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Hermann Göring

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A substantially red-faced Hermann Göring in captivity on 9 May 1945.
A lunatic Chaplin imitator
and his greatest fans

Nazism
Icon nazi.svg
First as tragedy
Then as farce
No enemy bomber can reach the Ruhr. If one reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Göring. You may call me Meyer.
Hermann Göring Meyer, addressing the Luftwaffe in September of 1939[1]

Hermann Wilhelm Göring (or Goering in umlautless fonts) (1893–1946), was one of the most powerful people in Nazi Germany, one of the highest ranking members of the Nazi Party, and the Commander of the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force). [2] Göring was also known by several nicknames (as were many Nazi leaders), including Meyer (Göring once even introduced himself as "Meyer" when taking refuge in an air-raid shelter in Berlin),[1] Der Dicke (not what you think; it's German for "the fat one"),[3] and Die Eiserne ("the Iron Man").[4]

During World War I, Göring was an early fighter ace, and was the last person to lead Jagdgeschwader 1 (nicknamed Der Fliegende Zirkus, or "The Flying Circus"), which had previously been led by the legendary Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the "Red Baron".[5] Göring's status as a famous veteran was important, as it helped the Nazi Party to establish a more credible image in the early 1920s.[2]

Göring was convicted during the Nuremberg trials of being one of the main participants of the Final Solution, along with Reinhard Heydrich, Adolf Eichmann and Heinrich Himmler. While Hitler had been thinking about a final solution to "the Jewish problem" for quite some time, nobody thought he would actually do it until Göring put it forward to him as a serious suggestion and presented him with the theory as to implementing it that he and the others had formulated. Hitler took a look at the plan and thought it looked like a good idea. Next thing you know

Early life[edit]

Hermann Wilhelm Göring was born on 12 January 1893 in Rosenheim, Bavaria. Hermann's father Heinrich was a diplomat who served for a period as Reichskommissar for German South West Africa, and was often abroad. Oddly enough given his later associations, Göring's godfather was a wealthy physician and businessman of Jewish descent named Hermann von Epenstein, who essentially became the boy's surrogate father. Several biographers have asserted that Göring's mother Franziska became von Epenstein's mistress, and there are rumours that von Epenstein may have been the father of Hermann's younger brother Albert.[6]

World War I[edit]

Göring was a highly decorated veteran who led several fighter squadrons in the Luftstreitkräfte (German Air Force). Although a highly skilled fighter pilot, he was detested by his men because of his extreme arrogance, as he had been sent to command squadrons which had achieved more than him.[5] Göring left the war with 22 confirmed air kills.

Interwar period[edit]

As Germany was not permitted to have an air force under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Göring found work flying civilian aircraft and in travelling air shows.

Göring's achievements in the war became very important during his later political life. He was appointed by Hitler to lead the Sturmabteilung, or SA (also known as the Brownshirts) in 1922, and participated in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich on 8 November 1923. Göring was badly wounded by gunfire during the event; a bullet hit him in the groin, with the wound later becoming infected. His reliance on morphine during this period would lead to an addiction to opiates that would last until he ended up in Nuremberg at the end of World War II. After Göring recovered, he was forced to flee abroad for several years to avoid arrest.

Ironically, after being shot during the putsch, Göring was carried into the house of a furniture dealer named Robert Ballin, who just so happened to be Jewish. Ballin's wife Ilse and her sister looked after the injured Nazi, helping to stauch the blood pouring out of his leg and cleaning the wound as best they could. They "knew who Goering was and what his party stood for, and they were also aware that he was a wanted man; but these facts neither diminished the quality of the care they gave him nor tempted them to call in the police. They kept him with them until night had fallen"[7] before passing him on to a doctor who was also a Nazi sympathizer. Thankfully, "Goering never forgot the ministrations of the Ballins, and he tried to repay his debt to them later."[7] "During Kristallnacht, the Ballin family was arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp. At the time, Göring arranged for their release."[8] In 1939, the Ballin sisters were advised to leave Germany by a friend of Göring's, and were allowed to apply for visas to Argentina. They were also "allowed to take their money with them",[9] a privilege not afforded to the vast majority of Jews who were forced to emigrate by the Nazis.

In return for his loyalty, Hitler would continue to give Göring important positions in Nazi Germany until he was confined to his bunker in Berlin in 1945.

Many of the early Nazis were not respected in German conservative circles. Hitler himself was a Catholic Austrian immigrant to Bavaria who spoke with a Bavarian accent. Göring was important in luring Northern conservatives to support Hitler, as he was able to build bridges between from the Nazi Party and established German conservative movements.[10]

Being an aviator, Göring had a keen interest in air warfare, and his First World War record as an ace, along with his influence and prestige, meant that the Luftwaffe could be certain of receiving plenty of the funds allotted by Hitler to German rearmament. Air warfare was generally viewed as a very exciting and important new aspect of war among industrialized states during the interwar years. In the military doctrines developed by the German high command, summarized by the slogan Blitzkrieg,Wikipedia the Luftwaffe was to provide air cover and close support to the land forces as well as drop paratroopers to seize strategic points. In preparation for this, the German military had already supported the creation of glider schools prior to the repudiation of Versailles and afterwards developed dive bomber tactics as a way to use tactical bombing to carry out precision strikes.

The aggressive focus of the Blitzkrieg as a way to avoid a repeat of the long attritional slog that was World War I, alongside Göring's background as a fighter pilot, probably had a hand in perhaps the Luftwaffe's greatest omission: not developing a strategic bomber fleet. When Blitzkrieg failed to deliver a quick knock out of the Soviet Union and World War II increasingly turned into a war of attrition, Nazi Germany lacked the strategic bombers which could have been used to target the Soviet military industry that Stalin had prudently (if hastily) relocated deep within Russian Central Asia or deliver the kind of systematic destruction of British targets that the British and (from 1942) U.S. air forces started dishing out to Germany. However, strategic bombing did not end up delivering a fatal blow on either side, and it's entirely possible that the Russians could have relocated their armaments production again in such an event, just as the Germans did. Under the direction of Wolfram von Richthofen (a cousin of Manfred's who led the infamous Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War, and was responsible for the assault on Guernica), the Luftwaffe did engage in heavy bombing campaigns which targeted urban centers in Russia, most notably against the city of Stalingrad. Unfortunately for the Wehrmacht, this actually made the area harder to assault, and was no more successful at encouraging the inhabitants to surrender than the bombings of London, Berlin, or Tokyo were.

The autocratic command style and notorious inter-service and general inter-organizational rivalry within the Nazi state probably didn't help the Luftwaffe either. Göring appointed a former comrade and drinking buddy from World War I, Ernst Udet, as "Chief Supply Officer of the Luftwaffe",[11] despite the fact that he was entirely "unsuitable for the job"[12] and had "filled his administration with wartime pals with no knowledge whatsoever of the techniques of planning and building planes".[12] Consequently, they "had turned the Luftwaffe rearmament program into a chaotic mess."[12] Göring was incapable of sacking his old friend, even when it was revealed that Udet had been engaged in fraud and mismanagement, producing "a lag in aircraft production for the Luftwaffe which would take at least two years to make up."[13] Udet blamed Göring for his predicament, and subsequently shot himself. He was succeeded by another friend of Göring's, Erhard Milch. Unfortunately for Göring, Milch's father had a been a Jew; when Göring was informed, he simply replied "I decide who is a Jew",[14] and forced Milch's mother to sign a humiliating affadavit claiming that her son's true biological father was in fact her uncle.

Nevertheless, the Luftwaffe would be the first air force to deploy jet fighters, though not until the last years of World War II when Allied strategic bombers were already hammering the German home front.

World War II[edit]

Göring with Adolf Hitler.
There is nothing to be said in mitigation. For Göring 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.... His guilt is unique in its enormity. The record discloses no excuses for this man.
—Judgement of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, 1946.[15]

Göring was probably the most competent of the Nazis, his efficiency contrasting with some of the others. He was Chairman of the Four Year Plan and was appointed Reichsmarschall, a rank superior to all other Wehrmacht officers, as well as the Reichsführer SS,[note 1] Heinrich Himmler. In 1941, the incredibly lazy Hitler also made him his deputy in all other offices, which meant that Göring got to shoulder most of the work, which he was comfortable with because it also meant that he got most of the power. However, due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to destroy the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, its inability to resupply the 6th Army during the siege of Stalingrad, and its failure to protect German cities from Allied bombers, Hitler became more and more critical of Göring over the course of the war, and the two men spent less and less time together as a result.

It came as a great shock to Hitler when Göring apparently attempted to seize power for himself in the last days of the Reich. However, the whole incident may simply have been a huge misunderstanding. According to Albert Speer, Göring sent a telegram to the Führerbunker which "merely asked Hitler whether, in keeping with the decree on succession, he should assume the leadership of the entire Reich if Hitler remained in Fortress Berlin."[16] Unfortunately, Hitler's personal secretary, Martin Bormann, who "loathed"[17] Göring, manipulated Hitler by claiming "that Goering had launched a coup d’etat",[16] using the telegram "to pollute Hitler’s already fragile mind".[16] Cowering in the Führerbunker, Hitler dismissed Göring from all of his offices, deemed him a traitor and issued an order for his arrest. Fortunately for Göring, this was never carried out, as nearly all of the Nazi High Command had deserted Hitler at this point, having realised that his tree didn't go all the way up to the top branch, something which quite a few people had suspected from the start.

Göring was tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity[18] at the Nuremberg Trials, where he is said to have made a compelling defense for himself,[note 2] denying all awareness of the Nazi death camps[note 3] and even managing to squirt out a few tears when showed the photographs and films of the concentration camps and the Holocaust. Nevertheless, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Self-important to the end, Göring demanded to be executed by firing squad like the soldier he believed he was, rather than hanged like a common criminal. The court rightly denied his request, reasoning that Göring did not deserve the martial dignity of a firing squad, and that a genocidal war criminal really did deserve the same method of execution as a common criminal. Like his master, Göring decided to deny his enemies the pleasure of taking his life and committed suicide by taking a cyanide capsule (hidden in a jar of skin cream)[19] in his cell. Before his death, he declared that he would be remembered as a folk hero in Germany and that statues would be erected in his honor. "Little statues, maybe, but one in every German home."[20]

Interestingly enough, Hermann's brother AlbertWikipedia was nothing like him, and in fact used his famous surname to help Jews escape, as he correctly assumed that this would protect him from any reprisals by the Nazis. Hermann was aware of Albert's activities, but even someone as execrable as Hermann Göring was capable of caring for his family; whenever Albert got into trouble for his heroics, Hermann would use his influence to bail him out. There is some debate as to whether Albert should be honored for what he did to help people, especially given his surname and relationship to his brother. Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, did consider honoring Albert as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 2016, although they stated that they did "not have sufficient proof [...] showing that he took extraordinary risks to save Jews from danger of deportation and death”.[21] Irena Steinfeldt of the Department of the Righteous stated that the request was "seriously considered, although the standards of proof are very high and personal testimony is now extremely difficult to obtain after more than seven decades. But a “Good Goering” recognised by Israel, she agreed, would remind the world that evil is not something we are born with. It is something we choose. Hermann Goering chose that path. Albert chose a different way."[22]

Additionally, given the fact that Albert's biological father may have been Jewish, his opposition to the Nazis makes even more sense.

Personal habits[edit]

Göring and his one true love.
Hrrrrnnggh Fuhrer, I’m trying to win the war, but I'm dummy thicc and the clap from my ass cheeks keeps leading the RAF to Berlin.
—Göring, probably.[citation NOT needed]

There are some quite colorful rumours about Göring's sex life, including suggestions that he was a bisexual and/or a transvestite. Apart from general gossip and claims by pro-Nazi "historian" David Irving, there doesn't appear to be any factual basis for these claims. Göring did, however, love food. Just a few days after the Night of the Long Knives, Göring organized a crab feast for himself, Heinrich Himmler, and Erhard Milch.[23] They were sitting around cracking open claws and legs when President Hindenburg's congratulatory telegram came in.

By World War II, Göring had put on the pounds quite a lot and was no longer attractive. He got so fat that when he was taken prisoner, the US pilot in charge of transporting him asked for a bigger aircraft because he was worried Göring would be too heavy for the one he had. No, really.[24] He was the subject of a great many jokes about his weight and his vanity. Even Hitler got in on the act, reportedly telling a (quite funny) joke in which Goring's wife walks in on him dressed down to his underpants, twirling a baton and promoting his underpants to Overpants.[25]

Göring had a fondness for life's finer things, hoarding stolen artwork that Jews had recently owned, which allowed him to amass a personal fortune and an incredible collection of priceless paintings.[26] The art that he stole often furnished his tacky personal palace, the Karinhalle, built in honor of his deceased wife to whom he was highly sentimental (as if he were Shah Jahan with his Taj Mahal).[27] His grandiose palace, unlike the splendid and tasteful Taj Mahal, was destroyed on his orders as the Soviet Army approached and was never rebuilt (and likely never will be). He would also exchange bribes for artwork. Göring was diagnosed as a narcissistic sociopath at the Nuremberg trials.[28]

Göring also was a passionate hunter and as a matter of fact he or people operating on his behalf wrote the German laws on protecting animals and making hunting more humane, which are still largely in place.[29] As Göring deemed himself better at hunting than anybody else and had a propensity for grandiose titles, he styled himself "Reichsjägermeister", or "Imperial hunting master".[30]

Notes[edit]

  1. Effectively this rank amounted to being a field marshal of the SS, an important position considering the scale and fanaticism of the Waffen-SS formations, particularly its foreign volunteers who had nowhere to go in the case of a Nazi defeat.
  2. Possibly inadvertently helped by being forced to go cold turkey, as well as being put on a strict diet.
  3. Thus, Göring did not employ the Nuremberg defense, but instead claimed not to know about the Holocaust and blaming Hitler and Himmler (who were both conveniently dead).

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Hermann_G%C3%B6ring#Quotes
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hermann Goering | Jewish Virtual Library
  3. Overy, Richard (2020). Goering: The Iron Man. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 275. ISBN 978-1-3501-4910-6. 
  4. Overy 2020, p. 2.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Hermann Goering - WWI Ace, Hitler's Right-Hand Man in WWII
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/feb/20/albert-goering-hermann-goering-brothers
  7. 7.0 7.1 Mosley, Leonard (1974). The Reich Marshal: A Biography of Hermann Goering. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. p. 85. ISBN 0-297-76810-7. 
  8. https://www.trenfo.com/en/history/biographies/hermann-goring-12
  9. Mosley 1974, p. 230.
  10. "Who's Who In Nazi Germany", Robert S. Wistrich, page 88
  11. Mosley 1974, p. 285.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Mosley 1974, p. 282.
  13. Mosley 1974, p. 283.
  14. Stout, Jay A. (2010). The Men who Killed the Luftwaffe: The U.S. Army Air Forces Against Germany in World War II. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-8117-0659-9. 
  15. Judgement : Goering The Avalon Project.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/07/10/how-the-nazi-telegram-that-helped-drive-hitler-to-suicide-was-nearly-forgotten-in-a-s-c-safe/
  17. https://www.historynet.com/larger-than-life-the-infamous-hermann-goring/
  18. Including his role in Nacht und Nebel secret arrests and torture
  19. Autograph - 1223201 - Superb signed presentation photo of Nazi Reichmarshal Hermann Goering inscribed to a prison guard
  20. Nagorski, Andrew (10 May 2016). The Nazi Hunters. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 182. ISBN 978-1-4767-7186-1. 
  21. https://www.timesofisrael.com/top-israeli-honor-eludes-goerings-brother-who-heroically-saved-jews/
  22. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/XFtmh93sVfW3z8YDW8v1fg/did-hermann-goerings-brother-save-innocent-lives-from-the-nazis
  23. Larger Than Life: The Infamous Hermann Göring HistoryNet
  24. Hermann Goering 'too heavy' for US plane transport after capture The Telegraph
  25. Adolf Hitler told bad jokes about Nazi friends The Telegraph
  26. Handwritten Catalogue of Nazi Leader Hermann Göring’s Art Collection Debuts Today ArtNet News
  27. Goering’s Carinhalle WW2 Gravestone
  28. Jack El-Hai, The Psychiatrist and the Nazi. HistoryNet, 17 February 2016.
  29. The Nazis passed a number of really strict animal protection laws in 1933 Vintage News
  30. Thanks to Hitler, hunting with hounds is still verboten The Telegraph