Swiss scholar of art and culture who was a major political and social thinker as well an opponent of nationalism and militarism, who rejected German claims of cultural and intellectual superiority and predicted a cataclysmic 20th century in which violent demagogues, whom he called "terrible simplifiers," would play central roles.

Göring's mother Franziska "Fanny" Tiefenbrunn (1859-15 July 1923) came from a Bavarian peasant family. The marriage of a gentleman to a woman from lower class (1885) occurred only because Heinrich Ernst Göring was a widower. Hermann Göring was one of five children; his brothers were Albert Göring and Karl Ernst Göring, and his sisters were Olga Therese Sophia Goring and Paula Elisabeth Rosa Göring, the last of whom were from his father's first marriage. While anti-Semitism became rampant in Germany of that time, his parents were not anti-Semitic.

Hermann Göring had an older brother Karl Goring (?), who migrated to the United States. Karl's son, Werner G. Göring, became a Captain in the Army Air Force and piloted B-17s on bombing missions over Europe. Göring's younger brother Albert Göring was opposed to the Nazi regime, and helped Jews and other dissidents in Germany during the Nazi era. He is said to have forged his brother Hermann's signature on transit papers to enable escapes, among other acts.

Early life and Ritter von Epenstein

Göring later claimed his given name was chosen to honour the Arminius who defeated the legions of Rome at Teutoburg Forest. However the name was possibly to honour his godfather, a Christian of Jewish descent born Hermann Epenstein. Epenstein, whose father was an army surgeon in Berlin, became a wealthy physician and businessman and a major if not paternal influence on Göring's childhood. Much of Hermann's very early childhood, including a lengthy separation from his parents when his father took diplomatic posts in Africa and in Haiti (climates ruled too brutal for a young European child), was spent with governesses and with distant relatives. However, upon Heinrich Göring's retirement ca. 1898 his large family, supported solely on Heinrich's civil service pension, became for financially practical reasons the houseguests of their longtime friend and Göring's probable namesake, a man whose minor title (acquired through service and donation to the Crown) made him now known as Hermann, Ritter von Epenstein.

Ritter von Epenstein purchased two largely dilapidated castles, Burg Veldenstein in Bavaria and Schloss Mauterndorf near Salzburg, Austria, whose very expensive restorations were ongoing by the time of Hermann Göring's birth. Both castles were to be residences to the Göring family, their official "caretakers" until 1913. Both castles were also ultimately to be his property. In 1914 he tried to commit suicide; however, he was found by his mother,and was sent to the hospital. He survived after cutting his wrist and was soon sent back home. In 1915 he joined the army and fought in the Battle of the Somme.

According to some biographers of both Hermann Göring and his younger brother Albert Göring, soon after the family took residence in his castles, von Epenstein began an adulterous relationship with Frau Göring and may in fact have been Albert's father. (Albert's physical resemblance to von Epenstein was noted even during his childhood and is evident in photographs.) Whatever the nature of von Epenstein's relationship with his mother, the young Hermann Göring enjoyed a close relationship with his godfather. Göring was unaware of von Epenstein's Jewish ancestry and birth until, as a child at a prestigious Austrian boarding school (where his tuition was paid by von Epenstein), he wrote an essay in praise of his godfather and was mocked by the school's anti-Semitic headmaster for professing such admiration for a Jew. Göring initially denied the allegation, but when confronted with proof in the "Semi-Gotha", a book of German heraldry (Ritter von Epenstein had purchased his minor title and castles with wealth garnered from speculation and trade and was thus included in a less than complimentary reference work on German speaking nobility), Göring, to his youthful credit, remained steadfast in his devotion to his family's friend and patron so adamantly that he was expelled from the school. The action seems to have tightened the already considerable bond between godfather and godson.

Relations between the Göring family and von Epenstein became far more formal during Göring's adolescence (causing Mosley and other biographers to speculate that perhaps the theorised affair ended naturally or that the elderly Heinrich discovered he was a cuckold and threatened its exposure). By the time of Heinrich Göring's death, the family no longer lived in a residence supplied by or seemed to have much contact at all with von Epenstein (though the family's comfortable circumstances indicate the Ritter may have continued to support them financially). Late in his life, Ritter von Epenstein wed a singer, Lily, who was half his age, bequeathing her his estate in his will, but requesting that she in turn bequeath the castles at Mauterndorf and Veldenstein to his godson Hermann upon her own death.

First World War

Göring was sent to boarding school at Ansbach, Franconia and then attended the cadet institutes at Karlsruhe and the military college at Berlin Lichterfelde. Göring was commissioned in the Prussian army on 22 June 1912 in the Prinz Wilhelm Regiment (112th Infantry), headquartered at Mulhouse as part of the 29th Division of the Imperial German Army.

During the first year of World War I, Göring served with an infantry regiment in the Vosges region. He was hospitalised with Rheumatism resulting from the damp of trench warfare. While he was recovering, his friend Bruno Loerzer convinced him to transfer to the Luftstreitkräfte. Göring's application to transfer was immediately turned down. But later that year Göring flew as Loerzer's observer in Feldflieger Ableilung (FFA) 25 - Göring had arranged his own transfer. He was detected and sentenced to three weeks' confinement to barracks. The sentence was never carried out: by the time it was imposed Göring's association with Loerzer had been regularised. They were assigned as a team to the 25th Field Air Detachment of the Crown Prince's Fifth Army - "though it seems that they had to steal a plane in order to qualify. They flew reconnaissance and bombing missions for which the Crown Prince invested both Göring and Loerzer with the Iron Cross, first class.

On completing his pilot's training course he was posted back to Feldflieger Ableilung (FFA) 2 in October 1915. Göring had already claimed two air victories as an Observer (one unconfirmed). He gained another flying a Fokker EIII single-seater scout in March 1916. In October 1916 he was posted to Jagdstaffel 5, but was wounded in action in November. In February 1917 he joined Jagdstaffel 26. He now scored steadily until in May 1917 he got his first command, Jasta 27. Serving with Jastas 5, 26 and 27, he claimed 21 air victories. Besides the Iron Cross, he was awarded the Zaehring Lion with swords, the Karl Friedrich Order and the House Order of Hohenzollern with swords, third class, and finally in May 1918 (despite not having the required 25 air victories) the coveted Pour le Mérite. On 7 July 1918, after the death of Wilhelm Reinhard, the successor of The Red Baron, he was made commander of Jagdgeschwader Freiherr von Richthofen, Jagdgeschwader 1.

In June 1917, after a lengthy dogfight, Göring shot down an Australian pilot named Frank Slee. The battle is recounted in The Rise and Fall of Hermann Goering. Göring landed and met the Australian, and presented Slee with his Iron Cross. Years after, Slee gave Göring's Iron Cross to a friend, who later died on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Also during the war Göring had through his generous treatment made a friend of his prisoner of war Captain Frank Beaumont, a Royal Flying Corps pilot. "It was part of Goering's creed to admire a good enemy, and he did his best to keep Captain Beaumont from being taken over by the Army.

Göring finished the war with twenty-two confirmed kills.

Because of his arrogance Göring's appointment as commander of Jagdgeschwader 1 had not been well received. Though after demobilisation Göring and his officers spent most of their time during the first weeks of November 1918 in the Stiftskeller, the best restaurant and drinking place in Aschaffenburg, he was the only veteran of Jagdgeschwader 1 never invited to post-war reunions.

Göring was genuinely surprised (at least by his own account) at Germany's defeat in the First World War. He felt personally violated by the surrender, the Kaiser's abdication, the humiliating terms, and the supposed treachery of the post-war German politicians who had "goaded the people [to uprising] [and] who [had] stabbed our glorious Army in the back [thinking] of nothing but of attaining power and of enriching themselves at the expense of the people. Ordered to surrender the planes of his squadron to the Allies in December 1918, Göring and his fellow pilots intentionally wrecked the planes on landing. This endeavour paralleled the scuttling of surrendered ships. Typical for the political climate of the day, he was not arrested or even officially reprimanded for his action.

Postwar

He remained in flying after the war, worked briefly at Fokker, tried "barnstorming", and in 1920 he joined Svenska Lufttrafik. He was also listed on the officer rolls of the Reichswehr, the post-World War I peacetime army of Germany, and by 1933 had risen to the rank of Generalmajor. He was made a Generalleutnant in 1935 and then a General in the Luftwaffe upon its founding later that year.

Göring as a veteran pilot was often hired to fly businessmen and others on private aircraft. On a winter's day in 1920 Count Eric von Rosen, a widely-known and intrepid explorer, arrived at an aerodrome in Sweden and requested a flight to his estate at Rockelstad near Sparreholm. It was a short journey by air and as it was snowing it seemed a flight would be the quick way home. The count relished the challenge of flying through snow if a brave enough pilot could be found. With only one or two hours' of daylight left, Göring readily agreed to make the journey. After take-off they got lost as the aircraft pitched and plunged over trees and valleys; the count was violently airsick. They finally touched down on the frozen Lake Båven near Rockelstad Castle. It was too late for Göring to go back that day so he accepted the count and countess's invitation to stay overnight at the castle.

The medieval castle, with its suits of armour, paintings, hunting relics and exploration trophies was suited to romance. It may have been here that Göring first saw the swastika emblem, a family badge which was set in the chimney piece around the roaring fire.

This was also the first time Göring saw his future wife. A great staircase led down into the hall opposite the fireplace. As Göring looked up he saw a woman coming down the staircase as if toward him. He thought she was very beautiful. The count introduced his sister-in-law Baroness Karin von Kantzow (née Freiin von Fock, 1888–1931) to the twenty-seven year old Göring.

Carin was a tall, maternal, unhappy, sentimental woman five years Göring's senior, estranged from her husband and in delicate health. Göring was immediately smitten with her. Carin's eldest sister and biographer claimed that it was love at first sight. Carin was carefully looked after by her parents as well as by Count and Countess von Rosen. She was also married and had an eight year old son Thomas to whom she was devoted. No romance other than one of courtly love was possible at this point.

First marriage

Carin divorced her estranged husband, Niels Gustav von Kantzow, in December 1922. She married Göring on 3 January 1923 in Stockholm. Von Kantzow behaved generously. He provided a financial settlement which enabled Carin and Göring to set up their first home together in Germany. It was a hunting lodge at Hochkreuth in the Bavarian Alps, near Bayrischzell, some 50 miles from Munich.

Early Nazi

Göring joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and took over the SA leadership as the Oberste SA-Führer. After stepping down as SA Commander, he was appointed an SA-Gruppenführer (Lieutenant General) and held this rank on the SA rolls until 1945. Hitler later recalled his early association with Göring thus:

I liked him. I made him the head of my S.A. He is the only one of its heads that ran the S.A. properly. I gave him a disheveled rabble. In a very short time he had organised a division of 11,000 men.

At this time Carin, who liked Hitler, often played hostess to meetings of leading Nazis including her husband, Hitler, Hess, Rosenberg and Röhm.

Göring was with Hitler in the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich on 9 November 1923. He marched beside Hitler at the head of the SA. When the Bavarian police broke up the march with gunfire, Göring was seriously wounded in the groin.

Addiction and exile

Stricken with pneumonia, Carin arranged for Göring to be spirited away to Austria. Göring was in no fit state to travel and the journey may have aggravated his condition, although he did avoid arrest. Göring was x-rayed and operated on in the hospital at Innsbruck. Carin wrote to her mother from Göring's bedside on 8 December 1923 describing the terrible pain Göring was in: "... in spite of being dosed with morphine every day, his pain stays just as bad as ever. This was the beginning of his morphine addiction. Meanwhile in Munich the authorities declared Göring a wanted man.

The Görings, acutely short of funds and reliant on the goodwill of Nazi sympathizers abroad, moved from Austria to Venice then in May 1924 to Rome via Florence and Siena. Göring met Mussolini in Rome. Mussolini expressed some interest in meeting Hitler, by then in prison, on his release. Personal problems, however, continued to multiply. Göring's mother had died in 1923. By 1925 it was Carin's mother who was ill. The Görings with difficulty raised the money for a journey in spring 1925 to Sweden via Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Free City of Danzig. Göring had become a violent morphine addict and Carin's family were shocked by his deterioration when they saw him. Carin, herself an epileptic, had to let the doctors and police take full charge of Göring. He was certified a dangerous drug addict and placed in the violent ward of Långbro asylum on 1 September 1925. Biographer Roger Manvell interviewed a psychiatrist in Stockholm who had seen Göring at a private clinic before being placed in Långbro : Göring was very violent and had to be placed in a straitjacket but was not insane.

The 1925 psychiatrist's reports claimed Göring to be weak of character, a hysteric and unstable personality, sentimental yet callous, violent when afraid and a person who deployed bravado to hide a basic lack of moral courage. "Like many men capable of great acts of physical courage which verge quite often on desperation, he lacked the finer kind of courage in the conduct of his life which was needed when serious difficulties overcame him.

At the time of Göring's detention all doctors' reports in Sweden were in the public domain. In 1925, Carin sued for custody of her son. Niels von Kantzow, her ex-husband, used a doctor's report on Carin and Göring as evidence to show that neither of them was fit to look after the boy, and so von Kantzow kept custody. The reports were also used by political opponents in Germany.

Politics and Nazi electoral victory

Göring returned to Germany in autumn 1927, after the newly elected President von Hindenburg declared amnesty for participants in the 1923 Putsch. Göring resumed his political work for Hitler. He became the 'salon Nazi', the Party's representative in upper class circles. Göring was elected to the Reichstag in 1928. In 1932, he was elected President of the Reichstag, which he remained until 1945.

His wife Carin died on 17 October 1931, aged forty-two, of tuberculosis.

Hitler became Chancellor on 30 January 1933, by a deal with the conservative intriguer Franz von Papen. Only two other Nazis were included in the cabinet. One was Göring, who was named minister without portfolio. It was understood, however, that he would be named minister of aviation once Germany built up an air force. At Hitler's insistence, Göring also was appointed interior minister of Prussia under Papen, who doubled as Vice Chancellor of the Reich and minister-president of Prussia. (Prussia at this time, though a constituent state of Germany, included over half of the country.)

Although his appointment as Prussian interior minister was little noticed at the time, it made Göring commander of the largest police force in Germany. He moved quickly to Nazify the police and use them against the Social Democrats and Communists. On 22 February, Göring ordered the police to recruit "auxiliaries" from the Nazi party militia, and to cease all opposition to the street violence of the SA. New elections were scheduled for 5 March, and Göring's police minions harassed and suppressed political opponents and rivals of the Nazis. He also detached the political and intelligence departments from the Prussian police and reorganized them as the Gestapo, a secret police force.

On 28 February 1933, the Reichstag building was gutted by fire. The Reichstag fire was arson, and the Nazis blamed the Communists. Göring himself met Hitler at the fire scene, and denounced it as "a Communist outrage," the first act in a planned uprising. Hitler agreed. The next day, the Reichstag Fire Decree suspended civil liberties.

Göring ordered the complete suppression of the Communist party. Most German states banned party meetings and publications, but in Prussia, Göring's police summarily arrested 25,000 Communists and other leftists, including the entire Party leadership, save those that escaped abroad. Hundreds of other prominent anti-Nazis were also rounded up. Göring told the Prussian police that "...all other restraints on police action imposed by Reich and state law are abolished..."

On 5 March, the Nazi-DNVP coalition won a narrow majority in the election; on 23 March, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which effectively gave Hitler dictatorial powers. As part of the anti-Communist campaign, in the first executions in the Third Reich, Göring declined to commute the August 1933 death sentences passed against Bruno Tesch and three other Communists for their alleged role in the deaths of two SA members and sixteen others in the Altona Bloody Sunday (Altonaer Blutsonntag) riot, an SA march on 17 July 1932..

Possible responsibility for the Reichstag Fire

Marinus van der Lubbe, an ex-Communist radical, was arrested on the scene and claimed sole responsibility for the fire. But many observers believed that the Nazis set the fire to justify the subsequent crackdown. Göring in particular was suspected: he was first on the scene, and both Hitler and Goebbels were apparently surprised by the news. At Nuremberg, General Franz Halder testified that Göring admitted responsibility:

At a luncheon on the birthday of Hitler in 1942... [Göring said]... "The only one who really knows about the Reichstag is I, because I set it on fire!" With that he slapped his thigh with the flat of his hand.

Göring in his own Nuremberg testimony denied this story. It remains unclear whether or not Göring was responsible for the fire. The following is a transcript excerpt from the Nuremberg Trials:

GOERING: This conversation did not take place and I request that I be confronted with Herr Halder. First of all I want to emphasize that what is written here is utter nonsense. It says, "The only one who really knows the Reichstag is I." The Reichstag was known to every representative in the Reichstag. The fire took place only in the general assembly room, and many hundreds or thousands of people knew this room as well as I did. A statement of this type is utter nonsense. How Herr Halder came to make that statement I do not know. Apparently that bad memory, which also let him down in military matters, is the only explanation.
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: You know who Halder is?
GOERING: Only too well.
GOERING: That accusation that I had set fire to the Reichstag came from a certain foreign press. That could not bother me because it was not consistent with the facts. I had no reason or motive for setting fire to the Reichstag. From the artistic point of view I did not at all regret that the assembly chamber was burned - I hoped to build a better one. But I did regret very much that I was forced to find a new meeting place for the Reichstag and, not being able to find one, I had to give up my Kroll Opera House, that is, the second State Opera House, for that purpose. The opera seemed to me much more important than the Reichstag.
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: Have you ever boasted of burning the Reichstag building, even by way of joking?
GOERING: No. I made a joke, if that is the one you are referring to, when I said that, after this, I should be competing with Nero and that probably people would soon be saying that, dressed in a red toga and holding a lyre in my hand, I looked on at the fire and played while the Reichstag was burning. That was the joke. But the fact was that I almost perished in the flames, which would have been very unfortunate for the German people, but very fortunate for their enemies.
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: You never stated then that you burned the Reichstag?
GOERING: No. I know that Herr Rauschning said in the book which he wrote, and which has often been referred to here, that I had discussed this with him. I saw Herr Rauschning only twice in my life and only for a short time on each occasion. If I had set fire to the Reichstag, I would presumably have let that be known only to my closest circle of confidants, if at all. I would not have told it to a man whom I did not know and whose appearance I could not describe at all today. That is an absolute distortion of the truth.

Second marriage

During the early 1930s Göring was often in the company of Emmy Sonnemann (1893–1973), an actress from Hamburg. He proposed to her in Weimar in February 1935. The wedding took place on 10 April 1935 in Berlin and was celebrated like the marriage of an emperor. They had a daughter, Edda Göring (born 2 June 1938) who was then thought to be named after Countess Edda Ciano, eldest child of Benito Mussolini. Actually, Edda was named after a friend of her mother.

Nazi potentate

Göring was one of the key figures in the process of "forcible coordination" (Gleichschaltung) that established the Nazi dictatorship. For example, in 1933, Göring promulgated the ban on all Roman Catholic newspapers in Germany as a means of removing not only resistance to National Socialism but also to deprive the population of alternative forms of association and means of political communication.

In the Nazi regime's early years, Göring served as minister in various key positions at both the Reich (German national) level and other levels as required. For example, in the state of Prussia, Göring was responsible for the economy as well as re-armament.

His police forces included the Gestapo, which he converted into a political spy force. But in 1934 Hitler transferred the Gestapo to Himmler's SS. Göring retained Special Police Battalion Wecke, which he converted to a paramilitary unit attached to the Landespolizei (State Police), Landespolizeigruppe General Göring. This formation participated in the Night of the Long Knives, when the SA leaders were purged. Göring was head of the Forschungsamt (FA), which secretly monitored telephone and radio communications, The FA was connected to the SS, the SD, and Abwehr intelligence services.

After Hjalmar Schacht was removed as Minister of Economics, Göring effectively took over. In 1936, he became Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan for German rearmament. The vast steel plant Reichswerke Hermann Göring was named after him. He gained great influence with Hitler (who placed a high value on rearmament). He never seemed to accept the Hitler Myth quite as much as Goebbels and Himmler did, but remained loyal nevertheless.

In 1938, Göring forced out the War Minister, Field Marshal von Blomberg, and the Army commander, General von Fritsch. They had welcomed Hitler's accession in 1933, but then annoyed him by criticising his plans for expansionist wars. Göring, who had been best man at Blomberg's recent wedding to a 26-year-old typist, discovered that the young woman was a former prostitute, and blackmailed him into resigning. Fritsch was accused of homosexual activity, and though completely innocent, resigned in shock and disgust. He was later exonerated by a "court of honour" presided over by Göring.

Also in 1938, Göring played a key role in the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria. At the height of the crisis, Göring spoke on the telephone to Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg. Göring announced Germany's intent to march into Austria, and threatened war and the destruction of Austria if there was any resistance. Schuschnigg collapsed, and the German army marched into Austria without resistance.

Personal qualities

The confiscation of Jewish property gave Göring great opportunities to amass a personal fortune. Some properties he seized himself, or acquired for a nominal price. In other cases, he collected fat bribes for allowing others to grab Jewish property. He also took kickbacks from industrialists for favorable decisions as Four Year Plan director.

Göring also "collected" several other offices, such as Reichsforst- und Jägermeister (Reich Master of the Forest and Hunt), for which he received high salaries.

Göring acquired a vast Prussian estate in 1933, and built his great manor house there. It was named Carinhall in memory of his first wife Carin. He exulted in aristocratic trappings, such as a coat of arms, and ceremonial swords and daggers, such as the Wedding Sword (an oversized broadsword with elaborate gold hilts presented to Göring at his 1935 wedding to Emmy). He also owned many fancy uniforms and much gaudy jewelry.

Göring was also noted for his patronage of music, especially opera. He entertained frequently and lavishly. Most infamously, he collected art, looting from numerous museums (some in Germany itself), stealing from Jewish collectors, or buying for a song in occupied countries.

When Göring was promoted to the unique rank of Reichsmarschall, he designed an elaborate personal flag for himself. The design included a German eagle, swastika, and crossed marshal's batons on one side, and on the other Großkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes ("Grand Cross of the Iron Cross") between four Luftwaffe eagles. He had the flag carried by a personal standard-bearer at all public occasions.

He was known for his extravagant tastes and garish clothing. Hans Rudel, the top Stuka pilot of the war, recalled twice meeting Göring dressed in outlandish costumes: first, a medieval hunting costume, practicing archery with his doctor, and second, dressed in a russet toga fastened with a golden clasp, smoking an abnormally large pipe. Italian Foreign Minister Ciano once noted Göring wearing a fur coat looking like what "a high grade prostitute wears to the opera.

Though he liked to be called "der Eiserne" (the Iron Man), he was flabby and overweight, over 280 lbs. He was one of the few Nazi leaders who did not take offense at hearing jokes about himself, "no matter how rude". Germans joked about his ego, saying that he would wear an admiral's uniform to take a bath, and his obesity, joking that "he sits down on his stomach.

Göring and Foreign Policy

The German diplomatic historian Klaus Hildebrand in his study of German foreign policy in the Nazi era noted that besides for Hitler’s foreign policy programme that there existed three other rival foreign programmes held by fractions in the Nazi Party, whom Hildebrand dubbed the agrarians, the revolutionary socialists and the Wilhelmine Imperialists. Göring was certainly an ardent Nazi and utterly loyal to Hitler. But his preferences in foreign policy were different. Göring was the most prominent of the "Wilhelmine Imperialist" group in the Nazi regime. This group wanted to restore the German frontiers of 1914, regain the pre-1914 overseas empire, and make Eastern Europe Germany's exclusive sphere of influence. This was a much more limited set of goals than Hitler's dream of Lebensraum seized in merciless racial wars. By contrast, Göring and the "Wilhelmine Imperialist" fraction were more guided by traditional Machtpolitik in their foreign policy conceptions..

Furthermore, the "Wilhelmine Imperialists" expected to achieved their goals within the established international order. While not rejecting war as an option, they preferred diplomacy, and sought political domination in eastern Europe rather than the military conquests envisioned by Hitler. And they rejected Hitler's mystical vision of war as a necessary ordeal for the nation, and of perpetual war as desirable. Göring himself feared that a major war might interfere with his luxurious lifestyle.

Göring's advocacy of this policy led to his temporary exclusion by Hitler for a time in 1938-39 from foreign policy decisions. Göring's unwillingess to offer a major challenge to Hitler prevented him from offering any serious resistance to Hitler's policies, and the "Wilhelmine Imperialists" had no real influence.

Complicity in the Holocaust

Göring was the highest figure in the Nazi hierarchy to issue written orders for the "final solution of the Jewish Question", when he issued a memo to Heydrich to organise the practical details. This resulted in the Wannsee Conference. Göring wrote, "submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired final solution of the Jewish question." It is almost certain however that Hitler issued an oral order to Göring in late 1941 to this effect.

Head of the Luftwaffe

When the Nazis took power, Göring was Minister of Civil Air Transport, which was a screen for the build-up of German war aviation, prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles. When Hitler repudiated Versailles, in 1935, the Luftwaffe was unveiled, with Göring as Minister and Oberbefehlshaber (Supreme Commander). In 1938, he became the first Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) of the Luftwaffe this promotion also made him the highest ranking officer in Germany. Göring directed the rapid creation of this new branch of service. Within a few years, Germany produced large numbers of the world's most advanced military aircraft.

In 1936, Göring at Hitler's direction sent several hundred aircraft along with several thousand air and ground crew, to assist the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War this became known as the Condor Legion.

By 1939 the Luftwaffe was the most advanced and one of the most powerful air forces in the world. On 9 August 1939, Göring boasted "The Ruhr will not be subjected to a single bomb. If an enemy bomber reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Hermann Göring: you can call me Meier!" ("I want to be called Meier if ..." is a German idiom to express that something is impossible. Meier (in several spelling variants) is the second most common surname in Germany.) By the end of the war, Berlin's air raid sirens were bitterly known to the city's residents as "Meier's trumpets", or "Meier's hunting horns."

Göring's private army

Unusually, the Luftwaffe also included its own ground troops, which became Göring's private army. German Fallschirmjäger (parachute and glider) troops were organised as part of the Luftwaffe, not as part of the Army. These formations eventually grew to over 30 divisions, which almost never operated as airborne troops. About half were "field divisions", that is, plain infantry.

There was even a Fallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann Göring, which had originally been the special police battalion mentioned above. Many of these divisions were led by officers with little or no training for ground combat, and performed badly as a result. In 1945, two Fallschirmjäger divisions were deployed on the Oder front. Göring said at a staff meeting "When both my airborne divisions attack, the entire Red Army can be thrown to hell." But when the Red Army attacked, Göring's 9th Parachute Division collapsed.

Second World War

Göring was skeptical of Hitler's war plans. He believed Germany was not prepared for a new conflict and, in particular, that his Luftwaffe was not yet ready to beat the British Royal Air Force (RAF). His personal luxuries might be endangered, too. So he made contacts through various diplomats and emissaries to avoid war.

However, once Hitler decided on war, Göring supported him completely. On 1 September 1939, the first day of the war, Hitler spoke to the Reichstag at the Kroll Opera House. In this speech he designated Göring as his successor "if anything should befall me."

Initially, decisive German victories followed quickly one after the other. The Luftwaffe destroyed the Polish Air Force within two weeks. The Fallschirmjäger seized key airfields in Norway and captured Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium. German air-to-ground attacks served as the "flying artillery" of the panzer troops in the blitzkrieg of France. "Leave it to my Luftwaffe" became Göring's perpetual gloat.

After the defeat of France, Hitler awarded Göring the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross for his successful leadership. By a decree on 19 July 1940, Hitler promoted Göring to the rank of Reichsmarschall (Marshal of Germany), the highest military rank of the Greater German Reich. Reichsmarschall was a special rank for Göring, which made him senior to all other Army and Luftwaffe Field Marshals.

Göring's political and military careers were at their peak. Göring had already received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 30 September 1939 as Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe.

Göring promised Hitler that the Luftwaffe would quickly destroy the RAF, or break British morale with devastating air raids. He personally directed the first attacks on Britain from his private luxury train. But the Luftwaffe failed to gain control of the skies in the Battle of Britain. This was Hitler's first defeat. And Britain withstood the worst the Luftwaffe could do for the eight months of "the Blitz".

However, the damage inflicted on British cities largely maintained Göring's prestige. The Luftwaffe destroyed Belgrade in April 1941, and Fallschirmjäger captured Crete from the British army in May 1941.

The eastern front

If Göring was skeptical about war against Britain and France, he was absolutely certain that a new campaign against the Soviet Union was doomed to defeat. After trying, completely in vain, to convince Hitler to give up Operation Barbarossa, he embraced the campaign. Hitler still relied on him completely. On 29 June, Hitler composed a special 'testament', which was kept secret till the end of the war. This formally designated Göring as "my deputy in all my offices" if Hitler was unable to function, and his successor if he died. Ironically, Göring did not know the contents of this testament, which was marked "To be opened only by the Reichsmarschall", until after leaving Berlin in April 1945 for Berchtesgaden, where it had been kept.

The Luftwaffe shared in the initial victories in the east, destroying thousands of Soviet aircraft. But as Soviet resistance grew and the weather turned bad, the Luftwaffe became overstretched and exhausted.

Göring by this time had lost interest in administering the Luftwaffe. That duty was left to incompetent favorites such as Udet and Jeschonnek. Aircraft production lagged. Yet Göring persisted in outlandish promises. When the Soviets surrounded a German army in Stalingrad in 1942, Göring encouraged Hitler to fight for the city rather than retreat. He asserted that the Luftwaffe would deliver 500 tons per day of supplies to the trapped force. In fact no more than 100 tons were ever delivered in a day, and usually much less. While Göring's men struggled to fly in the savage Russian winter, Göring had his usual lavish birthday party.

Göring was in charge of exploiting the vast industrial resources captured during the war, particularly in the Soviet Union. This proved to be an almost total failure, and little of the available potential was effectively harnessed for the service of the German military machine.

The bomber war

As early as 1940, British aircraft raided targets in Germany, debunking Göring's assurance that the Reich would never be attacked. By 1942, the bombers were coming by hundreds and thousands. Entire cities such as Cologne and Hamburg were devastated. The Luftwaffe responded with night fighters and anti-aircraft guns. Göring was still nominally in charge, but in practice he had little to do with operations.

Göring's prestige, reputation, and influence with Hitler all declined, especially after the Stalingrad debacle. Hitler could not publicly repudiate him without embarrassment, but contact between them largely stopped. Göring withdrew from the military and political scene to enjoy the pleasures of life as a wealthy and powerful man. His reputation for extravagance made him particularly unpopular as ordinary Germans began to suffer deprivation.

The end of the war

In 1945, Göring fled the Berlin area with trainloads of treasures for the Nazi alpine resort in Berchtesgaden. He was presented with Hitler's testament, which he read for the first time. On 23 April, as Soviet troops closed in around Berlin, Göring sent a radiogram to Hitler, suggesting that the testament should now come into force. He added that if he did not hear back from Hitler by 10 PM, he would assume Hitler was incapacitated, and would assume leadership of the Reich.

Hitler was enraged by this proposal, which Bormann portrayed as an attempted coup d'état. On 25 April, Hitler ordered the SS to arrest Göring. On 26 April, Hitler dismissed Göring as commander of the Luftwaffe. In his last will and testament, Hitler dismissed Göring from all his offices and expelled him from the Nazi Party. On 28 April, Hitler ordered the SS to execute Göring, his wife, and their daughter (Hitler's own goddaughter). But this order was ignored.

Instead, the Görings and their SS captors moved together, to the same Schloß Mauterndorf where Göring had spent much of his childhood and which he had inherited (along with Burg Veldenstein) from his godfather's widow in 1937. (Göring had arranged for preferential treatment for the woman, and protected her from confiscation and arrest as the widow of a wealthy Jew.)

Capture, trial, and death

Göring surrendered on 9 May 1945 in Bavaria. He was the third-highest-ranking Nazi official tried at Nuremberg, behind Reich President (former Admiral) Karl Dönitz and former Deputy Führer Hess. Göring's last days were spent with Captain Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking American intelligence officer and psychologist (and a Jew), who had access to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail. Gilbert classified Göring as having an IQ of 138, the same as Dönitz. Gilbert kept a journal which he later published as Nuremberg Diary. Here he describes Göring on the evening of 18 April 1946, as the trials were halted for a three-day Easter recess.

Sweating in his cell in the evening, Göring was defensive and deflated and not very happy over the turn the trial was taking. He said that he had no control over the actions or the defence of the others, and that he had never been anti-Semitic himself, had not believed these atrocities, and that several Jews had offered to testify on his behalf.

Despite claims that he was not anti-Semitic, while in the prison yard at Nuremberg, after hearing a remark about Jewish survivors in Hungary, Albert Speer reported overhearing Göring say, "So, there are still some there? I thought we had knocked off all of them. Somebody slipped up again. Despite his claims of non-involvement, he was confronted with orders he had signed for the murder of Jews and prisoners of war.

Though he defended himself vigorously, and actually appeared to be winning the trial early on (partly by building popularity with the audience by making jokes and finding holes in the prosecution's case) he was sentenced to death by hanging. The judgment stated that:

There is nothing to be said in mitigation. For Goering was often, indeed almost always, the moving force, second only to his leader. He was the leading war aggressor, both as political and as military leader; he was the director of the slave labour programme and the creator of the oppressive programme against the Jews and other races, at home and abroad. All of these crimes he has frankly admitted. On some specific cases there may be conflict of testimony, but in terms of the broad outline, his own admissions are more than sufficiently wide to be conclusive of his guilt. His guilt is unique in its enormity. The record discloses no excuses for this man.

Göring made an appeal, offering to accept the court's death sentence if he were shot as a soldier instead of hanged as a common criminal, but the court refused.

Defying the sentence imposed by his captors, he committed suicide with a potassium cyanide capsule the night before he was to be hanged. Where Göring obtained the cyanide, and how he concealed it during his entire imprisonment at Nuremberg, remains unknown. It has been claimed that Göring befriended U.S. Army Lieutenant Jack G. "Tex" Wheelis, who was stationed at the Nuremberg Trials and helped Göring obtain cyanide which had been hidden among Göring's personal effects when they were confiscated by the Army. In 2005, former U.S. Army Private Herbert Lee Stivers claimed he gave Göring "medicine" hidden inside a gift fountain pen from a German woman the private had met and flirted with. Stivers served in the 1st Infantry Division's 26th Regiment, who formed the honor guard for the Nuremberg Trials. Stivers claims to have been unaware of what the "medicine" he delivered actually was until after Göring's death. Regardless of his suicide, his dead body was hanged.

After his death, the bodies of Göring and the other executed Nazi leaders were cremated in the crematorium of the Dachau concentration camp, which had been re-lit exclusively for them. His ashes were scattered in the Conwentzbach in Munich, which runs into the Isar river.

He and Alfred Rosenberg were born on the same day (12 January 1893), and had Göring not committed suicide the night before his planned execution, they would also have died on the same day.

Quotations

Göring spoke about war and extreme nationalism to Captain Gilbert, as recorded in Gilbert's Nuremberg Diary:

Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. ...voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

The well-known quotation, and its variations,

Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my Browning.

is frequently attributed to Göring during the inter-war period. Whether or not he actually used this phrase, it did not originate with him. The line comes from Nazi playwright Hanns Johst's play Schlageter, "Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning" ("Whenever I hear of culture... I release the safety-catch of my Browning"). Nor was Göring the only Nazi official to use this phrase: Rudolf Hess used it as well, and it was a popular cliché in Germany, often in the form: "Wenn ich 'Kultur' höre, nehme ich meine Pistole."

Göring in film and fiction

In film

He has been portrayed by:

Footage of Göring has been included in many films, notably in the 1935 Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl. See her page at Internet Movie Database

In fiction

Notes

Sources

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  • Gritzbach, Erich (1939). Hermann Goering: The Man and His Work. London: Hurst & Blackett.
  • Hildebrand, Klaus (1973). The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich. London: Batsford Press.
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  • Irving, David (1989). Göring: A Biography. New York: Morrow.
  • Leffland, Ella (1990). The Knight, Death and the Devil. New York: Morrow. ISBN 0688058361.
  • Manvell, Roger (2006). Goering. London: Greenhill Books.
  • Maser, Werner (2000). Hitlers janusköpfiger Paladin: die politische Biographie. Berlin: ISBN 38-6124-509-4.
  • Mosley, Leonard (1974). The Reich Marshal: A Biography of Hermann Goering. Garden City: Doubleday.
  • Overy, Richard (2000). Goering. London: Phoenix Press.
  • Paul, Wolfgang (1983). Wer War Hermann Goring: Biographie. City: Bechtle.
  • Speer, Albert (1997). Inside the Third Reich. New York: Simon & Schuster.
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External links

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